Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The worst idea in B2B publishing

This may be the worst idea I have ever seen in B2B publishing.
Take a look at DVM, an Advanstar publication that covers veterinary science. Follow the links to the news page.
Look at any story. Pick this one, for example, and open it. You'll find a rewritten press release about the 90th anniversary of Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Now imagine that you had a friend who graduated from that school. And imagine that you wanted to send him this story to let him know about the anniversary.
Click on the little blue box at the top of the story and you'll get a pop-up message that tells you that sending that story to your friend will cost you $20.

Just think about that for a second. DVM is telling its readers that it will charge them for the right to do word-of-mouth marketing on DVM's behalf. DVM wants its customers to pay every time they try and get someone to check out DVM.
Now I'd find this idea laughable under any circumstances. But DVM goes beyond the absurd. It's trying to collect these charges for press releases that are available in dozens of other places and that DVM doesn't hide behind a password-protection wall.
Given how unlikely it is that people are silly enough to pay such fees, I can't imagine that DVM actually generates any revenue from this. But I'm quite sure that the damage to customer relations as well as the loss of free marketing is sizable.

I've seen similar schemes elsewhere in B2B. And I'm left speechless by them.
I'd love to know what these folks are thinking. And for the low, low price of $20, they can post a comment and tell me.

ADDENDUM: 3/24/05. About a day or so after this post was published, DVM changed its system. Read the comments to this post for more details.

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  1. Maybe they heard you. I just followed the link and saw a red box, which, when I clicked on it, let me send e-mail about the article for free.

  2. Hi Adam,
    Thanks. I just checked and you're right. There's a new system in place. Now it's possible to send the story to a friend for free.
    Even I -- a complete egomaniac -- hesitate to take credit for the change. But whatever prompted the folks at DVM to rethink this, I'm glad they did. And I congratulate them for doing so.

  3. Excellent work, Paul.

    Perhaps you should bill them for consultation fees!

  4. Hi Clyde,
    Thanks. But I think this sort of service should be free, like sending a story to a friend.

  5. I'd like to offer a bit of a correction here. That "E-mail This Page" box has always been at the top of every article on the DVM site. And the reuse button that appeared a bit lower on the page on the left-hand side may have been removed from your example article, but it still appears on others.

    I used to work on DVM's two sister veterinary publications at Advanstar (Veterinary Economics and Veterinary Medicine), and the three websites use the same system. When I worked on the sites, I never considered clicking on the reuse button to e-mail an article (and neither had the Advanstar editors I've spoken with).

    The link isn't meant for the average reader. It's for companies and individuals interested in large-quantity reprints, which is handled by a department separate from the editorial teams.

    That said, the reuse button is confusing, which your post brought to light. After reading your post last week, I immediately alerted my former managing editors, and they are in the process of resolving the issue.

  6. Hi Spring,
    Thanks for the info.
    I just took a quick look at a few stories and it looks like the pay-to-email buttons are gone.
    For what it's worth, those boxes weren't on the side or the lower section of the page when I wrote this post. They were at the top of the story, above the headline. ("Click on the little blue box at the top of the story," was what I wrote in the post.)
    Perhaps that was temporary. Or perhaps it was an error. But I'm glad that they are gone now. I'm grateful that you got in touch with DVM. And I applaud DVM for moving so quickly.

  7. Hi Paul, I mentioned the placement of the reuse and "E-mail This Page" buttons to emphasize that the latter did not replace the former. The reuse button is placed below the headline on the left. The "E-mail This Page" button is at the very top, above the headline on the right. I found a reuse button on this story: But it does look like they're in the process of removing them.

    I just wanted to make clear to your readers that this wasn't a DVM-created plot to gouge its readers, nor is DVM’s staff foolish enough to expect the average reader to pay $20 just to email an article to a friend. They didn't ask for the reuse button; it was just there — as it is on the sites of many (perhaps most, I didn't check them all) Advanstar-owned titles.

    And being that it's part of so many websites, removing it completely (or resolving the confusion of under what circumstances one would need pay to email an article) may be much more involved and out of the hands of the magazine staffs.

    I apologize for the rant. I have a lot of respect for the editorial teams on these publications. And they are grateful that you brought this issue to light. Now they can work toward resolving it and make sure future readers don’t have to hesitate before passing these articles on to others.