Neil Thackray’s Business Media Blog

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A Future for Business Media

There has never been a more exciting time to be involved in business to business media.  Over the last couple of years this blog has tried to capture some of the issues and challenges that we face.  But writing and commentating is easy.  Now its time to put the money where the mouth is!

In the next few weeks we will be launching a new business media company trading as Briefing Media Ltd.  We think it offers an exciting and new approach to serving business to business markets.

The co founders of Briefing Media are me and Rory Brown.  Between us we have extensive of managing business to business media companies and we have co-operated over the last few months to build a new approach and a new kind of business media company.

The essence of business media is simple.  Decision makers want information to help them make better business decisions and suppliers want effective ways to market to them.

Briefing Media takes that simple goal and uses the latest technology and good old fashioned market knowledge to create a suite of comprehensive information solutions for business to business markets.

This is the 21st century, so our principle means of distribution is by the Internet.  The specialist information we present is a cultivated blend of aggregated, curated and original content.  We are using an innovative semantic search  algorithm to organise and navigate the content with each vertical site being supervised by an expert analyst who constantly updates and improves the taxonomy and the content.

How does it work?  We start by identifying the best specialist sources of information, whether they be written by journalists, experts, bloggers or even industry suppliers. Our technology reads all the sources and looks for interesting relationships between concepts to determine what documents or information to point a reader to.  That decision uses a semantic search tool that blends three different algorithms to establish the probability of an article or document being relevant.  This semantic triangulation means that the results of a search will lead the user not to that which is most popular -but rather to that which is most relevant.

We believe that although original content commissioned by Briefing Media will be very valuable, there is much else published by others which is useful too.  We are happy to point our users to third party content sources as well as our own.

We think a successful business media company is not only about reading words.  In each vertical we operate in we will add services including, training, conferencing , networking, consultancy and research.  We will publish our own white papers, act as a shop window for white papers and research published by third parties, help decision makers identify and be informed about the key topics in their industry.

You probably want to have a look at our first site – but you will have to be patient for a month or so.  We expect to release our first vertical towards the end of September and have already identified six more to develop over the coming months.  If you want to know more or think you might like to work with us do get in touch

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August 23, 2010 Posted by | business media strategy | , , | 11 Comments

The Tend to Zero Risk

One of the reasons so many media companies are in trouble is the simultaneous crisis in all revenue streams.  It seems to many, that whatever strategy is deployed, the size of the potential revenue pot keeps falling. 

Back in the sixities, almost all business to business titles were paid for.  News about your industry was valuable and that value could be measured with money.  Today nobody charges for news.  In print, yields have been under pressure for some years.  Online display advertising with it’s transparent measurability has given advertisers a legitimate stick with which to beat media owners.   Where there has been success in selling online display the achieved CPM has been falling.  Too much traffic, too little of it useful or enaged, consequent poor click through rates mean that much inventory remains unsold – a growing proportion for many – and what does get sold is at rates that are falling.  Where once the choice advertisers had was limited by the number of titles in a market, today they are confused by so much choice.

We lost our way with recruitment.  Where we used to charge thousands of pounds for a page of advertising, the job board model now offers an ad £100.  In the recession prices here too are falling.

However we solve the current strategic conundrum, it seems pretty clear that unless we can push back the tide of prices tending to zero we don’t have a business.    The truth is, whilst there are things we can do to make a difference the price of a transaction in the new world is unlikely to reach the heady heights of the old world.  There are  four steps that all media companies must take:

1) Set the fixed cost base at a  level which is supportable by the new model.  This means attacking some sacred cows and stripping away layers of management costs.

2) Improve the value of your advertising proposition.  Seth Godin says,

“As long as your site is about something else and the ads are a distraction, you’ll see CPM rates drop. As soon as you (or the advertisers) figure out that creating online communities aligned with the advertising, where attendance is a choice by the consumer, then you’re creating genuine value.” 

In B2B that means making ads relevant and targeted.  Don’t give up on vertical search solutions.  Keep experimenting – there are riches ahead for the media company that gets it right.

3) Audit every activity that leaves the building and assess it for value.  Use that value audit to establish the prices that could be achieved.

4) Give up on the idea that you are going to survive by doing the stuff you used to do.  News products supported by advertising are going to be very small businesses.  Plan and implement a series of new product developments that will help you scale your business.  Buy some expertise to help you do it.

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July 20, 2009 Posted by | Advertising Sales, b2b media, business media strategy, Search | , , , | Leave a comment

Thinking About the B2B Paid Content Problem

Rory rightly notes that I haven’t posted much about the paid content model.  Let’s have a tour around some of the issues we face.

For traditional business media companies whose living has been based on magazines, paid content has been an ancillary activity.  Its’ provenance was in the sale of subscriptions and occasionally retail copies of magazines.  In 1983, when I was new to all this, paid for titles were under threat from controlled circulation targeted magazines.  I remember how Electronics Weekly, originally a paid for magazine, was busy trying to convert its paid readers to CC to exploit the growing ad market that was being colonised by the free but demographically elegant Electronics Times.  Giving up an entire revenue stream looked like madness to me then, and in the long run so it proved.

Meanwhile the paid circulations of those titles who stuck with it has declined progressively over time.  As the annonymous Business Media Blogger has pointed out, this trend has been evident for ten years.  Magazine publishing, traditionally the dissemination of news, is no longer a paying model.  News, even in business to business, is a free commodity.

In traditional business publishing companies, led by managers whose background is often largely advertising sales, paid content has become a minority sport.  Even in the large corporates, most of which have substantial divisions which rely on paid content, there has been little transfer of learning and competence into the divsions which are advertising dependent.

So this is my first hypothesis.  If paid content is to be a larger part of the revenue mix, the first challenge is to recruit some expertise and competence into the organisation.

In digital publishing, there are some really interesting paid content models that could inform our future strategy.  Before we do that lets consider some of the barriers to making this real.

1) The Value problem, We have an inflated view of the value of the content we already produce.

2) The breadth problem.  Most of our original content is neither deep enough, original enough, comprehensive enough or complex enough to command a high price,

3) The scale problem.  Building paid revenues is a long game.  It is easy to sell a little, but it is hard to sell a lot.  Most b2b online publishers struggle to get users to stay on their site for more than a couple of pages at a time when the content is free.  How can we expect to scale a paid content model when we can’t engage our users for nothing?

4) The problem of abundance or the competitor problem.  There are hundreds of sources of b2b information and a lot of it is free.  What could it be about our infomation that makes it distinctive?

Does this mean the paid content model is uninteresting?  Not a bit of it. In coming posts we will have a look at the alternative paid content models and consider how we can use them in building the new era business media model.  The topics include, curated content, subscription news, online membership models, micropayment models, premium and “freemium” models.  If you have a view, I would love to hear it.

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March 17, 2009 Posted by | business media strategy, Uncategorized | , , | 4 Comments

Starting a discussion about the future of B2B Media

Since as long as I can remember, the business press has been spoken of as the poor relation of the media sector. Dull, boring, worthy. For the same amount of time we have been pretending that we are on the cusp of being cool. I remember in the mid to late eighties giving an interview to Media Week , which was then very new and very interested in business media, where I argued excatly that. Business media was coming of age (I think we called it business publishing then, thinking that was more sophisticated than trade and tech!).  I can hear myself saying it behind a rather preposterous moustache.  (what was I thinking?)

I think  now that debate is moribund and perverse. Business media journalism has always been highly valued by the newspapers, largely because, for all its faults, the resource applied to a sector ensured that what the trade title wrote was pretty damn good, and proabably more knowledgable than anything the national press could write. Back in 1996 when I left Reed, Caterer and Hotelkeeper had a total edit team of about 25 people. Wow!

Today the world is rather strange. All trade mags are living on considerably smaller edit resources than was the case ten years ago. A business journalist today must not only walk his beat and write his story, but probably sub it, lay it out and before very long (if paid circ numbers on business mags are anything to go by), read it too. Newspapers are facing the same pressures.  If you haven’t  already do read Flat Earth News to understand the impact of editorial resource constraint in news.

Once upon a time the national newspapers would scour the trades for leads or stories they could repeat.  They probably still do.  The problem is the trades are scouring the nationals for their business stories too! Its a unvirtuous circle which inevitably means standards are falling both in national newspaper coverage and in business media coverage.

On top of the dangers of budget restraint, the growth of the Internet has had two pernicious effects on the future editorial viability of business magazines.  First the news, the lifeblood of a weekly mag, is available 24/7 and immediately.  I haven’t picked up a copy of Media Week or Press Gazette since we sold them four years ago.   This hasn’t been deliberate, its just that I don’t need them any longer when I can find the news on the web.  I bet your reading habits have changed.  And so have all the readers of business magazines habits changed.

The second effect has been the result of the phenomonen you are reading now.  The lone or collaborating blogger.  It is almost a cliche that now everyone is a journalist.  As journalists get laid off, there will be more and more lone writers.   They are often pretty good too.  Try this for an experiment.  Read the Press Gazette web site and then read Jon Slattery (a former PG long term staffer).  Which is better?  In addition the business world is full of what we might call “expert witnesses”, not journos but just well informed folk who for the first time have a mouthpiece they can access. Some of them are pretty good too.

This has had dramatic impact on business magazine brands.  Far from being the “bible of the industry” they are reduced to being one of many sources of information in a world where reader loyalty is as fickle as a click on a Google search result.

It has been said by many in our business (including me from time to time) that it is the business media sector that has led the way in exploiting the Internet.  The good folk at Outsell will give you numerous examples of how business media companies have built workflow and paid information solutions and so on.  Quite right too.  But what about the future of business to business journalism? How can we make money and provide a credible information service to business decsion makers that will help them make a better decision?

The horrible truth is that right now, we are long way from knowing the answer to that problem but we can begin to ask ourselves the right questions.  It is an undeniable fact that profitability of business magazines is in decline. It almost certainly true that this decline is, if not terminal, then chronically debilitating.  The migration to web based business solutions has for the most part been a shambles.  Inferior web offerings have been subsidised by weakening off line prioducts.  For those without a substantial online recruitment offering, revenues are sparse- at least when compared to the good old days of successful business magazine publishing.

With the state of the world being as it is, there is no more time in my view, to put off dealing with the issue.  In future papers I want to talk about some of the ways we can tackle the problem I have outlined in this paper.  There are many.  The topics can include pricing strategy, the role of offline magazines in an online world, building a new advertiser paradigm, how to afford editorial, where are the new online opportunities, what is stopping the business media companies from being businesses with high growth potential, what needs to be done now to survive the downturn, what skills are needed to get this done, how should we contruct our organisations to get this done, what’s wrong with b2b sales people and why it’s not their fault, what is the role of paid information, what do advertisers really want and why they won’t buy online ads from you?

If you can, join the conversation or by all means contact me privately if you prefer at

In the meantime though let me leave you with this observation.  Where traditional media companies have done well in building on line business models it has almost always been a result of buying wisely (think of Emap and WGN), or nurturing new models away from the traditional business (think Total Jobs at Reed).  Why then have we found it so hard to face up to this in migrating our news and information model from the tree to the web?

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January 29, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 6 Comments