Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Year of Living Unreasonably

I'm worried that 2008 is going to be an awful year for B2B publishing.
I don't have any data to back up this fear. What I do have is a sense that something is about to go wrong.

In the past few weeks I've spoken with a number of B2B editors, sales people and publishers. And each of them also seems to be worried. Certainly there is a widespread and justified concern that our print products will continue to face challenges. And certainly more of them will fold in 2008. But that is old news, and not particularly interesting. As my friend Rex said, "every year is a magazine shake-out year."

So what's different now?

It seems to me that the rise of online has led to unreasonable expectations. The lust of investors, the demands for growth, the need to justify ourselves to the people who control the purse strings are pushing us into a new era of preposterousness. Everywhere I go I meet people with revenue targets that seem delusional.

There's probably not another person in B2B publishing who has championed Web journalism more than I. But my love of new media is born of my love of all media. Online storytelling excites me. Just like other forms of storytelling do. The fact that new media has also made money pleases me, but it's not why I love it. Cash flow doesn't stir my soul.
But cash flow does stir many a soul in publishing. And in some cases, it warps them.

Here's what I see happening; here's why I'm worried about 2008:
1. Amid a credit crunch and suggestions of recession, online advertising is likely to contract. But no one in B2B seems to be revising their online growth numbers downward. Rather, the growth numbers I'm hearing are higher than in 2007.
2. When pressure for revenue growth builds, many folks in B2B behave badly.
3. The most exciting thing about new media has been the growth of new media. Every established publisher faced more online competitors in 2007 than in 2006. I expect that will continue.
4. The business model currently in fashion in B2B publishing isn't built to withstand a slowdown in online advertising. Nearly everyone is leveraged to the hilt. Nearly everyone has already cut everything that can be cut.
5. I don't believe that B2B is prepared for whatever the next big thing may be.

I'm not suggesting that it's time to panic. I am suggesting it's time to look long and hard at what we are capable of doing. How much can we reasonably expect to grow? How realistic is it to expect the online advertising market to continue to expand? How can we survive a downturn and meet the debt payments?
What can we reasonably expect from 2008?

(For more on this subject, check out what my friend Paul says about B2B in Asia. I think he's a little worried too.)

tags: , , , , , , , , advertising

4 comments:

Danny Sanchez said...

Paul, I think you outlined the challenges for next year well. I also fear much of the same. Let's hope that, whatever happens, we don't allow it to take a toll on news sites' editorial standards.

Rex Hammock said...

Talk about piling on, you can add a big spike in paper prices (how they can do this in a downturn, god only knows) on top of last year's postage increase. My "every year is a shake out year" should be amended, I guess, "...but some years shake out more than others."

Paul said...

Apropos of the coming year and concerns over the continuing erosion of the editorial/advertising wall on the Web, check out this week's podcast over at E&P. Senior Editor Joe Strupp talks about an article that will be appearing in January:

http://nielsenpodcasts.com/eandp/

Nikki Golden said...

Another consideration that seems often overlooked when talking about online is the lack of a clear cut definition of how we define "looking" at a page: is it a page view, is it unique visitors, is it the amount of time someone spends on the site and so on. Until there's a standardization adopted, it's like the wild west out there, which is part of why executives can make such outrageous revenue goals.