After sitting on the sidelines for the last several years, business publishers are jumping back into the e-commerce field.
December saw a flurry of new partnerships between b-to-b publishers and e-commerce companies:
- RapidBuyr, a b-to-b daily deal company, announced a new partnership with Mansueto Ventures' Inc. to power Inc.com's new Deals section, which offers daily deals on products and services targeting small-business owners.
- UBM Electronics, publisher of EE Times, formed an alliance with RapidBuyr to provide daily deals for UBM's audience of engineers.
- Questex Media Group, which publishes American Salon and produces the International Beauty Show events, announced a partnership with OurBond Inc. to create an e-commerce site for the professional beauty market.
A handful of business publishers launched e-marketplaces in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but the tech wreck in 2001 derailed those efforts. And once the dust settled, publishers began to refocus their Web strategies on developing and monetizing their online content.
In the last decade, however, the costs tied to building e-commerce platforms have declined and the technological barriers have fallen, making e-commerce more palatable for a growing number of business publishers.
“It's an evolution of b-to-b to a more transactional type business model and/or transactional facilitation that takes advantage of the natural attributes of our legacy businesses, whether those are in publishing or events, and then brings in the additional [digital] capabilities that an e-commerce platform provides,” said Kerry Gumas, president-CEO of Questex Media Group.
Questex' new e-commerce site, called ShopBeautyNOW.com, rolls out this month. The site is designed for beauty, spa and wellness professionals to order products online. It will also host virtual storefronts, enabling IBS exhibitors to sell year-round to customers.
“The buyer certainly requires some level of information in order to be smart about what they're buying and that's where we see an opportunity to leverage our content resources to be able to educate and better inform buyers,” Gumas said.
Gumas stressed that b-to-b markets with fewer decision-makers in the purchasing process—such as spas and beauty parlors—lend themselves to b-to-b e-commerce platforms, rather than markets where there are, say, committees involved in the purchasing.
“The customer base we serve, in the "b-to-b-to-c' category as we call it, is very transactional,” he said. “I wouldn't jump into every one of the markets we're in with an application like this. You have to know your markets and your customer base.”
Inc.com's Deals section offers discounted daily deals on products and services geared toward SMB, including computer hardware, office supplies and software. Registered Inc.com users receive deals directly in their inboxes via email twice a week, with plans to increase that frequency, according to David Grossman, director of business development at Inc.com.
“It's a big part of our strategy moving forward and we intend to promote it heavily,” Grossman said. “Our mission is to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses, and we see this offering as a new way to provide value to our audience.”
Inc.com garnered 3 million unique visitors in November, a 68% increase compared with the same month in 2010.
“Publishers and readers are sophisticated enough about this issue to understand that it's OK and actually very helpful for a publisher to have a marketplace, especially if it is vertically oriented to the content in the magazine or represented on the website,” said Kevin Wells, exec VP of RapidBuyr, who also works with CNET, Hanley Wood and IDG.
“The presence of a marketplace doesn't mean a featured product is going to get a bigger or better review, or coverage in the magazine just because it's in the e-marketplace on the website of that magazine.”