Monday, July 21, 2008

Something in the air

I'm on the road this week and next. And as I sit in hotel rooms and read my feeds at the beginning and end of each day, I get the feeling that by the time I get back home, I won't even recognize the media industry -- particularly B2B.
Consider some of what is happening:
1. John French, Penton's CEO, has stepped down. And although the search for his replacement has barely begun, I'm already hearing some interesting theories about what the Wall Street whizzes that control the company are looking for in the new boss. It now seems likely that
Penton will soon be run by someone from a large, B2C online-only venture, i.e., AOL, Yahoo, etc.
2. McGraw-Hill is likely to be one of the bidders for Reed Business Information, according to U.K. newspaper The Telegraph. Given that RBI is the largest B2B publisher in the United States, such a purchase would catapult McGraw-Hill to the top of the B2B media universe. Of course it's always a distinct possibility that McGraw-Hill only wants RBI's construction division, but is willing to buy the entire company in order to get the financing that RBI is offering. In that case, much of RBI could be back on the market shortly after a McGraw-Hill purchase. (For more on this, check out coverage in Paidcontent and Business Media Blog.)
3. Cygnus has taken to suing ex-workers who abandoned the troubled company to start a competing publication. I don't have any inside information on the case. And I'm not a lawyer. But regardless of the legal implications, the case is likely to contribute to the toxic atmosphere that is Cygnus. And I couldn't help but laughing to see that news of the lawsuit broke exactly one month after Standard & Poor's lowered its outlook on Cygnus' bonds.

All this comes in the wake of the Guardian's purchase of PaidContent, Bloomberg's decision to restructure its news operations, the near collapse of America's publicly traded B2C newspaper companies and the loss of thousands of jobs among the ink-stained masses.

Something is happening. And I suspect that years from now we'll look back on the summer of 2008 as the time when the entire media profession entered a new era.
Are you ready?

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

Friday, July 11, 2008

PaidContent is sold to the Guardian!

U.K.-based Guardian News & Media, publisher of the Guardian and the Observer newspapers, has purchased PaidContent.
In a nutshell that means that arguably the most Web-savvy newspaper company on earth has purchased what is arguably the most important Web-only B2B property on earth.

First, let me offer my congratulations to Rafat and his team.
They have built a truly remarkable series of products in less than six years -- largely by avoiding the cost and workflow problems of legacy print companies. As important, Rafat understood what so few people did understand six years ago -- the world of content was moving away from print. And there was need for news product that could cover use online and mobile media to cover developments in online and mobile media.

Second, let me suggest that this news has implications for all of us in the B2B space here in the United States. Here's why: although PaidContent is a global company, with sites dedicated to media news in India and the U.K., it's probably best-known for its U.S.-based parent site. And the purchase seems to represent the first major incursion into the U.S. market by Guardian News & Media's B2B unit, called Guardian Professional.
I happen to know that executives from Guardian spent a lot of time in the U.S. a few months ago, meeting with some of the smartest folks in the online world. They asked a lot of questions. And they impressed a lot of people. And my guess is that they spotted a number of opportunities (such as PaidContent) and a number of vulnerabilities in the B2B space.

The news about PaidContent comes just a day after Bloomberg announced a major reorganization that will separate its Web and multimedia news operations from the "text" news unit that writes for the Bloomberg terminals.
Clearly something is happening here.
And years from now we may look back and realize that this was the week that the B2B industry in the U.S. entered an all-new era.

For more on the deal, check out coverage from ReadWriteWeb, which offers some good background on the Guardian's recent progress online.
For some background on PaidContent, as well as a link to a video in which Rafat explains the journalism theories behind the company, check out this earlier post of mine.
If you're not already familiar with the Guardian, here's a good a place as any to start -- an article from earlier this week about U.S.-based B2B publisher IDG. (Disclosure: IDG is a client of mine.)

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

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bloomberg restructures. And I ask "why?"

Today is a day when all of us in B2B journalism should pause, look at the news in our industry, and ponder what it means for each of us.
Because it doesn't get any bigger than this: Bloomberg LP is restructuring.

Bloomberg is arguably the smartest and most profitable news operation in history. It is certainly the biggest money-making operation in the history of B2B. (Now that Reuters and Thomson have merged, Bloomberg may or may not be the biggest player in business journalism -- it depends on how you measure things.)
So what does it mean when the best of the best in our industry decides to restructure? Why would it do so? Can other companies extract a lesson?

First, let's look at what is happening.
In essence, Bloomberg News is separating its multimedia operation (which includes the Web, television and radio units) from its text operation (the news and data service that is delivered to Wall Street via dedicated terminals. This same unit will continue to rewrite terminal news for publication in client newspapers. The company's print magazine will also reside in the new text division.)
In addition, the parent company, Bloomberg LP, is splitting into three units -- news, data and financial products. (This part of the revamp is even more complicated than it would first appear. The financial products unit will include "data" products such as the trading systems and analytics tools. Whereas the data unit will house the company's databases and its law unit.)
It's also worth noting that the restructuring is not related to any financial difficulties at the company. No layoffs are planned. The company continues to be a cash-producing machine.

Second, let's look at the why.
My friend Rafat at PaidContent says the restructuring sounds like Bloomberg is planning a spinoff or sale of the multimedia unit.
I agree. Particularly since the restructuring comes amid rumors on Wall Street that Merrill Lynch, reeling from the credit crisis, is looking to sell its 20% stake in Bloomberg. (The most likely buyer is the trust of New York mayor and company founder Mike Bloomberg. Value of the stake is somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 billion.)
It's also worth noting that although Bloomberg continues to print money, the company's core audience of Wall Street bigwigs and traders is hurting. Sales are likely to have declined in recent months. And it would take a very optimistic person indeed to suggest sales will rise in the near term.

Third, let's look at other details.
Under the new structure, Matt Winkler, who has run Bloomberg's news operations since the beginning, will lose control of the multimedia operation. Winkler will maintain control of the text unit.
Bloomberg is also launching an incubator unit, dubbed Bloomberg Ventures, which will presumably look for new opportunities and acquisitions. It will be run by Lex Fenwick, the company's former CEO.
Portfolio suggests that the reorg may mean that Bloomberg's "famously bizarre corporate culture (is) being slowly dismantled." Certainly I hope that is true. Bloomberg is, by far, the least pleasant place I have ever worked. More importantly, it was a place where truly bizarre personalities tended to thrive. The Portfolio piece says that Bloomberg's new president, Dan Doctoroff, had come to realize that, in the words of a company insider, "Matt Winkler's reign of terror and crazy little rules" were hurting the organization.

But here's the part that intrigues me:
The restructuring will create two, distinct groups of journalists in the company.
One team will be dedicated to print and the terminals. It will report to Winkler.
The second team will be dedicated to multimedia and the Web. The company is searching for someone to run that team.
But I have to ask: why the split? and why now?

Bloomberg's move comes as the rest of the industry -- both B2B and B2C -- struggles to merge print, Web and television operations. Everyone from the Washington Post to Hanley-Wood is looking to create some form of Web-first publishing in which journalists are able to produce news for any medium.
But Bloomberg seems to be moving in a different direction.
Perhaps this is nothing more than a convoluted way to dilute Winkler's power without hurting the core product -- terminal sales.
Or perhaps it is nothing more than a way to create two, state-of-the-art news organizations in anticipation of selling one of them.
Or, perhaps, Bloomberg has a very different idea of what it will take to run a news company and make money in the future.

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

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Congratulations to the TABPI winners!

TABPI, the international association for B2B journalists, has announced its pick for the best magazines and Websites in the industry.
Congratulations to all the winners!

As of this morning, the list of winners is available only on TABPI's Facebook page. But later today the list will appear on TABPI's Web site.

Longtime readers of this blog will know that I'm most interested in the Web site awards. And longtime readers won't be surprised to see that the list of winners contains a number of my longtime favorites. UK-based Accountancy Age took the gold this year (the Incisive-owned product won the bronze last year.) Computerworld picked up the silver and Modern Healthcare won the bronze awards. In the new category for Best Online Feature Computerworld took first place, PC World took second, and Therapy Times took the third-place prize. (Disclosure: I've consulted on online-journalism issues with IDG, the owner of both Computerworld and PC World.)

(Update [11:26 am, ET]) : The complete list of winners is now available on TABPI's site.)

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

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Tampa and an intern look to the future

Much of the journalism world is abuzz today over the reorganization of the newsrooms at the Tampa Tribune and WFLA.
In brief, the plan calls for merging the news-gathering functions of the newspaper and its Web site with those of the local television station. The plan also downplays the traditional beat structure and instead creates five reporting teams (breaking news, data, investigative, personal and citizen journalism.)
It's obviously too early to tell how this will work out. And although the details on the plan are few and far between, it is clear that some people will lose their jobs.
Given that, I would have anticipated the usual doom and gloom from the staff.
So it was with great pleasure that I read an optimistic piece from an intern at the Tampa paper. I don't want to paraphrase what Jessica DaSilva had to say. Rather, I'd urge you to read her entire blog post. But suffice it to say that there are young people entering the workforce today who are every bit as excited about journalism and their careers as I was when I was in my early 20s. They can see past the problems of any single medium and imagine a time when the audience comes first.
And that thrills me.

It's worth noting that the news about Tampa's convergence plan comes almost a month to the day since the Associated Press' Kathleen Carroll unveiled the details of the AP's new convergence-focused "'1-2-3" system for filing stories. Close observers of the journalism world will note that the AP's new method (flash a headline/update with a brief/create a longer piece in a variety of media) is reminiscent of the Bloomberg method (headline/two-graf/update and "tour".)
Longtime readers of this blog will no doubt guess correctly that I'm thrilled with the AP's new system. I've been urging journalists for a long time to study the Bloomberg method and create a version of their own as part of the move to Web-first publishing. You can see some of my thoughts on the Bloomberg system here and here.)

(Addendum: A considerable number of people have found their way to this post by following backlinks from Jessica's post. I welcome all such readers. I'm glad to have you on board. However, as longtime readers of this blog know, I do not allow anonymous personal attacks in comments. If you want to use this blog to criticize Jessica -- or anyone else -- provide me with your real name and a working email or phone number. Otherwise, I have no interest in your opinion. Thanks.)

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

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A threat from an unlikely place

I've been writing for a long time about the new competitors that traditional B2B publishers are finding on the Web.
Whether we're talking about Web-only publishers, editors who strike out on their own, sources who become publishers, or marketers who become journalists, the days in which the only competition that a typical, monthly B2B magazine faced was another monthly magazine are long gone.
And now we can add one more to the list of Web-based competitors -- newspaper beat reporters.

Take a look at Pharmalot, a Newark Star-Ledger reporter's blog about the U.S. pharmaceutical industry. Or even better, take a look at this article about Pharmalot on the Beat Blogging site, where you'll find that Pharmalot is successful "when measured by any metric -- Web traffic, content and financially," according to the blogger's boss.

The reporter behind Pharmalot is Ed Silverman, who has covered pharmaceuticals for 12 years for the local newspaper (northern New Jersey is filled with pharmaceutical firms.) The basic concept behind Pharmalot is that in the course of working his beat, Ed was already accumulating enough news to compete with any national publication in the space. So by moving to a blog platform, he was able to expand both his coverage and reach nationally.

Now Pharmalot isn't a business threat to existing B2B publishers. At least not yet. A quick look through the site indicates that the ad staff at the newspaper hasn't learned to sell high-cost ads targeting readers from the pharmaceutical industry. Rather the ads are the same low-cost run-of-site nonsense that you'll find anywhere else on a newspaper site. But it probably won't be long before someone there finds out that targeted B2B ads are worth more than branding buttons from Ford and WaMu.

More importantly, it won't be long before other newspapers realize there's potential (and some easy money) in duplicating the Pharmalot model. There are thousands of business reporters covering hundreds of beats at newspapers across the country. And odds are there's at least one who would pose a competitive threat to any B2B publication you could name.

So if you're an editor or executive at a traditional, print-based publishing company, it's time to ask yourself three questions.
1. Who are the best newspaper reporters covering the beat that my magazine/Web site covers? (If you have the budget, it may be time to hire away anyone who poses a serious threat.)
2. Are any of those newspaper reporters capable of launching a Web-based, national version of what they already do locally? (Ignore the print-based legacy reporters. But keep your eye on anyone who appears Web-savvy.)
3. How is it possible for a daily newspaper reporter to create an all-new product based on what he learns from working his beat when the staff at my monthly magazine says they're too busy to write daily stories for the Web? (It's probably well past the time to dump some staffers and move to a Web-first workflow.)

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