Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Thomas Register drops print

You can argue all day about whether or not print is dead. Lots of folks like to do that.
But at Thomas Register, the argument is over.
Thomas says the 2006 edition of the Thomas Register of American Manufacturers will be last print version of the industrial directory.

Another B2B sale to Wall Street types

I'm a little disappointed to find that VSS has sold the Hanley Wood publications to JPMorgan Partners. I'd held out hope -- perhaps naively -- that the B2B properties would be sold to a B2B publisher.
Certainly there is some positive news in the deal. JPMorgan paid good money for Hanley Wood -- some $650 million. That tends to boost the asking price of Primedia Business and other B2B companies that are now on sale (see my fellow B2B media blogger David Shaw for a look at the numbers behind the deal.)
But when I look past the money, I see trouble.
I've worked for Wall Street publishers before. Henry Kravis controls Primedia through KKR. Michael Bloomberg, mayor of my fair city, is the owner of Bloomberg News. The two men hold the two top slots on my list of the Five Most Repugnant People I Have Ever Known.
I've written before about the clash between the distasteful management style that brings success on Wall Street and the supportive environment that fosters the subject-area expertise that B2B publications need to prosper.
Here's hoping that JPMorgan sees something of value in the values of our industry.

Chicago, South Korea and the blogsphere

I had a wonderful time this weekend in Chicago. The weather was perfect. The city, as always, was nearly so. I was there to speak at a convention about something other than B2B media. But as luck would have it, I wound up talking at length about blogging.
Much to my surprise, only two people in a crowd of 30 or so had ever heard about blogging or citizen journalism. Much to my pleasure, almost everyone seemed thrilled by the possibility of participating in the discussion about subjects they care about, rather than being passive consumers of lecture-style journalism.
While I was in the Windy City, Dan Gillmor was on the other side of the planet in South Korea, speaking about citizen journalism in the land of ohmynews.
I wish I had brought a copy of his speech to give to my group in Chicago.

Friday, May 27, 2005

No blogging for awhile, I'm traveling to Chicago

When I'm not thinking about B2B media, I'm thinking about yoga. And if I'm not thinking about yoga, I'm thinking about sayoc. And when I'm not doing any of those things, I'm thinking about applied behavior analysis.
This weekend I'll be giving a presentation at the Association for Behavior Analysis convention. Wish me luck.
I don't expect to do much, if any, blogging while I'm gone.
Talk to you on Tuesday.

Changing journalism education

I applaud any move to improve journalism. As I've said more times than I can remember, this is an exciting and challenging time in our business. There are new ways to distribute content. New styles of writing have emerged for the post-objectivity world.
Change is here. Journalism must adapt.
But I tend to doubt that much good will come from the announcement that a group of journalism schools is going to spend $6 million "to elevate the standing of journalism in academia and find ways to prepare journalists better."
By my way of thinking, the core problem in journalism is an arrogant attachment to the elitist ways of the past. So bringing together a bunch of elitist schools -- Harvard, Columbia, etc. -- is probably not the best way to foster change.
I'm far more interested in what's happening at my alma mater at the University of Missouri than I am in what the media elite in New York and Cambridge think. Why isn't the University of Kansas, which has the advantage of being based in Lawrence, part of this project? How about the University of South Carolina? Or smaller schools such as Northwest Missouri State (where I serve on an advisory board.) Heck, if you have to include a school from New York, why not go with NYU, which has at least one leading thinker on staff?

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Those guys who bought the Advanstar properties

There's some coverage in the Boston business press of the private equity group known as the Audax Group, which bought a good portion of the B2B properties of Advanstar. Audax has formed a new company called Questex (what is with these silly, we're-so-modern names?) to run 23 trade publications, 20 exhibitions, 25 conferences and 50 websites covering technology, industrial and specialty products, beauty, travel and entertainment.
Audax is one of those massive investment groups with tons of cash and a penchant for the leveraged buyouts. Similar groups such as KKR, which owns Primedia, and VSS, which owns a bunch of things, are already major players in B2B publishing.
Audax owns a slew of companies, including Readymix Concrete and the Boston Herald newspaper.
After complaining earlier today about a B2B publisher that did such a lousy job of covering itself, I have to point out the Boston Herald failed to mention it is owned by Audax.

New direction and misdirection at GIE Media

There's a lot of change at GIE Media, publisher of such B2B titles as "Golf Course News" and "Secure Destruction Business." Earlier this month, Chris Foster was named president and chief operating officer of the Cleveland-based publisher. Now comes word that Mike DiFranco has joined the company as Group Publisher, Manufacturing. All this is good news. Foster worked at GIE previously and developed the company's Internet systems, where GIE is often well ahead of competitors. (For example, just yesterday I was talking about how few discussion boards there are at B2B publishers. But there is one at "Pest Control Technology" and a number of other GIE sites.) DiFranco is a 30-year veteran of our industry who most recently served as a vice president of Penton Media. But I'm not using this post to praise GIE. I'm using this post to condemn it. I don't know how many times I have to tell people in B2B that we are in the information and communications business. That means we communicate information. We don't hide it. Check out this annoying article about Foster that appeared on the "Lawn and Landscape" site. The writer, and I don't know if it's someone in public relations or in editorial, managed to tell us all about Foster without telling us what, if any, is Foster's relationship to company chairman and chief executive officer Richard Foster. The same piece also appears here and here. Is it possible that the writer didn't think that was a question worth answering? Or did he or she think that no one would wonder if GIE is a family-run company? And it's not as if this don't-tell-anyone-anything-of-interest style is a one-time problem. Check out the article about DiFranco in PCT Online, which contains this cryptic line: "DiFranco brings with him the popular Today’s Medical Developments magazine as GIE Media expands its leading portfolio of B2B publications to include manufacturing publications." Huh? Does that mean that GIE bought the magazine? Or did DiFranco buy it from Penton and then resell it? Is this a joint venture of some kind? You can read the article all day and never find an answer. How can anyone in our industry think this is acceptable? Does anyone at GIE think that their readers don't notice these gaping holes in their stories? Do people at GIE think this helps their credibility as journalists and publishers? Doesn't anyone at GIE realize that their readers aren't idiots and they are insulted by such foolishness? And lastly, is this sort of half-assed reporting the norm at GIE?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The risks of discussion

It's only been a few weeks since I reopened comments on this blog. I've been happy with the feedback; I've been pleased with the chance to speak more with readers.
But I remain wary. When I was at About and Primedia, monitoring chat rooms and discussion threads was a constant hassle. Folks tended to get nasty, and civilized discourse was often hard to find.
The Ventura County Star has been suffering from this of late, but moved quickly to contain the problem.
Today Vin Crosbie reminds us of Godwin's Law, which says that given sufficient time all online discussions will deteriorate into name-calling foolishness. (Thanks to API's CyberJournalist for pointing me toward Crosbie.)
So I urge B2B publishers to proceed with caution in this area.
On a more optimistic note, the B2B audience tends to be smaller, older and more educated than that of the mainstream media. That makes it less likely that we'll see the sort of ad hominem attacks that plague mainstream media discussions.
Another problem has emerged as feedback functions have grown more popular. Spammers have taken to littering discussion threads with garbage.
It is possible to reduce both spam and fury by requiring registration. Certainly many B2B publishers and bloggers will choose that route. In the meantime, I remain hopeful that the desire of the B2B world to share and learn will outweigh the risks of opening ourselves to feedback.

Citizen journalism, About.com come full circle

In an announcement that attracted considerable attention in the blogging world, Jeff Jarvis, the noted blogger and advocate for all new media forms, quit his job last Friday. Jarvis will be writing a book, working at the journalism program at the City University of New York and -- of particular interest to me -- consulting for About.com.
Regular readers of this blog know that I was once a producer at About, overseeing content covering small business, careers, automobiles, personal finance and B2B. Regular readers also know I argue that the citizen-journalism movement and its best-known manifestation -- blogging -- began at About.
I've been waiting to see what Jeff plans for About. Now Business Week's Blogspotting has published an interview in which Jarvis says "About starts with this incredible army of people putting out 500 guides. It's my hope that they can become a platform for distributed media. A locus and starting point for new and great things."
Read the entire interview here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

A grab bag of information of interest to B2B media

There are a number of things worth looking at today, so I'm going to point you in several directions.
1) Rex, who is guest blogging at ABM's MediaPace, had some interesting things to say about podcasting and B2B media. Take a look. Make sure you read the comments section, where I mentioned some podcasts of interest to our industry.
2) Speaking of ABM, there's new revenue data posted on the trade association's site. Things have improved for B2B publications.
3) Yesterday I posted some thoughts on changes in advertising and how they mimic changes in editorial. And many have been the days when I've talked about the need for B2B publishers to make their Web content compatible with the Firefox browser. Today Wired magazine has an interesting piece about how Firefox has become a leader in new-style marketing.
4) It's time for another series of awards. Folio's deadline for the Ozzies and the Eddies is approaching. Follow the links here for more information.
5) Advanstar has completed the sale of a slew of properties.

Congratulations for a B2B media blogger

One of my fellow B2B media bloggers has reason to celebrate.
David Shaw's newest venture has launched. Take a look at ERI: Extended Retail Industry Journal, a B2B magazine and website that covers the world of retail logistics.
It's too early to say whether the magazine will make it. Lord knows ours is a very competitive industry. But it looks to me like David and his team may have found an underserved niche hidden in what I've said may be the most overserved industry in B2B publishing.
If you've ever been involved in a product launch, you know what an exciting and stressful process it is. The hours are long, but the rewards can be great.
Good luck, David, and congratulations!

Monday, May 23, 2005

Changes in ad world mimic editorial challenges

I don't write a lot on this blog about advertising. That's not my area. But I appreciate the creative efforts and salesmanship that bring in the revenue to fund our paychecks.
And it's worth noting that our brothers on the other side of the divide in journalism are experiencing the same sort of new-media upheaval that we're seeing on the editorial side.
In today's New York Times there's a fascinating look at how advertising clients -- concerned by anti-corporate sentiment, blogging, ad-skipping technologies such as TiVo, etc. -- are demanding new approaches from advertising agencies.
Check out these quotes, and note the similarity to issues in editorial: "The advertising business is undergoing an upheaval, forcing executives to radically change how they do business" and "It's unclear if the traditional agencies will be nimble enough to halt a slow decline" and "The big agencies also face a throng of hip new rivals, which have pounced on the opportunity and are looking to steal business" and "'There's an incredible ability to cling to what's been done because there's a comfort in that."
Take a look at the article. Strike up a conversation with someone from the advertising staff. Ask them if they are hearing dissatisfaction with traditional B2B ads. If they haven't heard a complaint yet, let them know they will soon. Sophisticated advertisers, just like sophisticated consumers of news, are demanding new ways of doing business.

Converged news, standalone journalists and pay

Fellow journalism blogger Doug Fisher posted a comment this weekend regarding my recent post about the converged newsroom. Doug wanted to point out the work being done at the Ifra Newsplex at the University of South Carolina. And Doug is right. If you're looking to build a multimedia newsroom for the future, take a look at the Newsplex.
Speaking of converged newsrooms, there was an interesting post in the blogsphere this weekend about editorial staffers in the new, multimedia environment.
At Businessweek's blog, they seem to be worried that the demands of producing content in a variety of media formats may lead to the "death" of the beat reporter. Their thinking -- born of a lunch with an unnamed media executive -- seems to be that multimedia skills are so time-consuming, difficult and specialized that some new breed of highly paid super producer must emerge. Such people would have little time for traditional reporting.
That's nonsense.
Multimedia is not difficult. It's not time-consuming. Any knucklehead can master these technologies. You can't demand a salary premium for skills that are in abundance. I'd predict that within another year or so almost every entry-level journalist you could find will have the skills to work with audio, video, digital photos, etc. etc. etc. If anything, that would push salaries lower. There is one core journalism skill that determines salary -- storytelling. If you can acquire information and then present it in a compelling fashion, you are worth more than the person who cannot. That is true regardless of medium.
On the other hand, I think Businessweek's Stephen Baker is dead right about the type of person who can succeed in this new environment. "They will know how to harvest the knowledge of experts and citizen reporters alike, and will fashion new journalistic products out of various media. They will have entrepreneurial skills and many will create their own brands," Baker said.
That's as good a description as you'll find of the standalone journalist. And as I've said before, B2B journalism is particularly vulnerable to competition from such people.
For another look at Businessweek's take on the converged newsroom and the reporters of the future, check out Jeff Jarvis' post.

Friday, May 20, 2005

ABM, Folio and the rants of a single malcontent

The I-hate-the-ABM-blog controversy has been fun. And it has been good for page views (mine and theirs.) And there seems to be no end in sight to the craziness.
Here's the latest:
Last night Folio published an article about the disappointment that many of us have experienced with MediaPace.
But shortly thereafter, and much to my pleasure, Rex of Rexblog arrived at ABM.
That would have put an end to it. Rex is fabulous. All of us can learn from him. I expected the ABM blog to improve instantly.
But now the public relations guy at ABM has sent a nasty letter to Folio complaining about the article. Among his complaints is that reporter quoted the "rants of a single malcontent" (that's me!) and did so "without offering any credentials." (Note to curious people who don't know how blogs work. Use your "mouse" to "click" on the words to the right that say "About Me" and your computer will show you a brand new page that talks About Me!)
Rex -- god bless him and his belief in transparency -- published the letter on the ABM site.
But within minutes, the entire post was removed.
At 2:24 today, I posted a comment on the ABM blog seeking an explanation as to what happened to Rex's earlier post. I have waited an hour, but they have not yet responded.
I can't imagine that ABM would try and censor Rex. But I suppose anything is possible.
I still have Rex's post and the letter in my browser cache. I also talked with the Folio reporter. He confirmed that ABM did send the letter to him. He gave me permission to use it here.
Here's what it looked like:

Your story on MediaPace was neither fair nor balanced. The tone of the piece (obviously set before you spoke with American Business Media) was based on the rants of a single malcontent – a person you anointed as an authority without offering any credentials. This approach is a journalistic blunder from the onset.
You neglected to mention that ABM labored for months in research and development of MediaPace with guidance from proven blogging experts (I gave you names and Web sites), ABM members across the globe, and its committees. Furthermore, you portrayed ABM’s new Blog Committee chair as one of its critics, and incorrectly stated a strategic shift that has not been adopted.
You also neglected to mention that, among the nearly 1000 visits MediaPace experienced this week alone, were postings from proven business-to-business leaders such as Jeff Reinhardt and Tom Cintorino. You neglected to mention that the intended course of dialogue on MediaPace has been abundant, creates a new level of discussion on business media’s critical issues (in line with our mission), and that its postings outnumber the same week’s postings of MediaPace’s most vocal critic. These are all points we discussed.
In such, you understated the mission of MediaPace, which, along with offering our members (including Folio:) a platform for discovery in this rapidly advancing medium, offers a forum for high level discussion on business media topics. Instead, you pandered to base critics without examining their motives, and presented a disparaging portrayal - aided by headline, placement, and lead - to a large audience.
Yet, the most disturbing and unprofessional aspect of this presentation is the way you malign the American Business Media logo at the top of your newsletter; a sophomoric tactic that treads very close to libel.
Remember Dylan, your audience is made of the best minds in media; hacking like this is transparent, a waste of time, and gives credence to those trying to undermine the leadership and courage of a 100-year-old institution. In your alleged examination (rife with grammatical missteps of its own) of a journalistic endeavor, you avoided the fundamentals of fair and balanced reporting - novice approach, tacky delivery.
Steve Ennen Director of Communications American Business Media

I'll resist the urge to call Ennen's letter the rants of a single malcontent. And I'll resist the urge to give ABM another lecture about transparency and blog culture. I'll even resist the urge to point out that ABM is a media association that may want to avoid blaming the media for its troubles.
Instead, I'll urge someone there to look at this article in a B2B publication about how to handle a public relations problem. It's a simple piece, written for beginners. It even has cartoons. One key tip when dealing with a reporter: Remain calm. Hostile responses or angry words only cloud your message.

ADDENDUM: Four hours after I asked for an explanation about the missing post. Rex said that he decided that his "personal blog would be a better place to do that kind of post." I'll be looking forward to seeing it there.

ASBPE announces award finalists

The American Society of Business Publication Editors has released the list of finalists for its Magazine of the Year awards. There are honors for a number of categories, divided by region and circulation size. In editorial, there are awards for a variety of areas, including feature writing, news analysis and on-site trade show coverage.
Of particular interest to me is that CFO magazine is a finalist in four editorial categories. I love CFO, and think it's one of the stronger news products in B2B. (FULL DISCLOSURE: CFO is owned by the Economist Group. When I was Midwest bureau chief for The Journal of Commerce, it too was owned by the Economist. I shared a gorgeous office in Chicago with some staff members of CFO, but never worked on the magazine.) One glaring omission from the list is National Jeweler, another of my favorite B2B magazines and a regular winner of our industry's honors.
Also make note of the accomplishments of CMO, which is a finalist for best new publication, best new web publication and best overall web publication.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

ABM's MediaPace unpopular with me and others

It appears that I'm not the only person who has noticed the problems with ABM's foray into the blogging world. Folio magazine has published an article about the site's "growing pains."
I'm quoted in the article. Folio refers to me as one of "b-to-b media’s prominent bloggers." Truth be told, I prefer to be called Paul Conley, B2B journalism know-it-all. But I'm still pleased to be quoted.
Folio contacted me for the article by email the other day, and I shared my thoughts with the reporter. In the interest of transparency, I've posted the entire letter I sent to Folio here.
Since the folks at ABM don't seem to understand what bothers me and others so much about MediaPace, I'm hoping they will take a look.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Running the converged newsroom

When I speak to journalists about developing multimedia skills, I inevitably talk about the concept of the converged newsroom. I talk about how at Bloomberg we taught our print reporters to do television "stand ups" in front of an unmanned video camera. I talk about how at CNN our website reporters appeared as guests on our television shows. I talk about "repurposing" content for the Web. I talk about podcasting and video blogging and the tools of the standalone journalist.
Then I tell them to visit Lawrence, Kan.
Because no one understands the future of the news-gathering business better than Rob Curley of the Lawrence Journal-World.
If you're in Kansas, stop in and introduce yourself. If you're anywhere else, read this story about his appearance at Northwestern University.

A new site, a new tool and a new world

Anyone interested in the emerging field of citizen journalism should be reading Dan Gillmor. And everyone in B2B journalism should be interested in citizen journalism.
But if you tried to read Dan yesterday, you might have found yourself a little confused. Dan has moved his blog to a new location. And I suppose it will take slow folks like me a few days to find our way around the new place.
But even in the midst of the move, Dan managed to find something interesting to write about.
Check out this post about a new technology that gives yet another tool to the standalone journalist.
After that, take a look through Dan's site. If you can find the new location for his groundbreaking work on post-objective style, let me know. If you can't find it -- and if for some unfathomable reason you haven't read it before -- it's still available here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Trade pubs and the global economy

Crain Communications is the latest B2B publisher to pursue a growth strategy in the emerging economies of Asia. Crain's "Plastics News" is launching an email newsletter to cover developments in China. The newsletter and a related website will publish in both English and simplified Chinese.
I've written about similar B2B ventures before here and here and here.
There's opportunity for any B2B publisher or want-to-be publisher in the world's emerging economies. And I expect that the pace of new product launches will only accelerate in the next few months.
There's particularly interesting news here for young journalists. This new global economy is one that requires language skills that are exceedingly rare in our industry. Nothing would add to your value in the marketplace more than skills in another language. Show me the journalism student who speaks Mandarin, Vietnamese, Arabic or another non-European language, and I'll show you the guy who moves to the front of the hiring line.

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Monday, May 16, 2005

ABM and the value of writing

Inevitably, when I have to work with a truly untalented writer, that person will make a point of explaining to me how they don't have the "time" or the "interest" to bother with things like punctuation and grammar. Sometimes these people will tell me that "the copy editors will catch" their errors. Sometimes they tell me that worrying about style rules and semicolons blocks their "flow." Sometimes they argue that their clich├ęs and mixed metaphors are how they show their "creativity."
I try...and often fail...to convince such people that in order to write well, one must write with precision.
There's an example of this phenomenon on ABM's new blog.
Check out this indecipherable post about "strategic clarity."
Then read the comment section. You'll see my attempt to point out that clarity is required when writing about strategic clarity. You'll see my complaint that BECAUSE the writing was unclear, I have no idea what the writer was trying to get across.
Then read Saturday's post, in which the ABM says it doesn't want to use the blog to talk about writing, because it wants to talk about "valuable stuff" such as "strategic stuff."
There are two things I want to say about that:
1) I, too, like to talk about strategy. (Of the three other posts today to this blog, one is about VOD strategy). The problem is that the ABM blogger didn't write about strategy; he wrote gibberish. He only thought he was writing about strategy.
2) There are few industries in the world where writing is as valuable as strategy. B2B publishing is one of them.

New debate over new journalism

The New York Times calls "The Chronicle of Higher Education" a "usually staid academic magazine." I call it a B2B publication that serves college teachers and administrators.
Writer Tom Wolfe is calling it all sorts of nasty things.
Take a look at this piece that tells the story of how the Chronicle found itself in the middle of an argument about the history of "new journalism."
A NOTE TO B2B JOURNALISTS: Please do not read this post or the Times article or any of the material mentioned therein as a call to practice "new journalism." First-person reporting can make for glorious writing. But let's be frank. We journalists are a self-absorbed lot. And putting ourselves in the story is almost always a mistake that leads to pretentious, unreadable prose. In the B2B world in particular, "new journalism" tends to lead to that total nightmare of writing:
the I-just-flew-in-from-the-tradeshow-in-Vegas-and-boy-are-my-arms tired Reporter's Notebook.
If you want to emulate someone, then read up on the literary journalists instead. Get a copy of John McPhee's "Oranges." No one has ever written anything more lovely about an industry. Make note of what makes McPhee's work so interesting: enormous amounts of facts and anecdotes. In other words, think of yourself as a reporter, not as a writer.

B2B video possibilities

I hate it when the B2C media seems to move faster than B2B.
Yet in this article by the Associated Press, it seems that our brothers in the consumer press are well ahead of us in the fast-growing world of downloadable video.
I've written about this subject before, and wondered when someone in B2B would make a move. I still haven't seen anything interesting. And that surprises me. It would seem to me that this new, do-it-yourself TV distribution is perfect for B2B. Industrial training, continuing education, professional certifications --- all these are well suited for downloadable video on demand.
For example, Primedia already operates Interactive Medical Networks, which provides continuing-education courses on DVDs and by Web broadcast. But IMN does not yet offer video-on-demand services.
I'm looking forward to hearing about new VOD offerings from the B2B world soon.

Access Intelligence does some hiring

Things are pretty stressful these days at the properties owned by VSS. Most everything is for sale. And as Folio has reported, at least one sale isn't going smoothly.
But it's worth noting that at least one VSS-owned property -- Access Intelligence, formerly known as PBI -- is in hiring mode. The company's Satellite Group has added an editor, a marketing person and an events coordinator.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Open for comment

Never underestimate the power of a well-crafted phrase. Never compromise in the search for the right words to make your point.
Yesterday I read a post on my friend David Shaw's blog in which he quoted Steve Smith's description of the community discussions on agriculture.com. This line captured my attention: "These days, a Web site is less a magazine than it is a quilting bee."
That's how a good writer uses metaphor! That is the simple, lovely writing that I adore.
Smith was talking about how "AgOnline leverages the natural tendencies of the ag-world to swap stories and trust one another's experience in the field, and it should be a model to other b2bs that talk at, rather than with, their customers."
Reading that piece has convinced me to change my position and to reopen the comment function on this blog. Back when I started this venture, I allowed comments. At first, there were none. And I was saddened. Then, some appeared. And I was pleased.
But I continued to worry about the problems we encountered at About.com in the old days, when discussion groups and chat rooms were often dumping grounds for nastiness and ad hominem attacks.
And I pulled the plug on comments when I came across the first inappropriate posting to this blog.
I am still worried, and I may change my mind yet again. There are downsides to opening a conversation. And blog comment functions can be misused, sometimes in surprising ways.
But if I believe in the spirit of community journalism -- and I do -- then it's time to talk less and to listen more.

Students, podcasts and journalism

I've said before that journalism students of today need to embrace the changes of participatory journalism and the converged newsroom. The tools of community journalism have opened opportunities that were unimaginable when I was starting out in this game.
And in today's Wall Street Journal, there's an interesting piece about a student who landed a gig podcasting on behalf of the Denver Post.
Let me be clear -- I don't think anyone needs the help of the mainstream press to do this sort of work. The beauty of community journalism is that there are few barriers to entry.
The Journal piece also discusses some other podcasting efforts by mainstream B2C publications. It's worth a read.
In the meantime, I'm still waiting to see something truly interesting podcasts emerge in the B2B world. I trust that sooner, and not later, some entry-level reporter at some trade pub is going to impress me.

ABM blog may be missing the point

Perhaps the best thing about the blogging world is that the rules are still being written. We're free to disregard some parts of media's past and embrace new ways of communicating. Many bloggers have, for example, decided to abandon objective style and instead follow the lead of Dan Gillmor and others.
And although I would hesitate to say that the blogsphere has its own hard and fast rules, I do think it's fair to say that some guidelines have emerged.
And it looks to me that American Business Media's blog may not quite understand this new medium.
Granted, ABM's blog is new. And things are likely to change. Nonetheless, I'm more than a little disappointed.
ABM's MediaPace has yet to provide a single external link in any of its copy. Nor does it have any permanent external links.
And I'm not the only person to note that ABM is struggling with the ethics of the blogsphere. As this article in Folio points out, the folks behind the ABM blog don't seem to understand the idea of transparency.
My fellow B2B blogger David Shaw has also raised concerns.
I remain hopeful that ABM will do a better job of showing our fellow B2B journalists what is possible with the tools of community journalism. And I'll ask that someone at the trade association take a look at this post at Susan Mernit's blog about the shortcomings of corporate blogging.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Vance sells magazines to columnist

Vance Publishing has sold four magazines to a company run by one of its columnists.
Cotton Farming, Rice Farming, Peanut Grower and Soybean South were bought by Mike Lamensdorf, president and treasurer of One Grower Publishing.
Readers of Cotton Farming know Lamensdorf as the writer of the "My Turn" column.
Vance had earlier announced its plans to sell three of the publications. And I've already predicted that the sale clears the way for Vance to divest the rest of its food-industry publications.
FULL DISCLOSURE: Although I was once a senior writer at Vance, I did not work with the magazines that have been sold and I don't know Mike.

Audited numbers for digital magazines

It's getting a little easier to judge the reach of digital magazines. There are now more than 100 magazines, mostly in B2B, with digital editions audited by BPA.
As you'd guess, it's tech mags that dominate the digital space. And although eWeek tops the list with some 40,065 subscribers to its electronic version, it was the statistics on Electronics Weekly that caught my eye. A full 38.7% of EW readers are digital-only subscribers.
If you want the details, download the digital magazine known as Digital Magazine News.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Doc Searls on endorsements and ethics

I'll admit to being more than a little giddy today. Doc Searls, prophet of the Internet era and one of the writers of "The Cluetrain Manifesto," mentions me on his blog today.
And he used the words "excellent" and "interesting."
Now granted, I had to post a response to one of his posts before he was aware that I'd written on the same subject. But I'm still celebrating.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Product endorsements and journalism ethics

I've been trading emails today with a reader of this blog who was pleased by something I once wrote about her company. She asked about reproducing my comments in her company's marketing material. I declined, and she graciously accepted my explanation.
Now it occurs to me that our discussion might have some value for other bloggers, journalists, marketing folks and anyone else interested in new media.
Here is the email I sent to her. I'm not going to name her or her company, because it would violate a trust. She reached out to me openly and honestly, looking for guidance through the world of blogs. Here's what I said:

First, thanks for reading the blog. And thanks for getting in touch.

I'm flattered that you would like to use my comments in your marketing communications. But I don't think it's appropriate.
Let me explain. As you noted in your email, the rules of the blog world are new and often unclear. I offer my congratulations that you're willing to try and understand this new medium. I don't pretend to speak for other bloggers. And certainly there are those who would disagree with what I'm about to say. Nonetheless, here goes: I think the core beauty, the core purpose, the very essence of community journalism (of which blogging is a part) is that it involves conversation. That's a departure from traditional media, which tends to be more of a lecture. Part of that means that what I say on my blog sort of "belongs" to anyone who wants it. Anyone can quote from it, and I certainly hope that many people will link to it.
In other words, in a very real sense, I don't believe I "own" what I say on my blog, or what I say to other bloggers. My blog is something "I said" more than it is something "I published." And thus anyone is free to say "Paul Conley said x," and to link to my blog.
From a legal standpoint, that's in keeping with the "fair use" guidelines that are common in print media. As you know, the copyright rules are different for reprints. And I would guess that the same legal guidelines apply when someone reprints something from a blog as when someone reprints something from a newspaper. (Although I'm not sure if the courts have ruled on this issue.) And thus I would say that I retain the right to limit reprints of material from my blog. And I would not be willing to grant permission for you to use them in marketing material.
There is also an issue of credibility. The blog world is wracked by debate about whether blogging is journalism and about what ethical rules apply. But for me, the rules are simple. I'm a journalist by training. I've been doing this work for decades now. And I'm just not comfortable agreeing to endorse a product or provide a testimonial.
I hope that I have answered your questions. And I trust that you will have no problem finding others to endorse your product. Your company does good work. And if I were in another business, I'd be happy to offer a testimonial. But I'm a journalist, by inclination and by habit. And that must define how I communicate.

If you're interested, take a look at this post on the Corante blog about how companies can manage their brand identity in the blog world.

So what do you think? Drop me a line at correspond at paulconley.com

Monday, May 09, 2005

Craig, talented amateurs and B2B competition

The AP has published an interesting interview with Craig Newmark, the classified-ad entrepreneur behind craigslist. The focus of the piece is Craig's plan, still in its infancy, to create a pool of "talented amateurs" to compete against the mainstream media.
I welcome the effort, and I suspect that Craig will find some success. No one should underestimate the abilities of a man who has single-handedly altered the economics of the newspaper industry.
But Craig is interested in competing against B2C media. And perhaps the B2C media should be worried about talented amateurs.
But as I've said before, B2B publishers should be worried about something else -- talented professionals.
B2B journalism serves niche audiences. Our readers, unlike the average reader of a daily newspaper, are experts in our beats. The arrival of Internet publishing software allows these B2B experts to compete against established B2B media with ease and speed.
Consider, for example, Brandweek magazine, a well-established, well-respected, traditional B2B publication. Take a look. Read a few articles. Then visit the Corante group blog on branding. It's written and published by branding practitioners. After that, take a look at the gorgeous design and thoughtful articles of brandchannel.com, produced by consulting firm Interbrand.
The community journalism that Craig envisions for the B2C press is already a fact in the B2B world. Are you ready for a world in which your customers are also your peers, your competitors, your rivals?

Friday, May 06, 2005

NXTBook vs. repurposing content

In a post yesterday, I implied that I liked they way NXTBook makes offline content available in an online format. A reader of this blog wrote to ask why I, of all people, would say anything positive about such a system, given that I have previously spoken about the need to repurpose content for the Web, and that I have bad-mouthed other pdf-like attempts to put paper products on the Web.
Point taken.
As a general rule, I don't like the glorified versions of pdf files that publishers place on line. In particular, I've voiced disappointment at the efforts of my alma mater to create an electronic newspaper.
So let me clarify.
Creating content for an electronic medium provides innumerable opportunities to do things that simply cannot be done in a print product. And any industrious and talented journalist should take advantage of that. For a recent example of how to tell a story on the Web, check out this post by journalism teacher and fellow blogger Doug Fisher. For a look at how to write for the Web, read this piece by Jonathan Dube.
As for NXTBook, the simple truth is that I find the product kind of cool. It is not a substitute for multimedia content. But it is fun to play with.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Peeking at ABM, NXTBook and Primedia

Now this is kind of fun. American Business Media is posting a link to the tradeshow daily that Folio magazine produced at the ABM Spring Meeting. The daily is rendered Web-friendly via NXTBook, a system I like more and more each time I use it.
Take a look at what Folio has done. And explore the functionality of NXTBook.
And don't forget to read the article on the pending sale of Primedia Business. Folio is reporting that Primedia wants 13x earnings for the properties, a whopping half-billion dollars. Sources tell Folio that 10x earnings is probably the maximum that buyers would pay.

Bad credit where bad credit is due

Now here's the sort of distinction that no company wants. Buried in this piece from the Kansas City Star is the following piece of troubling news: Only "two U.S. companies are rated 'CCC' or lower on CreditWatch with negative implications: Penton Media Inc. and Booth Creek Ski Holdings Inc."
Imagine that! Of the thousands and thousands of companies in this country, only two are viewed with such disdain by Standard & Poor's. To understand what that means, consider this: only one nation on earth has a rating of 'CCC' or lower -- violence-ridden Belize.
Now Penton management has recently expressed some optimism, as reported here by my fellow B2B blogger David Shaw.
But I simply don't share that confidence. No company can grow their way out of the debt-driven disaster that is Penton's balance sheet. Penton, publisher of such titles as "Air Transport World" and "Baking Management," will have to divest properties (the company has already sold off its European holdings.) There are probably some bargains to be had by any acquisition-minded publishers.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

New sites for marketers

The woman I love works in the marketing business. And I'm amazed by the amount of B2B material that is aimed at her and her peers. It seems to me that no one receives more attention from B2B publishers than the people who try to get the goods on the shelf.
And now there are two new information sources for marketing executives.
Chief Marketer, a Primedia property, has redesigned its site and added two email newsletters. I'll admit to some disappointment with Chief Marketer. As of today, the site doesn't work properly in the Firefox browser. (Not optimizing for Firefox is a bad idea, as reported here in yet-another site for the marketing business.) Here's how the lead story looks to me in Firefox: "If you�re trying to buy television airtime in the �upfront� sales market this month, you could be in luck. Media buyers at a New York conference predicted that a weak �scatter� market combined with the uncertain economy and mounting pressure among marketers to move ad dollars online"
Also debuting today is VNU's new site about the marketing craze of product placement and other forms of branded entertainment. I'm trilled to note that insidebrandedentertainment.com has a section dedicated to external links. And I'm pleased that it works in both my browsers.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

B2B publishers start to catch on

I've done what I could here to try and convince B2B journalists and publishers to pay attention to the citizen journalism movement. I've shared my opinion that bloggers are not the enemy; they are our audience....and they want to talk. I've also shared my prediction that the ease of Internet publishing does pose a competitive threat by enabling almost anyone to enter this industry -- and that the threat is most likely to come from existing staff and sources.
I've often been discouraged. Most of the folks I've talked to in the B2B press in recent months have seemed reflexively angry about, or shockingly unaware of, the changes in our industry.
But today comes two pieces of news that I find encouraging.
First, American Business Media, the trade association for B2B publishers, is launching an RSS feed. Second, ABM has formed a committee on blogging, and put Rex of Rexblog in charge.
I'm just thrilled.
If ABM has recognized that change is here, and decided to embrace the new media and share what it learns, then I expect that heads across the B2B world will soon be pulled from the sand.

Monday, May 02, 2005

The boss doesn't like you, but loves the ad guy

I just read a story in Folio based on a survey of the chief executives of B2B media companies. I found the article sort of disconcerting, although I think it's meant to be optimistic.
The problem...I think...is that I'm just not on the same page as the people surveyed. I find this to be an incredibly exciting time in journalism, particularly in B2B journalism. But the article doesn't mention a single one of the remarkable things that are happening in this game. There's no mention of blogs, no discussion of podcasting, no indications of changes in ad-tracking technology, no arguments about post-objectivity, no conversation about the risks to print products in a multimedia era, etc.
The CEOs do predict a rise in advertising revenue. And certainly that is good news. But the predictions are perhaps too optimistic -- 42% of those surveyed say they expect double-digit revenue growth! And these feel-good forecasts seem to be based on nothing more than feel-good hopefulness. "Asked to identify their sources of new revenue for 2005, 75 percent of respondents said revenue would come from new print advertisers, while 60 percent cited existing print advertisers," according to Folio.
Now as any talented B2B journalist would recognize, that sentence requires a few follow-up questions. If your existing customers are willing to pay more for your products, why haven't you increased your rates already? If there are new, untapped customers available, why have you failed to do business with them to this point?
And therein lies the problem, for the survey also indicates that the CEOs don't much care about talented B2B journalists. "The only priorities that significantly declined from 2004 to 2005 were editorial integrity and staff stability," according to Folio.

ASBPE honors Don Ranly

The American Society of Business Publication Editors, the trade group that represents the journalists of the B2B world, is giving a lifetime achievement award to one of my former teachers from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Don Ranly is probably best known for his promotion of "service journalism." But I'll always remember him for his shockingly white hair. He looks like Andy Warhol would have looked if Warhol had a comb...and a beard. Congratulations Don.