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Key trends to watch in 2007

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The media business continues its rapid metamorphosis. The good news? Most publishers have studied these changes and are now cognizant of—if not fully reacting to—these historic shifts. In fact, next year needn't witness the arrival of The Next Big Thing—something on par with the ascendancy of user-generated content this year—to be interesting. There will be plenty of excitement watching how companies compete (or stumble) in these new arenas.

American Business Media's Top Management Meeting last month in Chicago touched on nearly all the trends outlined below.

Work force

ABM President-CEO Gordon Hughes II was precisely right when he declared during the opening session that the "next great challenges" for business media executives will be in two areas: work force and technology.

While the changing role of the editor into a "brand manager" has been a hot topic for some time, an interesting shift in philosophy is going on. This was notable during the session titled "The Digital Statement: What's the New Business Model to Increase Your Revenues." Moderator Heather Mikisch, publisher of Thomas Publishing Co.'s Managing Automation, made the point that editors are neither experts in Web site usability nor lead generation. Given that, they should, of course, influence digital products but may not be the ideal people to "own" them, she said.

David Klein, VP-publishing and editorial director of the Ad Age Group at Crain Communications Inc., writing in this space in the October issue, raised similar issues, starting his essay this way: "We need to stop hiring the same kind of people to fill the same old jobs at our magazines."

Here's one position few media companies have but need: Someone to watch those under-the-radar sites within the frighteningly fragmented content landscape that may be attracting, unbeknownst to you, increasing numbers of visitors in your target audiences. Can you start thinking of these sites less as competitors and more as potential partners or acquisition targets? That's the spirit.

Technology

The role of technology platforms around content management and services (such as behavioral tracking and lead generation) cannot be overstated. The differentiating feature may, again, come down to execution. Smaller publishers are disadvantaged in this respect, lacking the broad in-house resources of larger brethren and needing to rely on vendors for developing a large portion of these strategic, increasingly nontraditional platforms.

Measurement

Will 2007 be the year that industry-standard, media measurement metrics emerge for correctly counting reach, engagement and effectiveness?

China and India

On May 13-15, the 36th FIPP World Magazine Congress will convene in Beijing; more than 1,000 international publishing executives are expected to attend. ABM traveled to Beijing in October and will head to India next spring. Media companies not currently engaged with these two countries in some way today certainly need to set their sights on this opportunity next year.

M&A activity

Look for the strong M&A activity of the past two years to continue in the new year.

"We're bullish about prospects for a third consecutive strong year for media industry M&A, and our pipeline of prospective sell-side clients is very healthy," said Richard Mead, managing director of Jordan, Edmiston Group. "A large inventory of quality businesses from all sectors of the market is attracting increasing interest from strategic and financial buyers. The only risk issues we foresee are external factors outside the control of buyers and sellers. We expect strategic buyers with aggressive acquisition programs to continue competing enthusiastically for businesses that meet their strategic needs."

Online, Web 2.0

According to ABM, digital revenue will increase 22% to 25% next year. For ABM members, the average revenue contribution coming from e-media is 12% and will grow to 14% in 2007. That's a happy picture compared with the projected 1% to 2% growth for print revenue.

But there are plenty of pitfalls, too. One longtime, now retired, senior publishing executive told me the following story. His company had built a variety of discussion forums to support its print magazines. "One of the forum leaders, not on our payroll, turned around, started his own forum and took these members with him!" he said.

Are traditional media companies in jeopardy of spending time, energy and capital building dazzling Web 2.0 platforms only to see these communities spirited away? You bet. More broadly, how publishers leverage Web 2.0 (editorially and from a business standpoint) will be a defining aspect of online efforts in 2007.

Ellis Booker is editor of BtoB and Media Business. He can be reached at ebooker@crain.com.

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