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ABM Annual Conference focuses on the future

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Amelia Island, Fla.—The sessions on Day 3 of American Business Media’s Annual Conference focused on the future and what it will bring for b-to-b media companies.

In his talk titled “Managing Through Turbulent Times,” Ziff Davis Media CEO Jason Young told the tale of how PC Magazine moved from being a publication in print to an entirely Web-based model known as the PCMag Digital Network.

For this early-adopter market of tech-oriented consumers, Young oversaw the transformation of PCMag.com between 2001 and 2008. During this period, when tens of thousands of print advertising pages disappeared across the sector, tech marketing spending moved online.

Young offered a road map for b-to-b media companies that may be facing the same transformation involving the killing of print properties in their markets in the coming years.

First, he said, set a realistic time line for the speed at which print will decline and online revenue will grow. “Print falls faster than expected,” he said, “and digital has opportunities to ramp up faster than expected.”

Second, he advised “managing your print business for cost and your digital business for growth.” That is, invest in digital but not in print.

Third, he recommended that media companies ensure they have digitally oriented leaders running the digital business, not simply employees tied to the legacy brand.

Fourth, he said companies need to use the available metrics—from Google, Omniture and elsewhere—to understand customer demand—where users are coming from and what they view on the site.

And finally, he stressed that b-to-b media owners have to understand that on the Internet there is a constant evolution of business models. “Digital reinvents itself seemingly every month, seemingly every week,” he said.

Earlier Tuesday, the CEO Roundtable offered the points of view of three top executives who all said they see a future in which their companies will give their customers the information they need in the format in which they want it—and that format will often be digital.

Sharon Rowlands, who took over as CEO of Penton Media in November after a long tenure at financial information giant Thomson Financial, plans to transform Penton into a company less reliant on print advertising dollars. Currently, Penton generates 15% of its revenue from digital. Rowlands said she wants to make that 40% to 50% “five years out.”

Michael Hanson, CEO of Elsevier Health Sciences, said his company is a subscription business with significant digital revenue. ‘We need to become a habitual part of daily life [for doctors and nurses],” he said. “In every decision, I want them to consult one of our sources of information.”

Glenn Goldberg, president of the McGraw-Hill Cos.’ Media and information business, which includes BusinessWeek, Engineering News-Record and Platts, said, “The recession did provide an opportunity to accelerate change.”

Jeffrey Rayport, founder and chairman of Marketspace, discussed “The Future of B-to-B” in a speech that opened Tuesday’s session. He said the consumer trends of user-generated content provide a window on what will happen in the b-to-b media space.

One key trend that Rayport said b-to-b media companies could take advantage of is the Internet’s capacity to help people with similar interests get together. He pointed in particular to IDG’s CIO Executive Council. “That costs $20,000 to $25,000 a year for membership,” he said. “That is paid content.”

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