B2B media, after a decade of trying to hold back the tide of change, is finally moving with the times, redefining what journalism will look like for the next 50 years. Both the good news and bad news is we still don't know what works...although we are getting closer. UBM, Hearst and Advantage Media have all rolled out new formats and features on their various sites this year; personnel have been added, dropped and reassigned.
For UBM alone, it seems their online strategy is paying off About a year ago, CEO Paul Miller told me that their online revenue had finally reached parity with print, partly because print revenue continued to decline and partly because online revenue was still rising. The annual report in February showed that while print was down 22 percent, online was up almost 28 percent, giving the marketing services division an overall increase of 4 percent revenue increase and a profitable year. In today's media industry, that is damn good. So UBM may be figuring this out.
There are, however, other options.
At the Design Automation Conference in San Francisco, three highly respected British journalists unveiled a brand new media company with a business model that may, no, make that will make marketing folks with weaker imaginations a bit confused... so pretty much everyone.
A new twist on journalism
The Curation Company, headed up by Paul Dempsey, Chris Edwards and Luke Collins (look 'em up on LinkedIn if you haven't heard of them and if you haven't where have you been?) is looking to take journalism ultra-social. As simply as I can put it, the idea of their offering is to create all the same things engineers are using now individually, connect the hell out of them and make it possible for readers to continue the connections, share what they found and make the content, the links, the listings and the participants part of a larger, organically growing medium.
(That is close to what Footwasher Media is all about, except we are only concerned about the content and it's connectivity. We are completely agnostic regarding the platform, which is why we work with UBM, Hearst, Advantage, Extension and anyone else that wants our content. And now we will also be working with the Curation Company, so that's nice.)
To get a little deeper, pretty much all B2B media in the electronics world provides buying guides. They also provide news. They also provide contributed articles. They also provide advertising and webinars and trade shows, etc. What they don't do very well is tie all that information together. Sometimes they connect parts of it and sometimes they link stuff back to people who are paying the bills. It's still all pretty scattered.
The Curation Company, through it's news site the Tech Design Forum will provide the guides, news and articles (maybe video, too) and put them all together... and only for the IC design community. If an engineer is looking for a piece of IP or tool in the guide, he will find links to articles and news that might tell him how to best use it and what works well with it. The engineer doesn't have to search through multiple publication sites or do umpteen Google searches to figure out how do do his work. The Curation Company will do all of that for you.
How much does it cost? Nothing to the user. The Curation Company is taking a page out of the Footwasher Media plan and will only do sponsorships... no ads. Yes there will be banners and graphics linking back to the sponsors, but the only reason they are there is for transparency, so everyone knows who is paying for what.
The walled garden
UBM is doing something like this with their Community in a Box (CiaB) product, which has actually won awards for its innovation. The problem with the concept is it perpetuates the "walled garden" concept that so many other companies are working on, including Synopsys, Mentor, Cadence, Xilinx and Altera in the EDA world.
The purpose of these "communities" is to provide their users with a wealth of information and expertise... on how to use the site's host company products. No one else can play in their garden. These are expensive and manpower intensive efforts that smaller companies cannot afford to run on their own. UBM steps in and provides a complete community with content and manpower and the sponsor of the site has control over what is said and who can play. Extension Media has a similar program run by Ed Sperling. The problem is that very few engineers or engineering teams work exclusively in one vendor's garden. They want to see how other tools and products work, so they have to go outside the garden and figure it out on their own. The vendors want to keep them from doing that and I say, good luck.
Walking around DAC I heard a couple of conversations that showed UBM's effort was causing some consternation and ill-will, but it sounded more like sour grapes from people who just didn't want to pay for their own participation. The Curation Company, however, is not planting a walled garden. The concept of sponsored content doesn't really work well unless everyone can participate. So "Company A" can be a sponsor of the program and will still see content about "Company B" on the site and in comparison in content developed in Tech Design Forum.
There will be those that balk at participating on a level playing field. I've already run into sponsors that got upset because the content we developed would reference competition positively. The problem with that attitude is that it is anti-competitive.
Imagine if the SF Giants decided they really didn't want to allow the LA Dodgers to play in AT&T Park and instead played the San Jose Class A Giants dressed in Dodger uniforms. Are you going to believe this is a league game? Hence the concept espoused by The Curation Company. Customers are going to be more likely to believe what is going on in an open field than a walled garden.
Now, that isn't to say the CiaB concept is a bad one. Communities open primarily to current customers is a good way to build relationships, but it's a lousy way of opening the field to new customers.
So that, in the end, is the good news. There are new concepts in communication out there. They all have their place. The question is: Which works best for you?