ABM aims to up Web profit

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The American Business Press, as expected, voted at its annual spring meeting May 8 in Scottsdale, Ariz., to change its name to American Business Media. Then, in an unanticipated move, the organization changed its bylaws to allow president Gordon T. Hughes II to also assume the title of CEO.

"It's recognition of what Gordon has been doing for this organization," said Dan Ramella, newly installed ABM chairman and Penton Media's chief operating officer. In the past year, Mr. Hughes has helped lead a movement to broaden the footprint of the organization to include non-print media companies, such as ZDNet, VerticalNet and other dot-coms. The move has added more than 30 new members to the ABM and about $425,000 in annual dues.

While the expansion has solved the financial problems posed by the loss at last year's spring meeting of two large members -- and their combined $300,000 in annual dues -- it has created new challenges for the ABM, which must manage conflicts between its traditional membership base and the dot-coms.

While they have similar goals regarding database piracy and privacy issues, dot-coms and print publishers don't benefit equally from the $100,000 the ABM board authorized last week for a Magazine Publishers of America-commissioned study on a proposed 10% to 15% postal rate hike and its potential effects.

INTERNET IMPACT

While tension certainly exists within the group, the members seem united on one key goal: unlocking Internet profits. With sessions bearing titles such as "Impact of the Internet on Print," the meeting focused on the Web.

ABM currently is preparing a report on members' Web sites. Preliminary figures indicate that about 43% of those sites are showing a profit. At the meeting, the key question publishers were asking themselves and their peers was how to add to any profits the Web was yielding.

Penton CEO Tom Kemp trumpeted his company's B2BShowplace.com, a "virtual trade show" that offers advertisers Internet "storefronts" that can include links back to an advertiser's own site. Vasant Prabhu, president-information and media services of McGraw-Hill Cos., said the content on publishing Web sites fell into three categories: news, analysis and "enabling." He said publishers could only charge for the third kind and cited McGraw-Hill's building product database as an example.

There is no consensus as to which Web business model for publishers eventually will triumph, but most members remain optimistic profits will be forthcoming.

"I think there are challenges," Mr. Hughes said, describing the tenor of the ABM meeting, "but there are opportunities, too."

Sean Callahan is a reporter at B2B.

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