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.”

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Will Digital-Only Save Your Magazine?

Where's the Logo? The Aftermarket brand is played down on its Web page.

Where's the Logo? The Aftermarket brand is downplayed on its Web page

Yesterday the wires buzzed briefly with the news that Advanstar will be converting one of its print titles, Aftermarket Business, into a digital-only format. Is this a brilliant leap into the new-media world, or a stop-gap attempt at survival?

I’ll admit I’m not a big fan of digital magazines—i.e., electronic formats that aim to replicate the look and feel of print on your computer screen—but there is certainly a place for them as companions to print products.

But when the print product itself is eliminated, does a digital version still make sense? Having spent a frustrating year myself trying to make a digital-only magazine take off, I’m inclined to doubt it. But let’s look at what Advanstar has planned.

According to its press release, the company has “developed a new state-of-the-art digital format that far exceeds the print experience.” Hmm, will it make coffee for me? Probably not, but I’ll bet you can click on the ads to get to the advertisers’ Web sites, and the advertisers can get their leads right away (what Advanstar refers to trendily as “real-time” delivery). And maybe there will even be some embedded videos. Plus, that monthly electronic magazine will “be enhanced with the latest technology to improve navigation and readability.” Cool. But that’s not all. Readers will also “receive electronic delivery of alerts and twice-weekly e-newsletters.”

How very . . . 2004. Would it be unfair to suggest that Advanstar is showing a certain lack of imagination here?

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