Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Things that make no sense

I like to think that I'm a nice man. But the truth is that I'm sometimes a little insensitive.
That's why I laughed when I heard what is actually sad news: Electronic Publishing magazine is closing its print edition.
I'm not one of those folks who say that print is dead. But it is clear to me that much of the print world is in trouble. And I guess I just find it funny that someone was still publishing a paper product about electronic publishing. And when I heard the news, I couldn't stop thinking about that company that sells DVDs that you can watch on your television to learn how to operate a computer.

I'm sure that killing the print edition of EP is a good idea. And I wish the folks who work there well. But I'm afraid I'm not confident that things will go well online either. Electronic Publishing is owned by PennWell. And longtime readers of this blog know that I've singled out PennWell in the past for failing to live up to the potential of the Web. And a look at the Electronic Publishing site is an exercise in how not to practice online journalism. First, take a look at this piece from the front page. It is, clearly, a press release. And if you copy the text and search for it in Google, you'll see that other sites run it as a press release and give it proper attribution. EP, however, doesn't provide attribution and drops it unedited into the news hole.
Take a look around the site yourself and see if you agree with me. Follow the link to the page that PennWell has the audacity to call "Web Exclusives." It is an endless sea of press releases, despite the strange, redundant and incorrect heading of "EP Online News Online Articles."
Furthermore, the EP site lacks all of the things that make for compelling online content -- links, graphics, interactivity, photos, etc.

If my sources are correct, then EP is not the only print publication to die today. I've been hearing rumors that Vance Publishing, where I was once a senior writer, is shuttering two magazines -- Meat and Seafood Merchandising and Produce Concepts. I hope the news isn't true. I've known some hard-working folks who have tried to make those products work. But I suspect that these two publications are gone.

On a more positive note, there is some good business news today in B2B journalism. Penton is buying WeldingWeb, an online community with more than 7,000 registered members. The site should mesh well with Penton's Welding Design & Fabrication magazine, which needs a more engaging Web product.

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Monday, February 27, 2006

B2B mash-ups and rich data

I'm still waiting to see someone in the B2B media world embrace the idea of the mash-up by allowing readers to rebuild and recraft content.
I would guess that the most obvious -- and potentially the most lucrative -- area for this would be in data. B2B publishers are increasingly turning to data as a way to boost revenue, as Russell Perkins at InfoCommerce has noted. Smart executives at B2B companies have a new appreciation of the revenue potential of those endless databases filled with what is now called "rich data." But what few seem to have noticed yet is the creative potential of rich data.

When I worked at Bloomberg News, I was mesmerized by the volumes of stocks and bonds data that was available to me. And my terminal, just like the terminals used by Bloomberg's customers, allowed me to run myriad functions to track, predict or examine a market. And with a simple click or two of my keyboard, I could create graphic representations of my findings and attach them to a news story. (Note: If you're interested in visual storytelling and you don't have a Bloomberg terminal, you can take a look at some of the simpler functions that can be run by non-customers here. And there are other companies that provide complex visualizations of data that are worth studying, such as this one.)

Few B2B companies have the resources available to develop better, more interesting, more fun and useful ways to look at rich data. But the world is full of people with the technical and creative skills to do exactly that. I've said before that I have my doubts that most B2B publishers have the interest or the courage to allow mash-ups. But I expect that sometime soon some B2B publisher, braver and smarter than his competitors, will let outside Web developers start playing with the data.

In the meantime, I'll watch the fun at the Washington Post, which has embraced the mash-up culture. And I'll amuse myself by playing with the 10 Best Flickr Mashups, including the one that let me build this:

MAngled ASuntitled


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Thursday, February 23, 2006

When magazines blog

Most every magazine executive I know has suddenly become interested in the idea of blogging. It's as if everyone in the business woke up a few days ago and noticed that there was an inexpensive way to add content to their enterprise.
As a result, magazines are producing blogs at a rate that I can't keep up with. So I was pleased to see that there's a new service for obsessive types like me who want to monitor who is doing what in the world of magazine blogging: the Magazine Publishers of America trade association has a newsfeed-like service that shows posts from magazine-run blogs. (Strangely, there's no RSS feed available.)
Readers of this blog will be pleased to see that B2B publications are well represented on the list. But careful readers will also note a number of magazine-affiliated blogs are missing -- notably Meetingsnet's Face2Face and the blogs of Furniture Today.

If you're as obsessive as I am about these things, check out my post about the MPA service on the Conley-Sarbin blog on magazine blogs.

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Keeping the talent in B2B journalism

In the past few days I've chatted with four old friends from my early days in trade journalism.
None of them is still working in B2B. One is in public relations. One is at a mainstream newspaper. One works for a major network. One works for one of the wire services.
I'm proud of these folks. They've done well.
But there's something sad about the fact that none of them is still working in B2B.

I understand why they left. A quick glance at my resume shows that I've severed my ties to B2B numerous times. I've left trade magazines to work for the Winston-Salem Journal, CNNfn (now CNNMoney), Bloomberg and to start a business. The truth is that there's more glamour in other parts of the media. There's often more professionalism too. And there are plenty of more lucrative ways to make a living than B2B editorial.

The truth is that our industry has a difficult time retaining its most talented people. And in a world where every journalist can become his own publisher, I expect established B2B companies will have more difficulty keeping staff in the future.

So I applaud ASBPE, which several years ago developed its Young Leaders Scholarship as a way to keep young editors interested in B2B journalism. The YLS scholarship sends worthy young editors to the ASBPE convention. (You can find information and an application for this year's scholarship here.)
And now, for the first time, young editors from international publications have a similar opportunity. Trade, Association and Business Publications International will offer its own YLS scholarships to send young editors to the ASBPE show in Chicago. (Information and an application can be found here.)
If you're under 30-years old and working at a B2B publication that won't pay your way to the convention, fill out an application.
I'm serving on a panel at this year's ASBPE show. I hope to see you there.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Changing the economics of trade publishing

David Sifry has published part 2 of his State of the Blogosphere report, and everyone in B2B journalism should take a look.
Sifry, the founder and CEO of blog search engine Technorati, notes the rise of what he calls "the Magic Middle" -- bloggers that cover "topical or niche" areas and have 20-1000 other people linking to them. Sifry says about 155,000 people are members of the Magic Middle, and notes that they "in some cases are radically changing the economics of trade publishing."

Sifry singles out TechCrunch and Wi-Fi Net News as examples of influential blogs. And Sifry notes that these "Magic Middle" sites are often "interesting, exciting, informative, and witty." Given that this blog is part of the Magic Middle, I'll take that as a compliment.

For more on how new blog-based trade journalists are competing against established trade publishers, check out this post on the blog I share with Hershel Sarbin.

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Become a gathering place

B2B publications and B2B tradeshows have much in common. They use each other for ideas, sales leads and list building. Executives move back and forth between them. They sometimes share brand names and are often owned by the same companies.
And I think the future of B2B publications is in becoming more like B2B tradeshows.
Let me explain:

The real reason that most of us go to a tradeshow is to talk. We gossip, pitch and schmooze. Journalists go to B2B tradeshows to find sources. Salesmen go to find buyers. Job seekers look for job givers; bosses look for employees; boys look for girls and girls look for boys; newcomers look for mentors; old-timers look for young blood; everyone is looking for someone. We go to see, but we also go to be seen. We go to trade shows for the people.
Sure, the products are fun. And yes, some of the speakers are interesting. But for many of us, even the exhibit halls and lecture rooms are just places to talk. We look for the guy who made the product and quiz him on the specs. We grab the speaker after the lecture and hand him our business card.
Do you think I exaggerate? Consider this: would you go to tradeshow where you weren't allowed to talk? Assume that there would be new and innovative products on display. Assume that the keynote was to be delivered by someone well-known and respected. Assume that your friends, enemies, sources and prospects were all going to be there. But the rules of the tradeshow forbid you to speak.
Would you go?

A don't-speak-to-us model would never work for a B2B tradeshow.
Nor does it work for B2B magazines in the online era.
Yet few B2B magazines feel comfortable with allowing conversation. Feedback functions are the easiest way to create a conversation between readers and reporters. Yet few magazines have added them to their online stories. External links are the best way to foster conversation with other publications and bloggers. But there are still magazine Web sites that pretend they are all alone on the Internet.

Smart tradeshow executives know that a tradeshow is only a place. The lure is the community that gathers in it. And success comes from creating a show that fosters community.
Those of us in B2B publishing would be wise to follow that lead.
Sure, some of our articles are great. And yes, some of our product reviews are really interesting. But if you want readers to feel as if they belong, then you must let them build the community themselves.

One place where B2B publishing and B2B tradeshows intersect is in the blog of Sue Pelletier, editor of Medical Meetings magazine. And yesterday Sue pointed to this fascinating piece by Guy Kawasaki on building community. Among his suggestions -- welcome criticism and foster discourse.
In other words, let people talk.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Your audience is your competitor

The folks at Columbia Journalism Review have done a great job in exposing the very strange thought process of yet another established journalist with an inability to understand the blogging phenomenon.
Take a look. It's a fun piece that points out the flaws in a particularly poor piece from MarketWatch about business and finance bloggers.

But more interesting than the critique is that the CJR writer predicts a boom in business- and B2B-journalism blogs. "... in the future, we will see far more bloggers actually breaking the news -- especially the business news. Many business bloggers are insiders with real, if sometimes biased, knowledge of companies and industries. Moreover, the democracy of the blogosphere gives voice to genuine experts, many of them in esoteric fields that receive little attention from the mainstream media. For the first time, these people have an opportunity to share their world with us, and that adds up to a better informed public."

Readers of this blog know that I've predicted the rise of a new group of standalone B2B journalists in posts such as this and this and this. So I'm thrilled to see that CJR's staff also sees a future where the line between news source and news provider is blurred.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

A new blog for B2B journalists

An email today points me toward a new blog for B2B journalists.
The Kansas City chapter of the ASPBE has entered the blogosphere. Check out its site here.
Longtime readers of this blog know I think K.C. is the capital of trade publishing. So I'll be expecting big things from the new blog.

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Friday, February 10, 2006

Folio founder wins Crain Award

I've been running a little behind of late, and haven't had a chance to offer my congratulations to Joe Hanson, who has won ABM's Crain Award. The award is given yearly to an "individual who has made outstanding contributions to the development of editorial excellence in business media."
I've never had the chance to meet Joe. But everything I've heard about him indicates that the award is well-deserved.
You can read about Joe at the ABM site. Or you can read about him in this piece by Folio, the magazine he founded. (And speaking of running behind of late, I haven't had a chance to offer my congratulations to Folio on the new look and feel of its Web site. I'm particularly pleased to see that external links are appearing in tons of Folio articles!)

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Mequoda picks best site designs

The Mequoda Group has published its list of the best designed media websites. And some of the winners will be of interest to readers of this blog.
Mequoda uses a 14-step system that grades both B2B and B2C sites on usability and appearance. And among the few sites to garner an "A" rating is Firehouse.com. Longtime readers of this blog know I'm a fan of Firehouse, (although I must confess that I find the site's design a little too busy for my taste.). Few sites have done a better job of engaging users as a community. (Disclosure: Firehouse is published by Cygnus Business Media, which hired me last year for a short-term consulting gig.)
Another B2B product that did well in the Mequoda survey was AdAge.com, which picked up a "B." I also like the look and feel of Ad Age, and I've been impressed with the video content and the site's use of photos and graphics. But I've made note before that the site has some fundamental problems with understanding the culture of the Web.
ComputerWorld picked up a "B" grade as well. (Disclosure: ComputerWorld is an IDG product, and IDG is also a client.) And although Mequoda says ComputerWorld could do with some help in "Relationship Building," I like what the magazine has done with blogs, while ABM likes what it has done with editorials and commentary. And those areas are key to building connections with readers.
Click here to see the full list of Mequoda's winners. You'll need to register to see many of the details, but there's some material available for free.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The start of something new

I've launched a new product that may be of interest to readers of this blog.
In recent months I've run into a lot of magazine executives and journalists who are fascinated with the blogosphere. Some of them sense that there is money to be made. Others are worried that bloggers are a threat they must respond to. Some recognize that blogging is a way to broaden the audience or to expand coverage. A tiny percentage see blogging as part of a wider and wonderful shift in media -- a move toward something more conversational and engaging, an evolution to user-driven, user-generated and user-controlled content.

And although interest in blogging has become widespread among magazine folks, expertise in blogging is rare. There are exceptions. There are good products from Variety, Wired, BusinessWeek and the now defunct CMO. But for every compelling product from a magazine, there are several that are just embarrassing.

I'll be talking about these issues at my latest venture, MagazineEnterprise360.
ME360 doesn't replace this blog. I'm going to do both.
That's because, as you'll see, although there is overlap, there are also some fundamental differences in focus and content.
Whereas this blog is a one-man show, ME360 is a product of my partnership with Hershel Sarbin, one of the most beloved and respected figures in magazine publishing.
And Hershel's expertise is part of the reason why the new blog will cover both B2B and B2C publishing, whereas this blog will maintain its focus on the great love of my career -- B2B journalism.
You'll also see ME360 and this blog have one major thing in common -- neither site accepts outside advertisers. I don't object to ads. But I don't believe they have a place in these products.

Take a look at ME360. Let me know what you think. In particular, share your thoughts on this post about what makes for a good blog by a magazine.

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Trouble for email newsletters

A little more than a month ago I wrote a piece saying I feared for the future of the email newsletter.
Now comes more bad news for publishers of those electronic products. AOL and Yahoo will begin charging a small fee to bulk emailers. Folks who pay will get preferential treatment. Folks that don't, won't.
Now let me be clear. I'm not suggesting that it's time for B2B publishers to abandon email newsletters. There is too much revenue attached to these things to walk away just yet. And I don't want to suggest that the AOL/Yahoo move is some sort of unmitigated horror (it's too early to tell.) But it should be clear by now to everyone that email newsletters are doomed. RSS is a vastly superior delivery system. And although it may take some time before your readers are ready to make the switch, you can be sure that they will make the switch.
So what am I suggesting?
Two things:
1) Make the only decision that you'll need to make about RSS -- full or partial feed -- and then offer RSS for all your content.
2) If any money in your budget is earmarked for doing anything with email newsletters, change your budget. Take the cash and use it for something else.

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Saturday, February 04, 2006

Is your staff angry?

The feedback function on this blog requires that I approve a comment before it appears on the site. I added that extra degree of protection a few weeks ago after an influx of spam.
That seemed a reasonable measure, and one that I am glad I took.
But this week a different sort of comment appeared in my in-box, awaiting approval. And although I opted not to publish it, I'm not convinced I made the right move.

First, I should note that the comment contained some foul language. And one of my rules is that I don't publish obscenities. But even if the language in the comment had been clean, I doubt I would have published it.
It came from a former editor at a well-known B2B publisher. He wanted to tell me and the readers of this blog what he thought about his former bosses. And none of what he thought about them was good. He complained that the editorial department was underfunded. He complained about unprofessionalism, cronyism and long hours.
Most of his complaints were vague. "Management ...firmly believes that the editorial product is secondary - and it shows" and that the "editorial staff suffers at the expense of the almighty sales staff."
But some of the complaints were more specific. He gave the names of some senior staff and said that they engaged in unethical and unprofessional behavior. He also gave the names of a number of editors that he claims have left the company in outrage.

My first reaction was as a journalist. I read the comment as if it were a story. And although that may not be a fair way to judge a comment, it was clear to me that this "story" wasn't publishable. It contained a number of unsubstantiated personal attacks but not a single provable fact. And I knew that neither I nor the editor who wrote it would have published it in a magazine -- either as a story, an opinion piece or a letter to the editor -- if it had come from a source in a company we covered.

My second reaction was as an ENFJ personality type. ENFJs are teachers by nature. We have a parental style. We tend to engage in mentoring relationships. And I found myself wanting to protect the writer of the comment from himself. The comment made him look weak, foolish, overly emotional and childish. And I knew that publishing it would hurt his career.

So what's the lesson in this?
First, be cautious about what you put in writing. It's unlikely that you want to be known in your chosen profession as a bitter and nasty person...even if bitterness and nastiness are justified.
Second, if you're in management, ask yourself honestly if you know what morale is like on your staff. Have the talented people you hired become angry children on your watch? Is it your fault? What is the effect on people's feelings, not just on the balance sheet, when you make a decision? And then ask yourself if it's possible, even likely, that the comment I opted not to publish was about you.

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