Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The best of the best

There's some breaking news in the B2B world...and in a change from the all-too-common news about layoffs and debt problems, today's news is good news.

The American Society of Business Publication Editors has announced the finalists for Magazine of the Year, Web Site of the Year, and Multi-Platform awards.
My congratulations to everyone who made the finals.

No one who pays attention to the B2B press will be surprised by the list of finalists. Many of the magazines (Builder, CFO, PCWorld) have become perennial favorites. Many of the Web site finalists are also from the list of usual suspects (Computerworld, MacWorld, CFO.com, EDN, etc.)
There are, however, a few lower profile Web properties that made the finals.
Among the notables -- ere.net, the blog, news and community network devoted to the human resources industry, nominated for Web site of the Year, and BioPharm International, the online operation of Advanstar monthly magazine BioPharm International, nominated for the Multi-Platform Award.
I'm a fan of ere.net, and I'd urge you to take a look at it.
On the other hand, as much as I like BioPharm's Web property (and there are a few things to like), I'm not going to suggest that you look at the site. And I'm certainly not going to link to it.
That's because BioPharm's site contains a ridiculous page of legal nonsense about who is, and who is not, allowed to link to it. That page includes the nonsensical claim that the company "may at any time, in its sole discretion, without cause, revoke your right to link to any pages on this Site."
Now if there's one thing we've learned in the past few weeks from AP's silliness, it's that there's an ongoing debate about what constitutes "fair use" when quoting someone else's copy. But there is no such debate about the legality of linking. Thus, although it seems clear that the editorial staff of BioPharm "gets" the Web, I think it's a safe bet that the legal department does not.
So, in protest, I'm not going to link to the site. Why would I do anything that would boost the site's incoming links, lift BioPharm's standing with Google and make it easier to increase advertising rates?
I'm also going to suggest that the judges at ASBPE pass on giving the prize to BioPharm. Why would an organization that is seeking to illustrate best practices on the Web give an award to a site that stands in opposition to the very idea of linking?
Besides, if ASBPE wanted to link to the winners of its awards, it might incur the wrath of a misinformed lawyer.

You can see the complete list of finalists on the ASBPE home page.
The winners will be announced next month in Kansas City at ASBPE's annual convention. I have the honor of being the keynote speaker this year.
If you're going to be there, stop by and say hello. Remember, however, that I may at any time, at my sole discretion, without cause, revoke your right to say "hello."

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Wall Street worries about Cygnus

The bad news just keeps coming for traditional B2B publishers.

Credit rating agency S&P has lowered its outlook for Cygnus Business Media, a move that suggests a ratings downgrade is possible in the near future.
S&P, citing concerns about the publisher's debt load, changed its outlook on Cygnus and its parent company to negative from stable. At the same time S&P affirmed its its CCC+ credit rating on Cygnus.
So, to put this into simple English, S&P is suggesting that Cygnus' corporate credit rating -- which is already in the junk bond category -- may be too high.

The problem, according to a statement from S&P, is born of "concern over the company's significant maturities in 2009." That's a reference to some $157 million in debt that's due next year, according to Folio.

So just how worried is S&P?
Consider this: Cygnus is already in the lowest tier in S&P's ratings system -- the area called "highest risk." And there are only two rating steps lower than CCC in that tier: CC and C.
After that, the only rating left is D -- for companies in default.

Click here for an earlier story on junk-bond ratings and B2B publishing.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The magazine industry gets connected

There has been an interesting development in B2B journalism this week.

Folio magazine launched a social-networking site for people in the magazine industry ... and much to my surprise ... it took off at a rate that I can only call extraordinary. Within a few hours of its debut, the MediaPRO network had attracted 400 members.
Even more interesting is that MediaPRO seems to be attracting people for whom it is their first online social network. And that is quite an accomplishment. For if there's any single trait that distinguishes the magazine industry it is its seeming inability to try new things.
In fact, I'm always amazed to find that so few people in the industry have actually experimented with the stuff they talk about all the time. Everyone sits in the same conference rooms at the Folio show, ABM conferences, etc., hearing about the same things over and over again for years and years, but no one actually tries any of it.
For example, based on my very unscientific surveys I'd say that fewer than 3% of B2B editors have learned to shoot/edit/upload video.
And is there a senior executive anywhere in the magazine world who hasn't been pushing his staff to add blogs and user-generated content? But what percentage of those executives has ever even posted a comment to a blog or forum anywhere in the world?
All of social media and social networking has been much the same. The magazine industry and its investors talk about it a lot. And Lord knows people are throwing money at the stuff. (PaidContent recently reported that investment in the space in the 15 months ending with the close of the first quarter topped $3 billion.)
But until the arrival of MediaPRO, it seemed that only the early adopters had actually even logged on to a social media site.

I'm not sure what it is about MediaPRO that is allowing it to make inroads with such a change-resistant culture.
Don't get me wrong. I like the site quite a bit ... but I almost always like social networking sites.
There's nothing revolutionary about MediaPRO. The site uses the same connect-with-me protocols, the same notify-me-by-email methods and the same look-at-who-I-know voyeurism to create the same sort of experience that you find anywhere in social media.
Also, Folio made the wise decision not to spend a lot of money on this. Thus MediaPRO is built on Ning, the same platform that powers social-networking sites such as Wired Journalists (which now has more than 2100 members.) So even the look and feel is familiar to anyone with even a passing familiarity with social networks.

Perhaps it's just timing.
Perhaps now that things are truly getting tough in the magazine world, people have actually begun looking at the technologies that they've spent so much time talking about for the past few years.
Let's hope.
In the meantime, check out MediaPRO and connect with me.

(Before you get too optimistic about what MediaPRO signals for the industry, take a look at Scott Karp's piece on what magazines don't understand about the Web.)

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Now it's Penton's turn -- more layoffs in B2B

I don't have much in the way of details ... but it appears that there have been layoffs at Penton.

According to a comment on a post from yesterday about layoffs, 42 people at Penton have been let go. If true, the firings come two months after CEO John French announced a hiring freeze and asked company managers to reforecast all revenue and expenses for 2008.

I'll be checking Folio for news on the situation. And I'll see what, if any, details I can pick up myself in the next hour or so before I have to head to a meeting.

Update: Folio confirms that 42 people have been laid off.

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The model no longer works

The media world is abuzz today with word that Sam Zell is planning a massive revamp of Tribune Co. -- cutting staff (which the company thinks it can do without hurting content after it began measuring the productivity of journalists and learning, presumably, who could be dropped), reducing the size of the news hole and printing fewer copies.
Other coverage of the announcement is here and here.
But you can skip almost everything that's been written about the announcement and go straight to the coverage by the New York Observer. Because that's the only paper I've seen that didn't bury the lede, and instead opened its story with this quote from Zell: ""What has become clear as we have gotten intimately familiar with the business is that the model for newspapers no longer works."

I agree with Zell. And I've often expressed gratitude in the past few years that I no longer make my living in newspapers. Because I don't know of another part of the media that has done a worse job of adjusting to the new era of Web journalism.

But this blog isn't about the newspaper industry. This blog is about B2B journalism.
And although it's true that B2B has done a better job on the Web than the newspaper business has, I think it's also true that "the model for B2B publishing no longer works."

With some exceptions, the B2B world is saddled with the same problems that are plaguing the newspaper business: the wrong staff with the wrong attitude producing the wrong product in the wrong way for the wrong audience.
I see the same issues nearly everywhere I go in B2B:
-- journalists with a skill set from the 1970s and an emotional resistance to change;
-- workflow rules that focus on producing weekly or monthly products rather than real-time news;
-- advertising sales people who are paralyzed by the idea of learning Web metrics;
-- circulation departments that are still worried that Google is delivering them the "wrong" readers while somehow "stealing" content;
-- entire publications that seem dedicated to producing content only for some target market of 72-year olds that have "always read us" while refusing to lead their readers into a new era;
-- and, most importantly, enormous and growing costs related to print.

B2B journalism itself is not broken. The core of what we do -- produce and distribute industry-focused news and information -- remains valuable.
And as bad as things may be, there are, as I've said before, answers to what ails us.
But the first step has to be for more of us to do what Zell has done and speak aloud the difficult truth: the model for B2B publishing no longer works.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

More layoffs in B2B

I'm back from a road trip and trying to catch up on all the stuff in my RSS feeds. But after glancing at the depressing headlines from Folio magazine in the past few days, I wish I hadn't bothered.

First, there's been another series of layoffs at United Business Media's TechInsights unit. Close observers of the B2B world will note that these layoffs come nearly a year to the day after the company announced it would lay off 200 people and and just four months after the company announced a major restructuring.

Second, Reed Business Information has laid off 41 of its staffers. RBI said more layoffs were possible. That news comes several weeks after RBI's parent company said it planned to sell off the entire B2B unit. (In a related note, RBI's parent, Reed Elsevier, is said to be making plans to arrange a $1.5 billion loan for anyone who would buy the B2B giant, publisher of Variety, Professional Builder, Broadcasting & Cable and dozens of other magazines and Web sites.)

But if you really want to read a depressing story, check out Folio's coverage of the death of VON magazine. It's a tale of disappearing executives, a write off of more than $10 million in debt, and a secretive move to seize assets by the folks who months before had invested $11 million in the operation.

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