This week saw more discussion of the future of trade publications, helpful guidance on the FTC blogging guidelines, and a tale of two videos.
Reports of Death Exaggerated: “How Trade Publications Can Capitalize on Content Marketing and Social Media,” Tom Pick, The WebMarket Central Blog, 11/18/09.
Following up on his trenchant summary last week of the ills afflicting trade publications, this Wednesday Tom Pick took a shot at improving their prognosis. Many trade publishers might find his recommendations either obvious (use marketers as authors, conduct research, and hold events) or unrealistic (publish ratings of products). As for his suggestion that trade pubs convert from controlled to paid circulation . . . well, did I mention that paid circ sucks? It’s important that a B2B thought leader like Pick believes that trade publications can “continue to have a central place in the dissemination of industry-specific content.” But if that’s going to happen, we may want to look elsewhere for strategies.
On the Other Hand. . . : “Why brands need to own their content channels,” Gordon Plutsky, iMedia Connection, 11/17/09.
As Pick noted in his article, Gordon Plutsky is one of those who see little value in trade-pub advertising—not surprising for the marketing director of a custom media company, King Fish Media. Plutsky argues that “the vast majority of marketers feel that the content they create is of equal or more value to the information produced by traditional media brands.” I’m not sure who should be more embarrassed by this claim—the marketers or the publishers. But the marketers probably do feel that way, and that’s not good news for publishers.
Relax, Everybody! “Once More, with Feeling: FTC guidelines, bloggers and companies,” Susan Getgood, Marketing Roadmaps, 11/16/09.
As I wrote last month, the new FTC guidelines for bloggers may not be very helpful, but neither are they a disaster. The guidelines simply don’t justify all the sturm und drang. So Susan Getgood’s calm and rational approach to the subject is most welcome, as is her suggestion “that we stop worrying about the semantics of bloggers versus journalists.”
Passionate about Pink: “What Inbound Marketers and Microsoft Can Learn From St. Vincent Hospital’s ‘Pink Glove Dance’ Video,” Shannon Sweetser, Hubspot, 11/20/09.
Shannon Sweetser has highlighted in this post two videos that got people talking this week, though for different reasons. One showed Microsoft store staffers breaking out into dance in a fairly unconvincing attempt at spontaneity. The other, featuring employees of a hospital donning pink gloves and dancing in support of breast cancer awareness, was a study in pure joy. Though the comparison is a bit unfair to Microsoft (but, come on, who cares?), Sweetser does a good job extracting useful lessons for marketers and publishers alike.
Thanks for the link and the commentary, but two counterpoints. First, CNet seems to have done rather well with product ratings. Buyers want these. Vendors certainly can’t do them credibly, and most bloggers lack the resources. That leaves trade pubs in a unique position they should capitalize on. I stand by the point. Second, paid circ may “suck” as you contend, but trade pubs need some way to prove to media buyers that their print editions actually get read and don’t just end up in dumpsters in their original pristine condition. Without that, print ad revenue will continue to shrink and print really will be dead.
Glad I could start a conversation and I look forward to constructive improvements on my recommendations.
Thanks for the comment—I am honored to have you take notice of my post! I certainly hope any criticism I offer has been and will continue to be constructive.
Adequately responding to your points would take much more copy than fits well in a comment. Perhaps some day I’ll address them in a full-blown post. But let me try to do so briefly here.
First of all, more power to any B2B publisher that can pull off product ratings and conversion to paid circulation. It’s certainly not impossible to do, but I believe most publishers would tell you that neither is very practical.
I agree that CNET has no difficulty publishing product reviews and rankings. It may not be an ideal example here, though. Like other computer technology publications, CNET is more consumer-oriented than most B2B books, and covers more readily reviewable products.
For typical B2B publishers, one problem with product reviews and comparisons is that the relationship with vendors and advertisers is both close and delicate. Especially in industries populated by small and hypersensitive suppliers, product ratings would be difficult to pull off. Another problem is that the products and services B2B people cover are often highly specialized, enormously complex, and technologically diverse. And this is not to mention the difficulty in obtaining review units of products like immersion lithography systems, injection molding machines, volumetric screw feeders, or horizontal form/fill/seal packaging lines, to name just a few from my own past.
As for paid circulation, there’s no true advantage over controlled circ, and some real downsides. Paid circ doesn’t necessarily reflect any greater subscriber loyalty or interest than audited controlled circ; it can be manipulated (by premiums, discounts, heavy telemarketing, etc.) just as much as controlled circ. In the B2B world, paid circ can actually reduce the number of engaged and loyal readers, as they are often unable to get approval for paid subscriptions. In any case, advertisers concerned with reader engagement should not be swayed by whether the circ is paid or controlled—they have to look much deeper in either model to see just how engaged readers are. And for the publisher, paid circulation is vastly more expensive, so there is no real opportunity for improved earnings.
There is a business model that many publishers are pursuing these days that involves expensive subscriptions, but it is generally based on data and business information (and doesn’t involve ad revenue). That’s a viable route, but it’s no longer trade journalism.
Thanks for the thoughtful response John. I agree with your point that b2b products and services are “often highly specialized, enormously complex, and technologically diverse” – precisely the reason buyers need independent evaluations of them, and if trade pubs can’t provide these, who can? Such reviews needn’t and shouldn’t be as simplistic as a scale of 1 to 10 rating, but rather a comparison of the strengths and weaknesses of various offerings. The goal isn’t to disparage any vendor, but simply help each buyer make the best choice for their situation (and rarely if ever is one vendor’s product or service the best choice for every buyer).
As for paid circ, my point was: media buyers are more skeptical of print than ever. It’s hard to measure, and if the advertiser suspects that the print mags aren’t being read, they aren’t going to buy ad space. Whether paid circ is the answer or not, publishers need some way to prove to media buyers that their ads are being seen and potentially acted upon, or print is dead.