As digital options increase, so do challenges

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The theme of American Business Media's Annual Conference, held last week in San Francisco, was “The Customer-driven Future.” The presenters and panelists at the conference focused on the methods that b-to-b media companies could use to derive more revenue from their readers—especially their digital audiences. Ultimately, the consensus seemed to be that the digital realm provides many revenue opportunities but also myriad challenges. “I have to be very thoughtful about the opportunities I chase,” said Peter Westerman, chief audience officer at Summit Business Media. In his presentation, Westerman, who had held a similar position at Ziff Davis Enterprise, offered a cautionary tale about that company's sale to QuinStreet, which ultimately valued the lead-gen database much more than it did the media brands that created the database. “It was really breathtaking to see that happen,” he said. Shortly before its sale, ZDE abandoned print and embraced all-digital publications. In retrospect, Westerman said it would have made sense for ZDE to keep at least one print publication. CIO Insight would have been his choice, he said, because it reached an older audience that still reads ink on paper. Westerman also said publishers had to be cautious about digital editions. He warned that even though they can eliminate paper, printing and postage costs, digital editions will not command rate base pricing structures in the same way print magazines do. “The notion that advertisers will pay according to a rate base, we [at ZDE] saw very quickly that is never going to happen,” he said. This assertion seemed to be proven true when the print media committee of the American Association of Advertising Agencies sent a letter to the MPA requesting “rigorous transparency and accountability” for digital extensions of print magazine brands. In the letter, the committee made it clear that media buyers want to be able to take advantage of the interactive capabilities of digital editions and only pay for engagement and actions that can be measured. For instance, the committee said, “It's important that engagement metrics include, at minimum, average time spent with "enhanced' ads such as video, slideshows, etc. In addition, we will need data on actions taken when readers engage with links and hot spots.” Another speaker, Gordon Crovitz, co-CEO of R.R. Donnelly & Sons Co.'s Press+, which has provided metered model subscription software to hundreds of media companies, provided some welcome positive news. He said many b-to-b media companies were beginning to successfully charge Internet users for access to content. Crovitz disputed the Internet maxim that “information wants to be free.” He countered, “Information wants to be paid for if people want to pay for it.”
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