My posts on the changes at UBM Tech have been the most popular on this blog since I started it. Lots of people have weighed in on whether it is good or bad (most say bad) but I've tried to remain neutral. I'm maintaining that neutrality, especially after talking to UBM Tech CEO Paul Miller last week.
Miller has said to me several times in the past couple of years that UBM is a marketing company, not a media company. In last week's chat he took it to another level. "UBM Tech is, effectively, out of the magazine business. We are now running online communities."
There have been several comments from people still in the media business expressing doubt that UBM properties can be considered ethical, reliable, trustworthy "real journalism," etc. But the answer to all of those concerns is... it's not a media company anymore. Trying to measure the UBM business model against traditional journalism is like determining distance with a measuring cup.
A few weeks ago, Joe Basques wrote that companies need to change their perspective to understand their market. I submit that everyone looking at the new UBM model needs to change their perspective as well. Paul Miller said, in essence that UBM was giving up the journalism field of competition to Hearst, Extension Media, EE Journal and all the others, not because they didn't think it was a good business to be in, but that it had become such a small part of the UBM business that it mattered less than the direction their communities were going did.
Paul even wished all his former competitors well and considered them a valued part of the information ecosystem that engineers needed. But they are no longer what UBM considers competition. Who are they competing against? Their old foes Reed Elsevier for one, who abandoned the journalism business for the event business as well a few years ago. What UBM has that Reed doesn't however, is the online communities.
Another competitor you might consider is Google itself. And here's why.
Google recently changed it's search algorithm to diminish keyword (the core of SEO practices) and focus on engagement: what people are reading, what people are commenting on and what people are sharing. That means they are actively boosting what the users are interested in. That is, essentially, the UBM model now. What was known as the editorial staff are now community managers and brand managers whose primary job is curation. Armed with a powerful new technology these managers can look at what content provider and content is getting the most play and their job is to feature that content in the community. The managers will develop content, but that's not their primary job. Readers who actively comment and make valuable input will be invited to become regular contributors. Sometimes that will be paid, more often it will not. The readers will make the ultimate decision as to what rises to the top of the medium, not journalists.
This is significantly different than what we know as traditional journalism. It may fail spectactularly or it will succeed spectacularly. Whatever you may think of it, Miller and UBM are taking a massive but calculated gamble. "We're pretty positive about how this will turn out, but it is admittedly very different. However, when you look at traditional media, the odds for success are not very good. We wish all who remain the best of luck, but something different has to be done. We think this is one way to do it right."
I am currently working on a white paper that looks at the current state of the media in the 21st centur. It will be available in a few weeks, but we aren't giving it away free this time. If you want it, we need to know if you are the right person to get it, or if you can get it to the right person, If you aren't one of those, get your credit card out. This one is too good to give away.