Media execs cling to print…too tightly?

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Last week, about 300 of the publishing industry's movers and shakers convened in Chicago for American Business Media's annual Top Management Meeting.

As they have in the past few years, senior-level executives from business publishers, media vendors and media bankers listened attentively to presentations about the growth in the digital side of their business—and the comparatively anemic state of print.

According to ABM's own figures, digital revenue for b-to-b media companies is expected to grow 18% to 22% in 2008, while magazine revenue is expected to drop 2% to 7%. (Curiously, only a handful of attendees would admit to any decline in their print business.)

Separately, there was some good news. A new ABM-sponsored survey of 878 business decision-makers found industry-specific magazine Web sites are the top resource for decision-makers at work. (See story, page 3.)

Nevertheless, some of the old guard in publishing still cling to outdated business models and practices, even as the media landscape (not to mention the information consumption habits of their future audiences) changes dramatically all around them.

This was evident during a luncheon keynote by Matt Preschem, VP-small and medium business (SMB) & ecosystem communications at IBM. His wide-ranging talk covered everything from blogs to social networks to video, including user-generated video.

I reached Preschem after his speech and asked him what he hoped the media leaders took away from his talk.

"If you run a media company, it's very clear the traditional publishing business will continue to exist," he said. "But the big growth opportunity is in digital." And then he added, "There was a borderline tension in the room … the room was split."

He said some are uncomfortable with this paradigm shift, one that is "fundamentally challenging to the business models of all communications companies—PR, ad agencies, publishers."

When I asked how IBM views its media partners in this new, challenging environment, Preschem said: "We, at IBM, have to change how we communicate and market, [and] I'm not convinced everyone is moving fast enough."

Was the IBM VP implicitly advocating that publishers invest in the hardware, software and services that IBM offers? Yes. But was he right to suggest that substantial investments in things like advanced content management will be essential if media companies hope to provide the experiences their audiences will expect and the audience insights their advertisers will demand? Yes, again.

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

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