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Friday, July 15, 2005

Primedia: What's $150 Mill. Among Friends? 

To be, or B2B?

My friend Russ McGill, who's CFO of Creative Publishing International, points me to a New York Post column by Keith Kelly (linked above, with the piece about half way down), which notes that the sale of Primedia is "shaping up to be something of a disappointment for financier Henry Kravis." According to Kelly, Apprise Media has emerged as the sole bidder, for around $350 million. Kravis was looking for $500 million, says Kelly.

Personal note: liked Kelly's subhed. Always good to see more Shakespearian references in b2b (or not 2b)!

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Bench Strength 

One of my company's clients--a very smart, talented executive who runs a smart, talented company--recently chatted with me about the need for 'bench strength' in his management ranks in order to fuel continued growth and innovation. That's music to my ears, of course, since my company provides some of that bench strength, under contract, to media companies.

But maintaining bench strength is also a continuing challenge for any b2b media company. How do you hit your profit numbers--especially if you've got private equity backers and bankers looking over your shoulder--and maintain enough management depth to build new products and services?

That's why I was saddened to see two recent restructuring announcements from Access Intelligence (which used to be Phillips Business Information, which I used to help run). The restructurings resulted in the exit of two fine publishing executives, Brian Langille and Nancy Maynard. I've had the opportunity to work with both of them--Brian, while we were both at Advanstar, and Nancy during our heyday at Phillips Business Information, when the company tripled in size in four years.

Both Brian and Nancy will, I'm sure, land at companies where their leadership ability, creativity and drive will build revenues and profits. Or maybe they'll go out on their own, and do what we do at GRID Media. Either way, a smart b2b media company or two will benefit.

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The Chatty Cousin of Blogging 

Podcasting: Can This New Medium Make Money? - Knowledge@Wharton

My colleague Jim Kristie sent me a piece on Podcasting from Knowledge@Wharton, linked above.

Sample grab:

Podcasting may not be a revolution by itself. But experts at Wharton suggest that podcasting is one more step toward the disintermediation of media -- with amateurs usurping the audience of media conglomerates. According to Kendall Whitehouse, senior director of information technology, podcasting in many ways is the audio version of weblogs, or blogs -- online diaries that allow any amateur to report stories and give his or her opinion to a wide audience. "There was a lot of interest in blogging and now it has moved on to podcasting," says Whitehouse. Next on the horizon "is finding better ways to distribute video."

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Digital Circulation Top 20 

Top 20 in Digital Circulation US - Share Period Ending 12/2004

My blog-friend Hugo Martin has combined ABC and BPA digital delivery numbers to develop a US Top 20. The list is still led by PC Magazine; new to the number two spot is Cosmo Girl. Tech magazines continue to dominate, but it's interesting to see the addition of Foreign Policy.

Nice work, Hugo!

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Thursday, July 14, 2005

E-Paper 

As Rafat Ali reports, Fujitsu and Sony are making progress with the development of e-paper technology.

My view: e-paper is going to revolutionize print media and print advertising, taking the digital zine experimentation we're doing now to its logical conclusion: publishing to portable, bendable, paper-like magazine/book/newspaper/multimedia readers. Let's say 10 years from now.

Fujitsu is demonstrating "the world's first film substrate-based bendable color electronic paper with an image memory function. The new electronic paper features vivid color images that are unaffected even when the screen is bent, and features an image memory function that enables continuous display of the same image without the need for electricity. The thin and flexible electronic paper uses very low power to change screen images, thereby making it ideal for displaying information or advertisements in public areas as a type of new electronic media that can be handled as easily as paper."


Also from Fujitsu, some possible applications of e-paper:

Transit advertising on trains, information displays on curved surfaces, and other public display applications that could take advantage of its light weight and flexibility. Information displayed can be updated based on the time of day, enabling more effective advertising and informational signage.

Electronic shelf display tags, point-of-purchase displays, restaurant menus, and other in-store uses. Can also be used for pricing displays or product information displays that stand out in full color and can be readily updated.

Operating manuals, work orders, and other short-term information displays, facilitating the trend toward paperless offices or factories.

Text or images from mobile phones or other mobile devices can be transferred wirelessly to larger displays for easy viewing.

Use in the home can offer more convenient digital-media devices that can be carried from room to room.

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More on the Summit E-Zines 

I had a nice conversation with David Newcorn, the vp of new media for Summit Publishing, to learn more about the e-zines the company has developed, and which I blogged here and here.

According to David, Summit came up with the format on its own, after experimenting with a few other offerings, and the upside is, as I noted, an interesting and easy to use digital publication, which adds on to the company’s print publications (as opposed to merely replicating them online). The downside, according to David, is "that it’s terribly time consuming. We build each page by hand. We’ve discovered something, but we can’t scale it."

So Summit has partnered with ePublishing, a web services firm, to develop a product called GraceNotes, which Summit will use to automate the process, and which will also be sold to other publishers as a turnkey solution (to me, a very smart, entrepreneurial move for a b2b media company!) Version 1.0 should be available by this Fall. "I’m counting on having it by year’s end," he adds, "since we’re selling 2006 programs based on the assumption that it will be available." Advertisers are, he notes, increasingly demanding online custom media projects, and Summit intends to deliver.

As noted by a commentator to my post on this, the Summit approach isn’t currently crawlable by search engines, but should be in version 1.1 or 1.2, by early Spring, according to David.

David also notes that, besides the display format, there’s a backend technology that merges the publisher’s circulation database with clickthroughs. That way, advertisers can see the company, job title, geographic region and company size of the person who clicked through (but no the name or contact information). Additionally, lead generation can be enhanced if the advertiser offers a whitepaper or other information product which requires registration. Because the circulation database is integrated with the product, the registration landing page (which would provide name and contact information) is automatically filled out for the reader, who still retains the option of requesting the whitepaper or not. "Because the form is attractive and easy to use, our coversion rate is 25-75%, depending on the offer, versus the industry standard of 5-10%," David notes.

This circulation linkage will be offered either through an import function into the software, or it can be hosted by ePublishing. And David says that GraceNote will be available as either a free-standing module or integrated with a suite of other ePublishing services.

For more, you can contact David Newcorn at Summit Publishing or Lou Bahin at ePublishing.

Additional note: Folio: was on top of much of this back in January.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Mike Wood on the Benefits of Private Equity Ownership 

Companies can thrive under private equity ownership

Hanley-Wood co-founder Mike Wood responds to Crain Communications president Rance Crain's concerns about the impact of private equity on b2b media. I have similar concerns, but Wood makes a compelling case for the benefits private equity owners can bring.

Crain's view: Stability, in my opinion, is an absolutely essential ingredient in the welfare of any business enterprise, and I fear that the way business publishers are going from one owner to another (Hanley Wood owner Veronis Suhler Stevenson is selling the construction industry media company to another investment firm) business publishers will be sold every five years or so. Emphasis is on improving the bottom line, and it's difficult to take a long-term view of business cycles when your company will be on the block again in a few years.

Wood's response: Rather than pressure to improve the bottom line, building value was the true North that guided Hanley Wood for the past six years. A clear sense of purpose is something private equity owners bring to an organization, something that influences behavior positively...[T]he management team focused on a single question: "If we do this, will it help us grow and build value?" While VSS examined our budgets and asked hard questions to be sure, the emphasis has always been on the longer-term objective.

Via BtoB.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Disintermediation or Irrelevance? 

Interesting take on the disintermediation of media and agencies from John Batelle on Adage.com.

Key grab: But the truth is, the products that are threatened by disintermediation are not imperiled because of technology; they are imperiled because they are based on models that offer less value to the customer than competing alternatives. In example after example, the middleman isn’t being cut out. He’s simply being replaced by a better one.

Batelle, who's launching FM Publishing, offers 3 ground rules for media in the web-dominated world:

1. Intent trumps content
2. Join the "point to" economy
3. Make your living in the long tail.

Worth a read.

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E-Zines: Linear vs. Hyperlinked Navigation 

Check out the comment from reader Dan Cross, and the reply from David Newcorn, to my recent post on David's e-zines. David's thoughts on linear navigation versus hyperlinking are especially interesting.

Grab: Regarding the navigation concept, we wanted to use a linear style of navigation that works so well in print. The concept was that if we could boil down content into a 16-page package, most readers, assuming they've gained our trust, will page through the 16 screens just as a print subscriber would leaf through a trusted print publication.

It's the opposite of the hypertextual navigation that the Web is based on. We do provide a contents navigational element for those who like to skip around, but most don't use it.


He has some stats that put this in context.

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Monday, July 11, 2005

A View on VNU 

VNU: The New Face Of Trade Publishing

The good bloggers at Shore Communications have an interesting analysis of the VNU acquisition of IMS.

Key grab: The new model in trade publishing centers on a mix of analytical research, consulting services, and conferences with traditional publishing products like research reports and periodicals included in the mix, but not playing the starring role.

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