Trade pubs tread cautiously in weighing move to Web

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For cautious print publishers, a respectable presence online doesn't have to be expensive, and can have an impact on a trade book's bottom line. When business-to-business marketers need to advertise, they turn to their industry's trade books to reach customers. But marketers wanting to advertise on the Web are sometimes surprised to find that their trade books have no online presence.

For many non-technology trade publishers, the decision to expand into cyberspace continues to be a tricky one. No one knows that better than Terry Millard, president of Inlet, a Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based Web developer whose clients include 60 trade publications.


Although it frustrates him, Mr. Millard said that caution -- especially prevalent among trade books covering low-tech industries -- is understandable, and in some ways, quite right.

"Publishers are getting bombarded by people offering to put their content on line, and they have a lot of money invested in their content," he said. "They're right to be cautious."

But skepticism shouldn't translate into fear, Mr. Millard said. Trade publishers who stay off the Web risk having non-publication Web sites that deal with the same industry erode the franchise they so carefully built in print, he said.

It's not only the risk that a Web site will directly compete with information for a trade book's customer base. Online discussion groups pose an even greater danger, Mr. Millard said, because they provide marketers with exactly what they want from the trades -- the ability "to bring a community of customers with like interests together."

For cautious print publishers, a respectable presence online doesn't have to be expensive, and can have an impact on a trade book's bottom line -- now, and even more so in the future.

"Say you're publishing a trade book on plumbing. You should know there are a lot of people putting up plumbing-related sites," Mr. Millard said. "You need to be there, too. A trade magazine will have better content and the proven ability to put buyers in the right demographic together with sellers."


After putting up 60 Web sites for trade publishers in the last 18 months, Mr. Millard and his company's staff consider themselves experts in the field, well-versed in what's needed and not, both for the Web site and from the trade publisher.

Like others in the industry, he makes a distinction between the high-tech computer books, which quickly found a comfortable home on the Web, and the "low-tech" trades -- books covering more traditional manufacturing, industrial and general non-technology areas.

Among the latter, the books covering larger industries, such as healthcare and construction, have been quicker to go online because they know they can find a sufficiently large audience for their content, said David Lenzen, VP-sales at Inlet.

But books covering smaller, or more traditional, industries, also can get value from the Web, Mr. Millard said, and at initial start-up costs ranging from $10,000 to $20,000.

In a business-to-business trade book, Mr. Millard said, it's usually best to keep a site simple, which can help keep costs down.


"In the business-to-business market, people are interested in content, not spinning worlds," he said.

Mr. Lenzen warns publishers not to expect substantial revenue from a Web site -- at least not yet. But the trade book ad base, he said, "is translating pretty well to the Web."

Publishers should be concerned, however, with how they sell for the Web. Advertising reps who have made their career in print can have a hard time working up enthusiasm for a new medium, Mr. Lenzen said.


"We're seeing some people doing a lot of retraining," he said. "Sometimes we're being asked how to sell ads on the site."

Mr. Lenzen said advertising is only one way for a trade publisher to make or save money online.

Publishers, for example, can charge marketers listed in a buyer's guide for linking entries to their Web site, he said.

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