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Thursday, November 17, 2005

VNU Update 

VNU has officially ended its quest to merge with IMS, bowing to the demands of shareholders. And while VNU vows to remain independent, shareholders may still insist on a few things:

They had demanded that VNU -- with four core activities in marketing information, media measurement, directories and business-to-business publishing -- sell a big division and return more cash to investors instead.

Will the 1 billion Euros returned to shareholders as part of exiting the merger be enough to stave off the sale of a big division?

See past posts here and here.

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What's a Bathroom Prophet? 

In yesterday's Folio: digital show daily from the ABM Top Management meeting, there was a brief piece on blogs (see page 4), featuring a quote that has me flummoxed:

Steve Ennen, American Business Media's resident Mediapace blogger, said balancing the interests of an association with personal analysis can be hard. "We don't have the liberty to be a bathroom prophet."

First, what's a bathroom prophet? Someone who scrawls obscenities in a stall? Is that what Steve thinks most bloggers are? If you know a definition, please let me know, since Google isn't very helpful on this front.

And second, I think Steve misunderstands the point of blogs. If you're balancing any interests, you're running the equivalent of press releases in blog form. Plenty of bloggers manage to blog successfully from within companies, and don't seem to have a problem with delivering strong personal analysis. Check out Scoble, or Dave Jung.

A blog is personal analysis, personal choice, personal taste--or should be.

But that's just the view of this bathroom prophet.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

More (Historic) Electronic Show Dailies 

My post on Dick Koulbanis's early experiment with an electronic show daily brought another reminiscence, this time from my friend and colleague Denis Cambruzzi. He recalls the creation, in 1985, of a televised show daily--something I still don't see enough of these days:

In 1985, our publication was blocked from producing a print show daily for the annual industry convention. The association had convinced themselves that a strategic alliance with one publisher would be best for their show efforts. In hindsight, I think this is now considered to be really poor logic. But for us, it was an awful situation. Our competitor would receive all the accolades of covering the event and gloriously dropping a huge (I mean really huge 200+ page mag) at the attendees' hotel rooms early each morning.

In 1985, we had no email, internet, laptops or wireless. Cell phones were called car phones, and that's where they were embedded. But we had an intense desire to win, more than just succeed. We wanted to do something that not just cancelled out our competitor's efforts but, frankly, shamed them.

So we created an electronic show daily--a convention television daily. We convinced the association that it would not be competitive with their previous agreement and to give us exclusivity. We shot video and edited all day. We interviewed attendees, exhibitors and their celebrity guests, covered press and industry events. We even created ads. And guess what? We were airing in the hotel rooms (using hotel closed circuit channels) by 11:30 pm, so we actually beat our competitors to the rooms by six hours.

I'm certain our competitor made more money on their daily. However, we were applauded by the industry and quickly became known for our innovation, creativity and tenacity. Most importantly we gained the industry's respect. There was one company who did not advertise trade--at all, didn't need it. But, when they saw the cameras rolling on the show floor they became eager to sign up for television ads and a year-long print ad contract that we held exclusively for quite some time.

One little tid bit: One year we had Greg Kinnear as our anchor. Of course this was long before he was so famous. I don't believe he credits us with giving him his start.


Okay, I'm game. If you have other unique show daily stories, historic or current, send them along to me. My email address is over to the right.

And I'd be interested in any stories of trade show television/video. Who's doing it this days? How?

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The Cost of Doing B2B Publishing 

BtoB reports from ABM's Top Management Meeting on Jordan Edmiston Group's annual ABM Financial Trend Report. According to my friend and former colleague Richard Mead, average business publication annual revenue has dropped from $7.3 million in 2000 to $4.75 million in 2004, with costs dropping from $5.35 million to $3.66 million. By my calculations, then, margins have increased from 26.7% in 2000 to 28.2% in 2004.

A thought: I haven't seen the full text of this year's report, but the numbers as reported above don't match up with the numbers presented in last year's Financial Trend Report, which shows average revenues in 2000 as $4.773 million against expenses of $3.453 million. Frankly, this lower number seems more realistic for an "average" b2b magazine.

I think that we can all agree, however, that revenues from b2b publishing continue to slide on an average basis.

For more on the ABM meeting, see Folio's Show Daily. For some strange reason, there's an old picture of me in there.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Penton's Q3 Financials 

Penton Q3 10Q

Penton has released its Q3 financials, showing revenues up 14% to $50.9 million (due primarily to a trade show timing shift and increased online revenues.) Publishing revenues were down 8.4%. Year-to-date revenues are up 3.2%, but I wonder how the trade show timing shift, which moved a Q4 2004 event to Q3, will affect year-end revenues.

The company showed a slight net income for the Q3 period, and has narrowed its YTD loss from $65 million in 2004 to $3.7 million in 2005.

Lots of interesting details in the link above, including recent acquisition costs and disposition gains.

Disclosure: I own some Penton stock. Not much.

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B2B and e-Paper 

Colour e-paper drives next wave of digital media

Fujitsu should have color e-paper products on the market by 2007.

Of course, as a print guy, I've been thinking about e-paper as a dynamic multimedia tool for publishing applications. But as I've been reading more about it, I see another opportunity for b2b media.

As the article, linked above, points out: "The price would eventually fall so it could replace "practically any form of signage or paper-based documents, even potentially shelf labels..."

If you serve retail markets, how will you leverage your information and data at the point of sale? Could a wine trade magazine provide real time reviews and ratings on shelf-talkers? Could an IT magazine provide the same service to computer and software retailers?

For non-retail markets, can we produce real-time e-paper catalogs? Can we create in-office posters with up-to-the-minute news and analysis?

In a time when accountability is king, how can b2b media use e-paper technology to have a direct impact on sales?

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A Question of Trust 

Harris study shows executives trust traditional media

BtoB reports on a Harris Interactive poll which shows that "among business executives, 87% agree that they have a defined set of news sources that they trust to provide them with fair and balanced coverage and that they largely ignore other sources." Further: "Only 21% of business executives said they rely heavily on independent sources such as Internet chat rooms, blogs or other alternative media to get news and information."

I wouldn't make too much of this. My 18 year old nephew, who will one day be the target of our b2b media efforts, would tell a different story. To him, print publications and broadcast TV are already alternative media.

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(Historic) Electronic Show Dailies 

I took a bit of a (probably deserved) smack down from Folio's Tony Silber on my recent post about electronic show dailies. Check out the comments section, and add your own, if you wish.

But I also heard from my friend and former colleague Dick Koulbanis, who is now editor and publisher of the very successful Congenital Cardiology Today. Dick emailed me some reminiscences of an electronic show daily he produced for Phillips Business Information back in 1993. He's given me permission to reproduce an edited version of his email:

I guess electronic show dailies have come a long way from when I launched a single sponsored version for Avionics magazine at the 1993 Paris Air Show. Small dollars, but pure profit. We had to pull the phone off the wall at the hotel in Paris to get to the wires with alligator clips so we could email it via MCI mail to ReplyNet who then emailed it to 3,000 subscribers who wanted to get "special topic newsletters."

I picked the Paris Air Show to do an electronic show daily because there were so many print products that I figured I could slide in with an electronic one. I decided to do it as a single sponsored piece, because if it was sold, then we would do it; if not we would pass and would lose no money.

The sales pitch was that many people would not be able to attend the Paris Air Show, but had email and would be interested in what was going on in avionics news and products. There were five editions. Each one was written on avionics products at the show. The sponsor got a "text-ad" and was identified as the sponsor. We encouraged subscribers to pass the newsletter along and to put it up on their Intranet sites, which we found many did.

We did a survey at the end to find out how people liked it, if they passed it on, or put it up on their Intranet sites, and so on. We did this to gather demographic data to then sell other such newsletters in the future and to help refine the product. We got about a 25% responses to the survey. What we found out was many major companies put it on their Intranet sites, that they liked it and wanted to see more of them.

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Monday, November 14, 2005

I Love Lists 

BtoB has published its inaugural who's who in business media, featuring 100 major players. It's a good list, and features more than a few friends, including Rex Hammock, who "has one of the edgiest blogs in the b-to-b publishing orbit."

This list reminds me of a project I wanted to do back when we were launching min's b2b. I thought it would be very useful to create a complete directory of b2b media professionals, using a who's who format. List everyone, from CEOs, to publishers, to sales executives, to editors, to art directors, circulators and production pros. I still think that would be useful.

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Satisfying the Typical Attendee 

Seth Godin blogs on how to run a useless conference.

Key grab:

Think about the most powerful learning moments you’ve ever had. My guess is that they didn’t take place in a darkened meeting room.

Conference organizers (and more important, their clients) spend virtually all of their time and money doing one of two things:
1. Satisfying the center of the bell curve.
2. Avoiding failure

That’s why the typical conference is... typical.


Side note: Actually, one of my most powerful learning moments occurred at a conference, when I had the chance to view the Knowledge Navigator movie produced by Apple Computer in the late 1980s. (You can download a copy here--14 Megs, save it to your hard drive and view it.) I remember thinking how my world would never be the same after watching it--even today, it's pretty amazing how prescient the video was.

Even so, Seth's point is well-taken.

UPDATE: See Rich Westerfield's take on Godin's take on conferences. Sorry I missed this before.

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