Brave new media world redux

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Back in 2000, when BtoB first published what has come to be our influential, annual Media Power 50 special report, most business publishers had already read the writing on the wall and boosted their commitment to Internet products.

The publishers' rationale was simple: Readers were moving online in droves and advertising dollars were following suit. This fundamental shift continued, even after the dot-com collapse in 2001 and a subsequent publishing recession. Happily, print has come back somewhat lately. American Business Media predicts a 4% to 5% gain in print revenue this year (but only a 3% rise in ad pages).

Meanwhile, senior publishing executives and ABM continue to defend print as a viable medium. "In the digital age, there is a critically important role for newspapers that can't be replicated in any other way," says L. Gordon Crovitz, president of Dow Jones Consumer Media Group and publisher of The Wall Street Journal , in our Media Power 50 profile of the Journal (page 28).

Yet the trend lines are clear. ABM predicts b-to-b online revenue will increase 20% to 22% this year. And according to an Interactive Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers study, U.S. Internet advertising in 2005 hit $12.5 billion, a new annual record, and surpassed 2004 by 30%. Keyword search alone represented 41% of the total.

Even more dramatic are the shifts in reader consumption habits, particularly among younger readers who grew up with the Internet. These audiences expect real-time, continually updated, always available (and, with tools like RSS, personally configurable) news and information.

To their credit, some business media companies have responded with a flurry of new products-snazzy destinations emphasizing video, audio and personalization.

What users want from an online experience, says Ted Smith, senior VP-business at CNET, is, "Voice, choice and control in the media-it's literally a matter of getting out of the way" (see Media Power 50 profile, page 32).

At their core, all of these initiatives are designed to hold on to these readers and, by extension, the marketers that want to reach them.

Wait, you say. What do you mean, "hold on to"? Where will these readers go?

That's the new wrinkle. The Internet landscape now includes a profusion of so-called "social media" channels. These are represented by millions of blogs, podcasts, discussion forums and chat rooms. Whereas such home-grown publishing efforts have been around for years in one form or another, they largely operated below the radar due to a lack of scale. But that has changed, and has changed permanently.

These channels are confronting traditional publishing and marketing executives alike. While a few traditional companies have been scared into bold new initiatives, most are too busy with the operational details of keeping their Web sites, e-mail newsletters and Webinars working properly to consider the implications.

Worse, many are not spending proportionately to the opportunity. In its "2006 CMO Web-Smart Report" of more than 250 marketing executives, WebTrends found that although more than half (56%) said the Web is the hub of their marketing strategy or will be within 12 months, only 9.7% had multiple, full-time employees dedicated to Web marketing analytics.

I think the most fascinating-and difficult-questions in b-to-b marketing, advertising and publishing swirl around these new channels. Among those questions: Do you have a plan for how your company will participate in this brave new media world? Does your publishing partner have a plan? Will your audiences in, say, five years consume media the way they do today? How will you monitor these new channels? And, finally, what success metrics will you use?

Ellis Booker is editor of BtoB and BtoB's Media Business, and can be reached at [email protected].

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