Friday, May 30, 2008

Buy Dr. Paul's Magic Elixr! Solve Your B2B Woes

The latest numbers from the Business Information Network show that things ain't looking good for print publications in B2B. Ad revenue and ad pages are down. And no doubt there's not a soul anywhere in the industry who is surprised by this latest bit of bad news.

As I said a little more than a month ago, much of the B2B publishing world, weighed down by heavy debt loads and soaring print costs, "has sunk into a death spiral." Heck, things are getting so bad on the print side that I'm even nervous about publishers that don't have debt. Certainly I'm not the only person to be worried. Two of my new favorite sites -- Business Media Blog and
Private Frazer's Doomed Magazines -- are dedicated primarily to documenting the troubles in our industry (both sites, however, focus on U.K.-based publishing.)

I love this industry, and I hate to see it suffer. So I do what I can to make things better.
But lately I've begun to worry that I haven't done enough.

No Sale
A man should know his weaknesses. I certainly know mine -- and over the years my business has been hurt by one weaknesses in particular: I'm not much of a salesman.
I've been lucky that this hasn't kept me from working for myself. Every single client that Paul Conley Consulting has ever had has come to me through referrals, personal relationships or this blog. I haven't had to make cold calls, etc.
But I've decided to change that. I've decided to learn to sell. Because a man should try to conquer his weaknesses. And because I want do more to help this industry and because I'm just arrogant enough to believe that I can solve much of what ails us if I can get people to buy into my ideas.
So I've begun trying to pick up some sales skills. I've been chatting with buddies who make their living in sales. I've been reading books and checking out blogs that focus on making sales to businesses.

No Problem

In order to sell something to a business, you have to be solving a problem.
In one fashion or another, that seems to be what all the experts suggest about selling to a business. Understand a business' problems, and then sell your product or service as a solution. In the world of business sales, it would seem that if you don't offer solutions, you won't make the sale. (That, I suppose, is why so many salespeople have the annoying habit of calling whatever they sell a "solution." Hence a person who sells software to trucking companies isn't a software salesman, he's a logistics software solutions provider.)
So as I first read all this sales material, I was encouraged. It seemed that I was in the perfect position to "sell" my consulting services.

It seemed clear to me that nearly everyone in B2B publishing had some combination of the same three problems. And I offered services -- either directly or through other clients -- that could help solve any of them.
So I wrote out some notes for sales calls and listed the problems and solutions.
1. Poor editorial: Publishers are expecting more and better work online from their editorial teams. But in B2B, much of our online content is still awful. It's produced by people who don't understand Web journalism and resist change. Solution: In-house training and/or outsourcing some products.
2. Soaring costs: At the rate that costs are rising, print publishing may soon be limited to the higher ends of the B2C market. But even if things never get quite that bad, there's no doubt that publishers are choking on the costs of print. Solution: Move to Web-first publishing and prepare to go Web-only and/or outsource print-only jobs in design and layout.
3. Demands for revenue growth: Online revenue has soared in recent years. But publishers continue to struggle to find online revenue sources that are robust enough to replace declining print revenue. Complicating matters is that much of our existing online revenue will certainly disappear as our customers grow more sophisticated. We've been selling a lot of crap in B2B for a long time -- filling our coffers with money from ineffective buttons, widely ignored banners, opt-out newsletters and page view numbers that aren't filtered for 'bots. Solution: In-house training of ad sales staff and/or move to a lead-generation model.

No Thank You

So last week I tried to use my new understanding of how to make sales. I started talking to people about the problems I see in B2B publishing. I wasn't actually making sales calls. Rather I was practicing my pitch with people in the industry.
What I found -- much to my surprise -- is that a lot of people in B2B don't believe in the problems. Rather, they seem to think that things are going badly for them solely because of factors that are out of their control.
I've spoken to editors of sites that are simply awful by any measure. But those people think their content is just nifty, and that the sales team just sucks.
I've spoken to print-centric sales folks who are now selling for the Web, but don't understand the difference between opt-out and opt-in. These folks think what they are selling is valuable, and that the editorial team just sucks.
I've spoken to folks who are being crushed by print costs -- pouring the vast majority of their budgets into a product that is produced only once a month. But those people think that print (and print-only workers) must be saved, and that the Web/the boss/this point in history just sucks.
Every once in awhile I spoke with someone who agreed that there was actually a problem in his/her own department. But those people inevitably portrayed those problems as inevitable -- there weren't enough resources, there wasn't enough time and it wasn't worth asking the boss for help.

The Next Step
If there are any expert salespeople reading this post, then they aren't surprised by what I found. Such experts would note that I've been testing my sales approach on people who aren't "decision makers." Rather I've been talking to the people I usually talk to -- the reporters, editors, sales staffers, designers and the rest of the people who do the work of B2B.

And any sales expert would say that I'm going to have to move up the food chain if I'm going to find people who can both see the problems and buy the solutions.

So in about two weeks or so, after I return from a business trip, I'm going to start calling some of the CEOs in B2B publishing and make some sales.

It's my hope that even if the powers-that-be in B2B disagree with me about how to solve our problems, they will at least be able to see our problems.

Otherwise, we're all doomed.

tags: , , , , , , , web-first publishing, advertising

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Early adopters and late arrivals

I like to think of myself as an early adopter of technology. I was a cell phone junkie when mobile phones were still considered a novelty if not a public nuisance. I lived in the online world back before there was a Web. I was running my own little news site on the Internet before CNN went online. I blog. I tweet. I left Second Life before it got really popular.

But in reality, I tend to lag the true early adopters.
My first cell phone fit in my pocket. I didn't have one of those crazy briefcase models. My first forays into online communities were on Compuserve and AOL, not in The Well. And although the inspiration for my first news product was the San Jose Mercury News' Mercury Center on AOL, which debuted in May of 1993, I didn't actually distribute anything until two years later when AOL offered Internet mail for the first time.

All of which is to say that it shouldn't surprise anyone that I only got around to using Basecamp last week.
Basecamp, for those adopters even later than I, is the Web-based, project management system beloved by thousands. It is, to oversimplify, a way to create and organize to-do lists.
But Basecamp and its sister products are also a way to organize editorial workflows.
And it was the quest for a better way to assign and track stories in a Web-first publishing model that finally convinced me to try Basecamp.

In the past few months I've run into a half-dozen newsrooms that are using workflow-tracking software that is based on Lotus Notes. And it's been driving me crazy. More importantly, this old-fashioned method of organizing work is driving the workers crazy. It seems that every time I ask editors to explain where they see barriers to moving to a Web-first model, they begin to complain about the systems they use to track stories.
Now don't get me wrong. Lotus Notes was a pretty remarkable development some 20 years ago. And there are new versions that offer a slew of new and remarkable features. But the stuff I'm seeing in newsrooms is pretty much the same stuff that first appeared years and years ago. It's been altered and rebranded and turned into something that "only works here." But the functionality is the same as what you could get back when I was first playing with AOL.

It seemed to me that in 2008 there must be something better.
So I tried Basecamp.

I'm not alone.
There's anecdotal evidence that publishers are abandoning their existing story-management tools and turning to Basecamp.
Basecamp's site has this testimonial from a Web publisher as well as this one from an executive at the Baltimore Sun who uses the system to track design projects. College publishers such as this one use it too. This article on the Poynter Institute's site talks about a citizen-journalism site that uses HighRise, a similar product from the makers of Basecamp.
But what I haven't seen are any major publishers using Basecamp to manage story flow.
Which leads me to I missing something, or am I more of an early adopter than I give myself credit for?

For more on Basecamp, check out this article by Rex Hammock, the king of the magazine industry's early adopters.
Or click here for a description of the world of collaborative software.

tags: , , , , , , , web-first publishing

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

More layoffs in B2B: Edgell makes job cuts

According to a comment tonight to an earlier post of mine about job cuts in B2B publishing, Edgell Communications, the Jersey-based publisher of magazines such as RIS News and Hospitality Technology, has begun laying off staffers.
I don't have many details, other than that six people have been handed their walking papers.
They have my sympathy. As the commenter, who goes by the name "lac" said: "It just really is such a horrible feeling."

It's about 10 p.m. as I write this post. And I'll be on the road for the next few days. So I won't be doing any reporting on the cuts. If anyone has details on which positions have been eliminated, please post a comment. In the meantime, I'll be looking for coverage in Folio.

Click here to read an earlier post of mine about the financial crisis in B2B publishing.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The growing ranks of entrepreneurial journalists

Harry McCracken is leaving PC World to start his own technology Web site.
That's big news for the world of B2B journalism for several reasons.

Harry may be the biggest name in B2B editorial circles. Anyone who follows this industry will remember Harry's clash with management last year. Harry's ethical stance in that dispute won him the most important award in B2B publishing -- American Business Media's Timothy White Award for editorial integrity.
And certainly Harry's departure is a tremendous blow to PC World and parent company IDG.
But what I find most interesting about this development is that Harry is now the best-known business-media journalist to enter the world of entrepreneurial journalism.

More than three years ago I first began predicting a rise in the number of established B2B journalists who would abandon traditional publishing companies and strike out on their own. And history has shown me right time and time again.
But in the past few weeks this trend seems to be accelerating.
First, there was the news that the majority of the staff of Cygnus' Aircraft Maintenance Technology magazine had resigned en masse ... reportedly to start a competing product.
They join another group of Cygnus employees who quit a few months ago and launched RV Industry News, a competitor to Cygnus' RV Trade Digest.
And in the past few weeks I've begun consulting with and/or offering advice and support to four different B2B editors who are building new products as they make plans to quit their day jobs before the end of the year.

But most interesting to me is that I'm in talks now with an entity that is interested in offering tools, a platform, ad-sales services and a revenue share to B2B editors who opt to take the standalone route (when and if I reach a deal with that group, I'll publish the details here.)
In the meantime, congratulations to Harry and everyone else who has taken the plunge.

(To see what Harry says about his departure, check out his blog at PC World.)

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

More on Web-first, and Web-only publishing

Yesterday I posted my thoughts about the New York Times article on IDG's move to web-first publishing.
And as I look through my RSS reader today, I see that a number of other folks have voiced their opinions as well.

Perhaps the most interesting comments come from my friend and IDG executive Colin Crawford, who used the article to start a conversation about what's going to be IDG's next focus: mobile.

Others weighing in on the Times article include Jeff Jarvis, David Churbuck and Mathew Ingram.

For a slightly different take, check out Rex's thoughts on whether or not "print is a burden." (He says it's not.) And read what Prescott Shibles says about the move of some Penton properties to Web-only.

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Follow the Leader: Looking at IDG's move to Web-first

Longtime readers of this blog, as well as the folks who have seen one of my speaking engagements, know that I often point to B2B publisher IDG as a guide to the future. No publisher I know has done a better job of understanding the Web and making the transition away from print.

I've had a pretty good view of the struggles the company has faced as it moved to a Web-first model. And just like everywhere else in journalism, most of those struggles involved stubborn and close-minded people.
Truth be told, IDG has fewer stubborn and close-minded people than any publisher I know. That has given the company a tremendous advantage. But as in most publishing companies, the slow-witted characters tend to be more vocal than the smart people.
I still remember -- vividly -- appearing before a group of reporters and editors at IDG several years ago, shortly after I launched my consulting business. My goal in that appearance was to talk about some of the things that excited me in the world that we would later call Web 2.0. My hope was that some of the editors would share my excitement.
I was able to reach some of those folks. Heck, many of them were already excited about the same things that interested me. All things considered, I think things went pretty well. IDG invited me back several times in the next few years. But what I'll remember most about that first appearance was the number of times a very small part of the audience cursed at me, rolled their eyes, interrupted, whined, insulted, complained and generally behaved like children.

As time has passed, much has changed.
I very, very seldom run into the level of hostility that first greeted me when I began writing this blog and consulting about online publishing.
Almost everyone in B2B publishing today "gets it" to one degree or another.
And no place has changed as quickly or as successfully as IDG.
And, much to my delight, nearly everyone in publishing now understands that IDG is blazing the trail that the rest of the industry will follow.

Today's New York Times has a lengthy feature piece on IDG's transition to Web-first publishing. Anyone who works in journalism should take a look. Pay particular attention to the words of Patrick J. McGovern, the founder and chairman of IDG, who says "The excellent thing, and good news, for publishers is that there is life after print — in fact, a better life after print."

For an earlier post of mine about my early experiences at IDG, take a look at my reaction to the end of InfoWorld's print publication.

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