As digital dollars grow, b-to-b publishers debate impact of blogs

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By Marie Griffin and Ellis Booker

Boca Raton, Fla.—To blog or not to blog? And how can you make money if you do? Those were among the questions discussed by speakers at two consecutive sessions on digital media at American Business Media’s Spring Meeting on Tuesday morning.

"The ‘blogosphere’ throws all sorts of old patterns into disarray," said keynote speaker Robert Metcalfe, a partner at Polaris Venture Partners. As an engineer at Xerox Corp.’s Palo Alto Research Center in 1973, Metcalfe invented Ethernet, and 20 years later served as a publisher, columnist and CEO at IDG’s InfoWorld and InfoWorld Publishing Co.

Noting there are currently 10 million blogs worldwide, a number that is predicted to double in five months, Metcalfe stressed the technology—and its impact on publishing—was "still playing out and will be evolving for a long time." Specifically he said to watch for developments in the delivery of blogs to mobile devices, as well as the emergence of video blogs and new search mechanisms for blogged content.

Editors, Metcalfe added, are an asset when it comes to blogs, but "it’s not at all clear how to monetize those assets," a reprise heard over and over at the Spring meeting when discussions turned to blogging and its revenue potential for publishers.

"There is no one, right business model for b-to-b media on the Web," said Jim Casella, CEO of Reed Business Information. Casella served as moderator for the session "Digital Media: Mastering New Tools." For RBI and many other business publishers, online is the fastest growing revenue stream.

Digital media already represent 15% of RBI’s revenue, Casella said, adding, "It could get close to 20% of our business this year. It’s really the growth engine for us as we go forward." He said online was growing 35% to 40% for the company, with "clearly superior margins."

Jim Spanfeller, president-CEO of, responding to an audience question about when will surpass the print edition in terms of revenue, said, "probably in about 18 to 20 months." is run as a separate company within Forbes Inc.

"I think blogs are an important environmental change on the Web, but I don’t know if it will be as disruptive as some people think for publishers," Spanfeller said. is "trying to endear ourselves to the blogging community with the creation of a blog on blogs," he added.

"We have probably between 15% and 20% of revenue online," said Bob Biolchini, president-CEO of PennWell Corp. "But we had a 30% growth rate last year and will probably grow another 30% this year."

Biolchini said PennWell is not aggregating blog content for its readers because of concerns about the accuracy and precision of those information sources. "But we do get ideas from them," he said.

Jeffrey S. Klein, president-CEO of 101communications, which six months ago converted several of its e-newsletters to blogs, said, "Digital delivery is here to stay for a while, but we need to entice more advertisers to use it."

More than 50,000 of 101communications’ 350,000 subscriptions are delivered in digital, Adobe PDF form, said Klein, who commented online revenue for his media company was up 37% last year and up 34% so far this year. But Klein also put online revenue in a larger context, noting that his online properties which are affiliated with either offline events or print titles perform better than purely online products.

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