The attendance at American Business Media's Annual Conference, held last month in Amelia Island, Fla., was off about 30% from last year, according to the association. That's also the same percentage that b-to-b print advertising pages were down in the first two months of 2009.
That is probably not a coincidence. The business media sector is reeling.
Not only are pages down, but business media companies from International Data Group to Penton Media have cut staff in recent months to cope with the recession in the short term. At the same time, the industry is being battered by the accelerating shift of marketing dollars online—and away from print.
Conference keynote speaker Heide Rowan, DuPont's global brand director, drove home the point that b-to-b marketers crave measurable ROI, which they are now finding online. “The CMO wants to know what we're going to deliver this year, not next year,” she said.
The main thrust of the conference's other speeches and panels was to offer media companies ideas on how to gain a larger share of digital marketing spend. In one session, Jason Young, CEO of Ziff Davis Media, offered a road map for transforming a print brand (in Ziff's case, PC Magazine) into an online-only brand (PCMag.com). That was a transition that Young oversaw earlier this year and that many conference attendees may be overseeing in the months to come. “Print falls faster than expected,” he warned. “And digital has opportunities to ramp up faster than expected.”
During another panel discussion, Sharon Rowlands, who took over as Penton CEO in November, outlined her 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 total (including the sale of digital data) 40% to 50% “five years out.”
Virtually every b-to-b media executive or publisher in attendance said they see the transformation of their business into digital as essential to survival. Conference panelist Tom Kemp, chairman-CEO of Northstar Travel Media, which publishes Meetings & Conventions, commented on what he expects to see in the next 12 months. “Probably the most dramatic change will be our focus on [online] lead generation,” he said. “One of the first steps will be virtual trade shows, which are essentially lead-generation products.”
Conference attendee Tim Fixmer, president of Stamats Business Media, was optimistic about generating online revenue from readers—a rarity for many b-to-b media companies, which historically have relied almost exclusively on advertiser revenue. “Eighteen months from now, some of us will have cracked the code on how to generate reader revenue from online users,” he said.
Another panelist at the conference, Matt Yorke, senior VP-sales and marketing at IDG Communications, said the technology information company has been attempting to unlock the value in social media. “It's going to allow people to import their profiles, their social graphs [for Facebook and Twitter] onto our sites,” he said. “People call it "social colonizing.' ”
A portion of the conference had a global focus. Eberhard Opl, head of corporate development at WEKA Holding GmbH & Co., a Germany-based provider of business information, said during a panel discussion on overseas revenue opportunities that he was not bullish on print.
“There are about 4,000 b-to-b magazines in Germany,” Opl said. “One-third won't survive the next 12 months. You're either going to be bought or you're doomed if you're the No. 5, No. 6 or No. 7 publication [in a market]. It's a great time to be the No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 publication, with some cash.”