Alan Douglas, president of Douglas Publications, has for years been a vocal advocate for small b-to-b media companies. In addition to running his namesake company, Douglas is chairman and co-founder of the Integrated Media Cooperative, a purchasing consortium for small publishing companies.
MB: What are the toughest challenges overall for small b-to-b publishers?
Douglas: Job No. 1 is transformation. Being a small publisher today is a lot like being the first on Omaha Beach. Within the last five years, we've gone from eight [print] magazines to two. And within the same period we've gone from no webinars or live events to more than 130 annually. The clarion call came when American Business Media and the Specialized Information Publishers Association both announced that a majority of their members' revenue no longer comes from magazines. You no longer need a magazine to launch a trade show, Web site or live events. In some cases, access to terrific editorial and new marketing opportunities is much more important than having a magazine as the foundation.
MB: How is your online presence developing? Do you find it's easier to go to market online because you don't have as many layers as large publishers?
Douglas: The layers issue is generally a bogus issue. What's more important is the ability to enter into partnerships with third parties. We are currently in the midst of an initiative signing up mutual selling agreements with a number of other publishers. Smaller publishers can reach these agreements more easily and co-market. It is crucial to have a partner send out e-mails to their clients and readers to obtain good open rates, click-throughs and sales conversions. No matter whether you're selling your own events or offering advertising, the large possibilities are all in co-partnering. The whole controlled circulation concept doesn't work as well in e-mails as it does with partners.
MB: Is the decline in print advertising having the same adverse affect on smaller publishers as it is having on large publishers?
Douglas: It's really about which industries you serve and their distribution channels, regardless of size. We've found that selling event content to our readership gives us better, higher margins, more diversification and, for the most part, it's prepaid. Advertising-supported publications, online or in print, are less attractive to the small publisher than events because with events you get paid in advance and [they are] more profitable. With our e-magazines, which have replaced the print titles we closed, we're reaching six times as many folks, and for less money. It's the same thing with our webinars. It's all much better than print advertising-supported publications.
MB: To what degree are you investing in social media? Do you think it has much potential for small publishers?
Douglas: A lot of the current social media is second rate, and investing in second-rate technology is foolish. Once the dust settles, social interaction online will become the new networking for our readership and require all of us to make substantial commitments and investments. Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “I think we consider too much the good luck of the early bird and not enough the bad luck of the early worm.”
MB: What is happening these days with the Integrated Media Cooperative?
Douglas: We just celebrated its third anniversary. Bill Walker, president of IMC, has created a financially sound organization, but, most important, our members love getting their rebate checks each year. We cover paper, telemarketing, circulation, e-mail appending and are increasingly offering online vendors and services.