Publishers discuss future of business at WPA show

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A panel of publishing executives at the Western Publications Association's 2007 Publishing Conference last month in Los Angeles addressed what needs to be done to survive in the evolving media business.

"Clearly, we are going through a transformation as content providers," said Michael Marchesano, exec VP-chief transformation officer of Nielsen Co. and chairman of American Business Media. "As we look to the future, business information is the next chapter."

Marchesano said a key driver of change is the power of content control in the hands of increasingly connected users.

"Never before have our users been active participants in acquiring, selecting and managing content," he said, pointing to user-generated content such as blogs, social networks and other Web 2.0 applications.

To survive, publishers need to create "must-have" information, such as rich data products that give users critical information when and where they need it, Marchesano said. "Print will continue to be part of the equation, but it will need to evolve," he said.

Neal Vitale, CEO of 1105 Media, which was formed last year by Vitale, Nautic Partners and Alta Communications, discussed lessons learned in the company's first year of business, during which it acquired six publishing and event companies.

"The integration of print and online is an effective combination," Vitale said, referring to the company's strategy for selling its products.

"It's important to have an in-house guru on online and electronic media," he said. "This person can be a conduit for bringing in experts and can bring best practices from one group to another."

Vitale said publishers need to be experimenting with all the new media platforms and technologies. "There are a lot of new things, and we don't even know what they are yet," he said. "You have to be experimenting in these areas, like mashups [Web sites that combines content from different sources]. Marketers want new things, and it is important to be relatively first to market."

Vitale also warned publishers not to forget about backend support, such as content management systems. "It's tempting when you're launching new systems to cobble systems together and put a Band-Aid solution on it, but there will be a backlash. You're going to have to spend money in some of these areas."

Glenn Hansen, president-CEO of media auditing firm BPA Worldwide, said that although b-to-b publishers face competition from specialized online and event companies, they still have a distinct advantage.

"You are a brand, and your brand has many spokes on the hub in content delivery," Hansen said. "There is value in cross-pollination. It's all about integration, integration, integration."

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