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At this point, there is little agreement on what a successful business model looks like. Some trade publishers offer Web ads as an incentive for print pages; others sell Web ads separately on its own rate card, usually based on cost-per-impression.
Others don't sell ads at all, either because their sales staffs are uncomfortable with the medium, or because they're following a subscription model. Typically, this offers readers access to back issues for a set fee.
WHERE'S THE MONEY?
Other publishers are developing expensive corporate super-sites bundling their individual publications with original material, such as CMP Media's TechWeb and Ziff Davis Publishing Co.'s ZDNet, or setting up new Web-only businesses, such as Cahners Publishing Co.'s new Cahners Manufacturing Marketplace.
"Everyone agrees it makes sense, but I'm not sure anyone knows how we're going to make money on it," said Robert Preston, director of sales for Medical Economics, a publication of healthcare information company Medical Economics Co. in Montvale, N.J.
TIME FOR A STRATEGY
But regardless of the model, industry players and watchers agree that trade publishers must be formulating a Web strategy now if they want to be competitive in serving the business-to-business marketers that are their primary clients.
"Over the next five to 10 years, depending on the industry, an awful lot of action is going to shift online," said Bill Doyle, senior analyst at Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass., who just completed a research study on trade publishing online.
"An upstart or a systems integrator like EDS is going to build a compelling product that will appeal to the same communities that these trade publishers have cultivated, and that will quickly eclipse the benefits of print publications," said Mr. Doyle.
He estimates that only about one-third of the country's 5,000 business-to-business publications now have Web sites.
However, Bill Giacalone, VP-marketing at New York-based American Business Press, says that virtually all the association's 750 members, which represent 80% of the $6 billion trade publishing market, either have Web sites or are planning one.
HAVES AND HAVE-NOTS
One important factor to keep in mind: The trade publishing world is divided in two when it comes to the Web, with the high-tech computer books on one side, and the more traditional manufacturing, industrial and general nontechnology trades on the other.
Because it fit their advertisers' interests, high-tech trade publishers remain the most aggressive about investing in the Web; both Ziff Davis and CMP launched their corporate sites years ago, when banner advertising first hit the Internet.
The story is just the opposite for non-computer-industry trades. Despite the obvious advantages all business-to-business publishers would seem to bring to the Web -- a ready supply of specialized content, valuable long-term relationships with advertisers, an in-depth understanding of their industries -- in fact most non-high-tech trade books are moving cautiously into this new medium.
SITES DON'T GROW ON TREES
In part this is a function of their size and resources, says Terry Millard, president of Inlet, a Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based Web developer whose client list includes 60 trade publications.
"They live on a smaller budget so they look at it as a big investment," said Mr. Millard. Where CMP and Ziff-Davis spend millions on their main Web site, "a lot of publishers we see are in the $5,000 to $10,000 to $20,000 range."
He says their concerns go beyond money into issues of editorial resources, type of content and of course, opportunities for ad sales.
Overall, though, Mr. Millard is bullish. "More and more trade books are going to get on, and they're going to find the right mix for their audience," he says.
Of the primarily manufacturing-oriented publishers, one of the most aggressive is Cahners, which not only has many of its individual publications online, but has also launched an ambitious Manufacturing Marketplace to link industrial buyers and sellers.
POOLING MAGAZINE RESOURCES
The Marketplace pools the resources of 12 magazines. It launched with over 200 manufacturers as advertisers and ad revenue that is expected to be in the $3 million range.
"We've designed every aspect of the content around the end user's needs," said Brian Kardon, VP-marketing at Cahners. It contains everything from employment opportunities to specs on manufacturing and engineering equipment.
"The long and short of it all is that people want content," said Steve Gokorsch, marketing programs manager for Rockwell Automation, which is one of the charter advertisers on the Manufacturing Marketplace.
"They don't want annual reports and they don't want fluff." said Mr. Gokorsch; "They want information that can help them with their jobs."
Contributing: Keith J. Kelly.