Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My sky isn't falling

I'm in New York this week, as I am most days. But I'm finding this a particularly annoying place to be this morning.
Because I'd really like to be in Kansas City as several hundred young journalists converge at the College Media Advisers convention. But I had too much work to do, so I decided to cancel my appearance at this year' show.
Now I'm sitting here in Manhattan thinking that was a really bad move.
Here's why:
Those kids are arriving at the convention in the midst of a print death spiral. And that's likely to cause an unnecessary panic.

Consider the news of just the past few days!
Time is cutting 600 jobs. Gannett, which has been a big supporter of CMA, is cutting 3,000 jobs. The L.A. Times is cutting another 10% of its editorial staff. McGraw-Hill is cutting 270 jobs. The RBI sale is faltering. The Washington Post had its credit outlook lowered to "negative." Radar and 02138 both folded. Even more disconcerting -- Masthead, the magazine about Canada's magazine industry, also shut down.

Now that is all awful news. It's sad. It's depressing. But it is not a sign of the apocalypse.
But if past is prologue, the students at CMA will be briefed on all that bad news and then hear:
a) a lot of doom and gloom from professionals longing for the past; and
b) a lot of terrible advice about competing in the tough new world by building skills that are valuable only at print publications.
And what they won't hear is anyone like me, a guy who:
a) is actually recruiting to fill some great jobs, and
b) feels fantastic about the future of journalism.

Late last year I predicted that 2008 was going to be an "awful year" for B2B publishing.
As it turns out, I was right.
Several months later, I said things were "awful and getting worse."
I was right then too.
And as bad as things have become in B2B, things are worse in some other parts of the journalism world, particularly newspapers.
But I'm not panicking. I'm not telling journalism students to change majors. I'm not telling people to head for the exits.
Rather, what I'm telling people are these three things:
1) Expect things to get worse at most publishers. This is a bloodbath. And it has just started.
2) Brace yourself for the end game. Sometime very soon we'll some of the giants of publishing collapse under the weight of outrageous debt levels, falling ad revenue and rising print costs.
3) Print is under siege. Overleveraged corporations are under siege. But journalism is not under siege. Because of the Web, journalism is in one of the most exciting periods in its history. If you see that, you see clearly. If not, you shouldn't be in this industry any longer.

I just wish I was telling people those things in Kansas City.

(Note: Coincidentally, while those college kids were heading to the Kansas City, their future bosses were gathering here in New York at the Future of Business Media conference.
I didn't attend that show either.
But I don't regret that decision.
I think I learned all I needed to learn from one of Rex's live posts from the conference. )

tags: , , , , , , , journalism education

Monday, October 27, 2008

Why would you use that thing? It's stupid

I spent much of the past few weeks on the road -- meeting with journalists, executives and others to talk about the changing nature of media.
I do a lot of that stuff. And I've found that meetings with publishing companies, with few exceptions, take a predictable path.

The folks at Web-only firms are enthusiastic, delightful, smart and engaged. They're thinking several steps ahead of the competition. They're focused on life in 2010 and beyond.
People at these companies are most interested in hearing my opinions on their ideas for the future.

The folks at the trendsetting companies in B2B -- home to those print-based brands that have made the transition to Web-first publishing -- are equally bright. But there's a slight undercurrent of resentment about the ways in which we work today. People are behaving well and talking positively. Yet it's clear that much of the staff longs for the past. People at these companies are most interested in asking me questions about the future.

The folks at other B2B companies are, to be honest, just depressing to be around. Workers at B2B brands that haven't figured out how to adapt are just miserable. Their anger is palatable. Their nervousness is pervasive. No one seems to have a single good idea about anything. Senior management is focused on the next quarter; older workers are wondering if they can hang on until retirement; everyone else seems to think no further than the next paycheck.
People at these companies are most getting interested in trying to get me to reduce my rates.

There is, however, one thing that unites all these companies:
Everywhere I go, there's always someone who hates Twitter.
Now like my friend Rex, I'd like to give up on trying to explain Twitter. But it seems that I cannot. Everywhere I go someone wants to make a snide remark or to engage in a lengthy conversation about how ill-suited a 140-character tweet is for many forms of journalism (My response to those people, by the way, is "Yes. It is.")
And things have only gotten worse since I became a big fan of Yammer -- the Twitter-like application that can be used for internal communications. Obsessive followers of all things new media know that Yammer won the top prize at this year's TechCrunch50. And I'll admit that my first reaction to that win was similar to that of lots of other folks -- a sort of weirded-out disbelief that a Twitter knockoff could win TechCrunch50.
But when one of those Web-only companies I mentioned above launched Yammer for its workforce, I gave it a try.
And quickly became an addict/fan.
And as word got out that I liked both Twitter and Yammer, it seemed no one wanted to talk about anything else. I found myself spending far too much of my time trying to explain to journalists why I think both Twitter and Yammer are cool.

And then, this morning, I heard about something that may change everything.
Take a look at IvyLees, a social networking site that aims to connect journalists with public-relations folks. IvyLees is also a Twitter knockoff -- limiting P.R. pitches to 140 characters and a link.
I have no idea if this thing will catch on. And I don't much care. I'm just thrilled by the concept behind IvyLees.
Because I doubt that there's a single journalist anywhere in the world who doesn't believe that a press release can, and should, be reduced to 140 characters.
Which means the next time I run into a journalist who is cynical about the whole microblogging phenomenon, I can point to something that will make sense to even the angriest journalist -- a really, really short press release.

tags: , , , , , , , internal communications, employee communications

Monday, October 06, 2008

The tipping point's tipping point

The B2B industry has spent much of the past year or so obsessing over the "tipping point" -- that point in time when a brand's absolute growth in online dollars surpasses the decline in print revenue.
Predictably, it happened first in the world of tech publishing. And it shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone that the first company to get there was IDG, which is clearly the leader in Web-based journalism among traditional companies. (Note: just for laughs, take a look at the work done on any IDG site and then compare it to what's done on rivals' sites. Or, if you're rushed for time, take a quick look at this post blasting Ziff Davis Media for its offensive practices. For more on Ziff Davis and the company's inability to behave responsibly, read this earlier post of mine.)

But today may mark a new point in the tipping-point conversation. A recent survey by Ad Age suggests that the gain in online revenue at consumer magazines may be surpassing the gains made at the average B2B brand.
You can read Ad Age's piece here. Or, even better, go straight to David Kaplan's piece on PaidContent. Pay particular attention to the section about Time Warner, which says that Money, Fortune and Fortune Small Business generated 24.5% of their 2007 revenue from That's nearly double the 12.5% of a year earlier.

I find numbers like that a bit disconcerting. And here's why:
I think it's safe to say that the number of traditional B2B brands that generate a quarter of their revenue online is pretty small. In fact, it's probably safe to say that much of the B2B world has yet to reach even 10%, and there are still brands out there where online is less than 5% of overall revenue.
Second, We can talk all day about the differences between the specialized world of B2B and the broader consumer-focused world of business and personal-finance publishing. But there are some crucial similarities -- particularly that both are seeing a steady rise in print costs, a shift of readers to online, and the growing dominance of the Web by online-only competitors.
Or, to put it another way, both B2B and consumer-finance magazines have to get to the tipping point quickly if the brands are to survive.
So when I see what's happening not just at cutting-edge, technology focused brands like Network World but at old, wounded, print-based brands like Fortune, I can't help but wonder:
why does so much of B2B continue to lag?

Note: It's been almost a year to the day since I suggested that the time had come for B2B journalists to begin planning for the individual tipping points in their own careers. I think that is even more important in October 2008 than it was in October 2007. More importantly, it may be too late now for many print-based journalists and advertising-sales staff.

(Disclosures: 1. IDG is a client of mine. And my next assignment there will involve meeting with the staff of Network World later this month. 2. I was once a producer at, the predecessor of

tags: , , , , , , , , advertising

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

What's in a name? Circulation Management rebrands

Circulation Management, the magazine and Web site that has covered the circulation end of the magazine-publishing business, is changing its name to reflect changes in the industry.
Starting in November, the product will be rebranded as Audience Development.

I applaud the move. There can be no doubt that the jobs and tasks of what we once called the circulation department have morphed into something more complex, more challenging and more exciting in today's multi-platform world.

But the change at Circulation Management raises a question.
Circulation Management is owned by Red 7 Media, which is also the parent company of Folio magazine.
And I cannot think of a word that is more closely tied to the print past than "folio."
So can we expect a rebranding of that title as well?

tags: , , , , , ,