Obviously, this is an area of concern to trade publishers, historically the primary providers of industry news to business readers. In theory -- and I stress the word "theory" because I don't agree with much of this -- intranets threaten to transform this century-old relationship in ways not yet clearly understood.
There are legitimate fears here. Some companies, such as giant computer network manager Electronic Data Systems, are moving ahead with plans to defray the costs of building corporate intranets by selling advertising that would move directly from the business marketer to potential buyers' desktops, and which could easily include direct purchasing capability.
Other companies are weighing whether to transmit electronic summaries of industry news through their intranets on a daily or weekly basis, conceivably cannibalizing traditional trade magazine news. Earlier this year, in fact, BellSouth briefly mulled a plan that might have replaced trade books altogether with electronic versions of each magazine's news content for intranet distribution.
Asked about the status of the plan this month, the company just shrugged (figuratively speaking) and said it saw no sense in canceling anyone's trade magazine subscription. In fact, BellSouth officials said they hoped the online news summaries they did want to provide would encourage employees to buy and read more trade newspapers.
That's a smart attitude, and it's why I don't really worry about the long-term threat to trade publishers from intranets.
The plain fact is, trade books are a highly evolved technology of their own and not easily replaced. Yes, I speak as an interested party, but so is everyone reading this column right now. Consider how you use your own industry newspapers, and you can see the reasons BellSouth never seriously considered pursuing their earlier plan:
David Klein is associate publisher-editor of the Ad Age Group. He reads a dozen trade books a week, none of them online. He can be reached at [email protected].