In Search of Print-to-Online Success Stories

Photo by Net_Efekt

Photo by Net_Efekt

Tuesday’s post on Advanstar’s decision to take Aftermarket Business magazine online-only was one instance of a critical question for B2B publishers today: how to move successfully from print to online.

This is the question UK-based B2B blogger and consultant Rory Brown asked last week. One problem, he notes, “is that there are hardly any examples of print products that have transitioned online and been a commercial success. Print pounds get turned into digital pennies and publishers are forced to prop up their declining brands rather than turning them off.”

While I’d love to challenge Brown’s assertion, I’ve yet to come up with a good example to back it up. This isn’t to say that there are not highly successful B2B sites, such as Canon Communications’ Medical Device Link, but they are generally not extensions of single print brands but separate products encompassing a group of brands. (Full disclosure: I was a cofounder of Device Link in the mid-1990s and oversaw its content and design for much of the following decade.)

One reason for this general failure may be that print brands just don’t translate well to online. This seems to be the position of Glam Media’s CEO Samir Arora.  As reported this week in the Guardian, “while traditional media companies struggle to turn their brands into cash, his company Glam Media has come from nowhere to invent a new model based on creating a network of shared content.”

As Arora sees it, brand has little value in the fragmented Internet. The problem with traditional companies, he says, is that they try to extend their brands online rather than approaching the internet as something completely different: “Traditional media companies who are bent on holding on to the notion that the Internet is an extension of their business have all failed and will continue to fail.”

Similarly, Brown suggests that those of us coming from print need to rethink our approach to the Internet, and be willing to slaughter the cash cow. “Maybe instead of looking at the transition of a product that was successful in a different medium we should be actively looking to bring [that product] down. We should be launching the very start-ups that threaten our eco-system around the edges of our brands. “

Easy to say, hard to do.  While a magazine still has life, most legacy print companies won’t risk threatening it; when it’s dead, no one cares anymore.

Still, I’d like to think that there is at least one visionary company out there willing to give it a shot. Nominations, anyone?