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Publishers in a pickle: Adopting Web 2.0

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This issue of BtoB contains our annual Top Trades special report. Even a quick glance at this report reveals how these publishers are reacting to the changes—sometimes wrenching ones—caused by the Internet on traditional business media, as readers migrate to the Web, followed by advertisers and their campaign dollars. According to American Business Media, digital revenues are expected to grow 22% to 25% this year. (However, our coverage makes abundantly clear that print is not in any immediate danger of going away, as it is being integrated more carefully into marketers' campaigns.)

When it comes to the Web, the most recent and profound change is encapsulated in the phrase "Web 2.0," a combination of business processes, principles and technologies that enables customer participation and collaboration.

Publishers are adding Web 2.0 features to their online products faster than a knife fight in a phone booth. As Prescott Shibles, VP-online development at Penton Media told BtoB last year: "There's a difference in architecture between a site built with publishing in mind and one that's developed for networking, collaboration and other social activities along with publishing." (Prism Business Media completed its acquisition of Penton, retaining the Penton name, earlier this year.) Penton plans to unveil what Shibles called a hybrid between YouTube (video sharing) and LinkedIn (social and business networking).

But get publishers alone and many will privately admit they're worried. "We're building all these great sandboxes that our readers can play in," one executive told me at a publishing conference in Chicago late last year. "But I'm not sure any of us can make money on this." I've spoken to more than a few recently retired publishing executives who confide they're happy to be watching developments from the safety of the sidelines.

Speaking of Web 2.0, take a look at this month's NetMarketing section (page 19), which delves into how such concepts as "engagement" on Web pages have become catalysts for new measurement protocols and tools.

Noting that most analytics vendors have the capabilities within their existing systems to measure how users interact with Web 2.0 type of applications, contributing editor Richard Karpinski writes: "To achieve Web 2.0 success, marketers must decide what they plan to measure before they build an application. Working with site designers, marketers must map out the desired visitor path-flow, build in tracking techniques and determine clearly what constitutes the success or failure of a particular Web 2.0 program."

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

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