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Friday, October 07, 2005

Friday Miscellany 

Some DC-area B2B news: PostNewsweek Tech Media is launching a bi-monthly defense magazine in January.

And some non DC-area news: New Hampshire-based Vicon Publishing chooses Texterity for its digital magazine version of Controlled Environments. Vicon's Animal Lab News and Forensic Magazine to follow suit. Vicon, which I hadn't heard of before, takes this week's prize for unique choice of magazine markets. Gotta love b2b! (And especially a company headquartered on Limbo Lane.)

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Big Times for Small Times 

Per Rafat Ali, Small Times, a nanotech magazine (plus website, newsletters, research services and a tradeshow) has been bought by PennWell.

I've been following Small Times for a while (as has Rafat) and this sounds like a good acquisition for PennWell.

Here's the press release on the deal.

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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Custom Media 

ABM's Custom Media Committee has launched a custom media microsite, and offers a downloadable whitepaper (brief registration required) on "Launching a Successful Custom Media Program." The whitepaper is targeted at marketers/customers.

It contains some interesting factoids*, including:

1) There are 108,000 custom publications in North America.
2) The custom publishing industry is valued at $35.5 billion, larger than consumer magazine publishing, radio and outdoor media.


*(Source: The Custom Publishing Council and Publications Management).

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B2b, Geography and DC 

KC a hub for trade publications

Nice little piece from the Kansas City Star (reg. req) on the many b2b media companies that can be found in the Kansas City area, hooked to the completion of the acquisition of Primedia Business, which is based in the KC suburb of Overland Park. It's worth a read (click the link above and register), if only for the generally positive and mostly accurate view of b2b media, something I find rarely in the consumer press.

Blogger Paul Conley and I have posted before on certain favorite locations for b2b companies, mine being Cleveland and Duluth and his being the Berkshires. (He's got better taste than I, evidently).

According to the Kansas City Star, KC ranks as one of the top five metro areas for b2b media, the others being New York, Chicago, Cleveland and Los Angeles.

Given my penchant for b2b geography, I began to wonder why my decade-long adopted metro area, Washington DC, wasn't listed among the top five. It's probably because the list of top 12 b2b media companies, "with revenues ranging from $40 million to more than $600 million," published at the end of the article (with information evidently supplied by ABM) somehow excluded a little known DC-based b2b publishing company called Hanley something or other.

Which got me to thinking, of course. The DC metro area has always suffered in comparison to New York in just about everything, at least as far as New Yorkers are concerned. But there is something of a thriving b2b community here. Hanley-Wood is the biggest example, and perhaps represents the very top end of b2b quality anywhere in America. But we're also home to Access Intelligence (the former Phillips Business Information, where I worked), which has suffered a lot over the past few years, but now appears to be pumping along, with combined revenues (when you add in the Chemical Week merger and recent acquisitions) that have to be north of $40 million, unless I'm missing something. There's Post Newsweek Tech Media. We're also home to IMAS Publishing Group. We've got BNA, Army Times Publishing, King Publishing, Warren Communications News Inc, and more.

We're also home to a fine custom publishing house, The Magazine Group.

And this doesn't even account for the fact that you can hardly walk three feet in DC without tripping over an association magazine, something which is usually pretty embarrassing.

I'd say we have to at least be nibbling at the top 5 in terms of b2b media markets, as if that matters.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Dummy Hand Grenades and Other Interesting Searches 

I use MyBlogLog Pro to track readership and clickthroughs for this blog. Over the past few weeks, they've added a cool feature, which allows me to track where people clicked from to get here, including Google and Yahoo searches.

Today, the funniest click in came from a Google search on Dummy Hand Grenades, which, sure enough, shows a link to this blog for a post I did on Deborah Howell, my erstwhile client contact for Religion News Service. Congrats, by the way, to Deborah, who officially starts her new job as ombudsman for The Washington Post on Monday.

But the MyBlogLog "Where Readers Came From" report is pretty cool. Seven folks popped in so far today after searching Google for Penton (any meaning to that I'm missing?). Others came in from searches for VNU, Endurance Business Media, Advanstar and Questex. Paul Conley's blog sent over a few folks.

And there was one enigmatic Google search: What is the probability the market thinks the deal will go on? that pointed to this blog. Very zen, since it doesn't specify VNU.

If you're running a blog, I recommend MyBlogLog. It gives a good idea of how people get to you if they're clicking in, as opposed to reading the RSS feed, and then what they do (in terms of clicking outbound links) once they're with you.

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Contests, Awards and B2B 

A week ago, Sue Pelletier, who runs the face2face blog, emailed me:

I was reading this post (http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=31&aid=89591) on Poynter’s E-Media blog, and had a thought I’d like to hear your opinion on. The author, who was talking about online media contests, tells readers at the end to watch the winners to see who's "doing things right." And it reminded me of something that’s become especially noticeable to me when it comes to contests in the B2B media world.

While niche pubs that really serve their market's specific needs are loved by their readers, they seldom win these types of contests for the simple reason that, if the judges aren't members of that industry, the content just isn't all that interesting to them. Not to slam the judges by any means--it's just human nature--but it is an issue. At one of these B2B award ceremonies, my table was able to predict the winners just by the headlines after the first few rounds (women's health, anything to do with children, national defense, and the Iraq war were the winning topics in every category they were entered in this year. The only doubt came in if Iraq and babies had to duke it out in a single category). After all, the judges are generally journalists, not buttonhook manufacturers or hog farmers or whatever a particular B2B pub’s readers are. I’m not saying these winning stories aren’t great, just that we more obscure folks don’t really have much of a chance.

One guy told me he planned his "X award" entry specifically to appeal to the judges, even though he knew it was too basic and not very relevant for his readers. And yes, he won. But I wouldn’t necessarily say he “did things right.”


I completely understand--years ago, while at Video Store Magazine (now re-named Home Media Retailing), we set out to win a Jesse Neal Award. We looked at past winners, and realized the more consumer-friendly we were, the better. So we chose a topic that we thought would have cross-over appeal: porn and the video industry. At the time, Edwin Meese was rampaging, local communities were worried that video stores had done what the porn industry couldn’t do on its on, which was introduce mini-red light districts into bedroom communities. And adult video revenues were an important part of a typical video store’s revenue base. So we built a multi-part feature around all of these topics, added consumer research, and invested more heavily than we would normally into graphic presentation (though the investment was still miniscule).

We didn’t win the Neal, but we were awarded a certificate of merit. Not bad for a tiny (at the time) magazine with almost no editorial budget. I still have that framed certificate of merit.

I think our winning (sort of) feature had value for our readership, but we frankly designed the piece to be a contender for a Neal, not to serve the best interests of video retailers.

So to Sue’s question, which I’ll rephrase as follows: If business media awards can be “gamed,” do they still have value?

One of the things I learned from our Neal experience was this: making our content as reader-friendly and as broad as possible (ie, consumer-like) wasn’t a bad thing. Back in those days, b2b media was more commonly known as trade publishing, and often earned its Rodney Dangerfield-like lack of respect. People used to ask me what I did for a living, and when they discovered that my publishing career didn’t entail anything they’d ever heard of (“Can I find your magazine on a newsstand?” was a common question), their eyes would glaze over, and they’d move on to telling me the exciting things they did. The difference between trade publishing and consumer publishing was harsh indeed. We weren’t even a farm league for the consumer-side, since we seemed to carry the taint of trade publishing like a bad odor.

Things have changed. Business media is sexy (or at least, sexier than it once was). Business coverage has become omnipresent. Even Conde Nast, that bastion of high falutin’ consumer media, is dipping its toe in. And while there’s still an immense amount of pretty poor trade journalism out there, there seems to be an equal amount of mediocrity on the consumer side.

More and more b2b magazines treat their audiences as what they are: consumers, who are exposed to flashy media throughout each day. There’s more good writing, more good and friendly design, bigger-issue topics, more depth. And if some of that is done to win awards, of which there are now a gazillion*, that’s okay with me.

That’s not to say that there aren’t a number of problems with awards. There are a lot of awards, for one thing (primarily, I think, because awards programs can be a revenue-generator as well as brand builder for the award-giver). For another, finding the right judges is problematic, because of the time and talent required to judge hundreds of entries properly. (As a judge myself, I can attest to the exhaustion that sets in, and the tendency to skim toward the latter parts of the judging process). And yes, magazines with the biggest budgets and the most consumer-like audience (a market that most judges can generally relate to, like computer technology or marketing), tend to dominate.

But that’s not always the case. Take, for example, Heavy Duty Trucking, which has won 12 Jesse Neal Awards, as well as a truckload of others. Their approach:

“Heavy Duty Trucking leads its field in both readership and advertising volume. With good reason. Exceptional journalism, a strong editorial philosophy and a no-holds-barred reporting style have set the standards to which all trucking publications aspire.”

Sure, they have a big budget, but they earned that budget through their editorial dominance. Any business magazine, with any budget, can at least aspire to the same, whether covering buttonhook manufacturers or hog farmers.

So, Sue, while awards can be gamed, I think the process of attempting to game them is a healthy one for b2b media of all sizes. Simply spending the time trying to anticipate what will attract a judge's attention may lead to spending more time trying to attract and command the reader's attention. Any topic, no matter how complex or technical, can be treated with great writing, great context, great illustration and great presentation.

Postscript: There are some alternatives. I'm a big proponent of internal editorial and design awards. We did them at Advanstar. We did them at Phillips Business Information. (I still have the honor of judging the editorial awards for what is now Access Intelligence). These types of awards (which need a cash prize to be relevant) can recognize the highly specialized work of many b2b media companies, and serve as a scout for entries which may succeed in outside awards.

I'm also a believer in supporting specialized or targeted awards, such as the Aerospace Journalist of the Year.


*A short list of recent awards and honors

My friend Paul Conley points to a few recent b2b awards.

View the CEBA winners.

See Folio:'s Dream Team.

Also, check out the nominees for Folio:'s Eddie and Ozzie awards.

Other award givers:

The Maggies

ASPBE

Folio:'s new FAME (Folio Award for Magazine Events) award.

Folio:'s Aveda Environmental Award ("...the first major magazine industry award to recognize environmental achievement by magazines through their paper use and production processes").

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Power Behind the Throne 

Eisner sees bright future for industry

I'm no big fan of Michael Eisner, but there's some smart stuff in the Hollywood Reporter piece, linked above, on his speech at the Hollywood Radio and Television Society's first Newsmaker Luncheon of the 2005-06 season.

Grab: [Eisner] added that content isn't actually king, as the saying goes, but that it's more of a "steadfast queen, the true power behind the throne, who loyally serves whatever king currently holds the distribution scepter."

I've been thinking a lot about that statement since I first read the piece, via IWantMedia, a week ago. Eisner's other observations ring true as well.

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More Acquisition News 

Wasserstein has completed the purchase of Primedia Business. John French will serve as President and CEO of the soon-to-be renamed entity, and other senior managers will remain in place, as is typical of a Wasserstein acquisition.

Also of interest: Endurance Business Media, which owns Homes & Lands LLC, has acquired Pacific Publishing and Communications, publishers of a couple of home guides for Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties in Northern California, as well as some dining and visitor guides. This acquisition follows the purchase by Endurance Business Media of San Francisco-based Real Estate Times. Endurance Business Media is run by Blair Schmidt-Fellner and Gerry Hogan, the former Turner Broadcasting executives who bought PTN Publishing and transformed it into Cygnus Business Media.

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Monday, October 03, 2005

Let Your Fingers Do the Walking 

Per the NY Times, Yellow Pages publisher R. H. Donnelly is nearing a deal to buy Dex Media for $4.2 billion, which will make Donnelly the third largest telephone directory publisher in the US. Nice payday for venture firms The Carlyle Group and Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stow.

Grab: Still, the business is not without risks. Publishers face increasing competition from Yahoo, Google and other Internet companies that focus on directory and classified advertising. Both R. H. Donnelley and Dex have growing Internet operations, and the merger is expected to give them more scale to compete nationally.

I haven't cracked open a printed Yellow Pages (or equivalent) directory in years, and have used an online telephone directory maybe twice in the past three. But hey.

In other M&A news, the Jordan Edmiston Group shows that there's a thriving b2b M&A market outside of the big name, big dollar transactions. The investment banker recently announced two smaller deals:

iMedia Communications was bought by dmg world media, and Wicks has bought Credit Union Times.

My congrats to iMedia CEO and serial media entrepreneur Rick Parkhill. Years back, I was involved in the acquisition of his InfoText Publishing for Advanstar.

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