Neil Thackray’s Business Media Blog

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Global Warming and A New Home for Business Media

I have been thinking for some time about the concept of the ultra niche publisher as a route to building a new model for business media.  I am not claiming an original thought here.  Indeed, just a couple of days ago John Welsh was referencing something similar as he explored the counter intuitive nature of web publishing.

The toughest job for the traditional business media sector is stop thinking about the traditional business media sector.  There was a cracking article in the Sunday Times magazine yesterday looking at the future of the Maldives.  Their new president is rightly worried about global warming.  Even a small increase in sea levels will see his nation of atolls under water.  His plan? Well he has concluded that forces of nature cannot be beaten and that he must save money to buy his citizens a new plot of land somewhere safe.  (the efficacy of  his plan only slightly spoilt by the paltry $2m a year his nation can save).  He could of course just plead for help, or build houses on longer stilts, or just hope that global warming will stop.  As unpalatable as it is, he has concluded that he needs a new home for his people.

That is where we have got to with business media.  The systemic change in media consumption is undeniable.  The delcline of our old model is palpable and wishing it was not so will not solve the problem.  We tried building houses on taller stillts (think web 1.0 – doing what we did before but doing it online). Now, we have for the most part decided to go to a new home.  A home of multimedia solutions with a web centre.  We embraced the idea of Web 2.0 and although most b2b web sites are not more than Web 1.0, we look forward to web 3.0 even though we don’t know what that means either.  So far so Maldives.  Being rather attached to our old home though, we don’t really want to let it go, so for the most part have underinvested and innovated too little.

For the citizens of the Maldives their new home will be stranger, less beautiful, less isolated, harder to live in than their Indian Ocean idyll. So too for business media companies.  Hoping that even in our new home, that all things will be the same is foolish.

What has this somewhat over blown analogy to do with “ultra niche”.  Well, I want to argue that the old home model of taking a business vertical, catering, aviation, agriculture, medicine, law, marketing, power generation, transport  or whatever and then building a portal brand to serve its needs is a misplaced idea.  It worked for magazine publishing because information choices for readers were few, distribution and targeting was constrained by the print and postage process, and the advertisers were grateful for what they received.

The modern business publisher must think differently.  Just as John argues on his excellent blog,

“the more you focus on a niche than a whole community, the quicker your traffic will rise”.

Now that’s what I call an insight.  To achieve online standout you need to be more focussed on the precise information needs of your audience than ever before.  A vague generic portal for people in the hospitality indistry, or the grocery trade or anything else may make a useful outlet for the kind of content we have hitherto produced in magazines.  It might even attract traffic but as most of us have discovered it doesn’t make a business model.

To be the centre of a community, to get the right people engaged in what John Battelle calls “conversational marketing” requires a different approach.  So two thoughts on what you might do:

1) Identify an interest group who would genuinely value being connected with one another.  (so business media geeks is good, all media execs is bad).

2) Treat your community like guests at party. Invite them to come, introduce them to other folk, tell them interesting things, ask them about themselves.  In practice that means doing all the things you have resisted in the past. It means learning about social networking/professional networking on the web (a theme I will come back to), experimenting with twitter and facebook and linkedin.  It means allowing expert witnesses access to your audience and to write for you even when, perhaps especially when, they are not journalists.  It means pointing your guests to content that might not be yours, just because it is useful even when it is produced by one of your growing list of information competitors. (This is a whole topic of its own – the concept of vertical search and ediscovery where I have some scar tissue which I will tell you about on another occasion).  The new publishing model is about the interchange of experiences not the preaching of information.

If you think you know what you are doing, then you are missing something. New tools are being developed all the time.  Take a look at Amazee as an example.  Its a project collaboration tool.  It is definitely part of business media and it is targeted at ultra niche markets.  It most certainly is not news and features on the web (says Neil as he signs off another feature on the Web!).

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February 2, 2009 - Posted by | business media strategy | , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I do think that coming at online publishing with the viewpoint of how can you help readers a little today, so that they are better off than yesterday, moves you beyond being a publisher.

    Such a position turns you into something that your readers connect with, talk about and value.

    Comment by Craig McGinty | February 2, 2009

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