By SEAN CALLAHAN
The Internet’s capabilities as a targeted advertising medium have led to the rise of a new sort of media company that is extremely niche-oriented, Web-focused, a bit brash, under the radar and, yes, profitable. Light Reading offers a telling example of this kind of company.
Stephen Saunders and Peter Heywood launched Light Reading, which covers the telecommunications industry, in 2000 with the severance pay they received after losing their jobs at CMP Media’s Data Communications.
Despite being up against the devastating downturn in the telecom industry, Light Reading has been an unlikely survivor over the past five years. It has, in fact, thrived, holding its own against competitors from Telephony to Network World to Internet Telephony.
Light Reading has been profitable for five years, and across its several sites—which include LightReading.com, Byte and Switch.com—it attracts 921,000 monthly unique visitors, according to President-CEO Saunders. He attributes the business’ success to its focus on the Internet and to its iconoclastic approach to business journalism.
"We’re quite a sarcastic and hopefully witty piece of work on most days," Saunders said. "This stuff has the potential to be chillingly dull."
For instance, a story published in 2000 described the assault of "Lightworks Lou," Ciena Corp.’s optical networking mascot, at the NFOEC fiber-optic conference. The story included a quote from an anonymous optical networking vendor: "You can see how these things happen. He’s got that big padded head. It looks like it would be fun to punch him."
"They’re tongue-in-cheek and not taking themselves so seriously, but they do actually cover the facts," said reader Paul Harrison, VP-sales at BTI Photonics. "It’s by far my favorite."
Doug Green, principal at consulting firm Bradam Group, is a reader. He said Light Reading’s Internet orientation forced the company "to push the envelope of what could be done with the Web rather than just putting print stuff online and pasting some Web links around it."
Light Reading’s Internet focus, according to Saunders, has also helped the company anticipate Web trends ahead of print-centric competitors. For instance, Light Reading earlier this month launched LRTV, a broadband video channel available on LightReading.com.
Light Reading has no print properties, although it does produce in-person events and has a research arm called Heavy Reading. The company was a pioneer in Webinars. "We’ll do about 130 of those this year," Saunders said.
"We’re not conflicted about publishing on the Web," he added, saying that print publishers tend to be ambivalent about the Internet’s encroachment on print.
"You have to keep thinking about [the Internet] every day," he added. "Sometimes you come up with ideas that are so obvious you say, ‘Why didn’t we do that ages ago?’ "
B-to-b advertisers such as Fujitsu Network Communications and Colubris this year are boosting their spending with Light Reading.
"Light Reading has an extremely wide readership in our industry, making it an effective publication to enhance branding and industry awareness. It would be on the short list for future ad campaigns," said Inbar Lasser-Raab, marketing director of Riverstone Networks.
Many Internet-focused companies resembling Light Reading have been sold in recent months. Ziff Davis Media, for instance, acquired DeviceForge late last year. And TechTarget acquired the TheServerSide Communities.
Now, Light Reading may also be for sale. "The door is neither open nor closed," Saunders said, "but it’s pretty silly not to enter that kind of discussion after five and a half years of consecutive growth and profitability."
While Saunders trumpets online focus as a strength, some competitors say integrated marketing—and not just Web opportunities—is what b-to-b marketers in the space want.
"I think some Light Reading advertisers are buying ads in our magazine, because they [Light Reading] don’t have one," said Rich Tehrani, president of Technology Marketing Corp., which publishes Internet Telephony. "Hopefully, they won’t launch one."