There’s been another massacre of traditional media — this time Reed Business Information announcing that it will kill off 23 publications, including Graphic Arts Monthly, Converting, Control Engineering and a number of others that could once be found on every desk and in every lobby of every company in these industries.
Some, like Matt Kucharski at PSB’s The Lead blog are lamenting the loss, and I don’t blame them. I’m not one of the “traditional media is dead” guys that Matt decries. Good journalists, storytellers and industry advocates are out of work, and their publications have been powerful engines of lead generation, awareness and credibility for companies in their industries.
At the same time, I think Matt misses the point when he argues that:
“…instead of relying on the trade publication to be both the content developer AND deliverer, we need to take on the distribution role ourselves. Let the publication write the article — and then YOU take responsibility for putting that article into the hands of your key audiences — through your sales force, through social media, through email, through Web postings.”
The point about separating means of distribution — the media — from the content — is right on. But I don’t think that B2B marketers ever had a problem touting the coverage these publications delivered.
The problem is that B2B marketers stopped supporting them through advertising — presumably because they no longer delivered the kind of ROI in terms of leads and awareness that justified the kind of ad rates to support their staff, printing and distirbution costs. This leaves the media outlet two choices if they want to stay in business:
1. Re-organize operations so that they require less advertising; or,
2. Become so entirely valuable to the people that they serve that those businesses are willing to pay for their content.
(Actually, Reed took a third option — shut ‘em down).
I have to think that a site like Whattheythink in the printing and graphic communications industry has the kind of model that can work. I believe they started up in 2000 and were always 100% online. There’s a mix of paid and unpaid content — and the best stuff requires a paid membership; and there’s advertising, too. Content includes company news as well as highly columnists, interviews with top industry executives, and in-depth event coverage.
Starting out as a glorified newsletter , they’ve managed to become “indispensible”, adding more focused offerings, advertising opportunities, blogs, newsletters and community features.
The site also has added offerings over the years, including webinars and consulting. Their full-time staff is, as I understand it, extremely small, but they bring a regular stable of respected editors and consultants to their readers.
The point is not that “traditional media is dead and good riddance”. It’s that trade media — if they want to be in the journalist business — need to evolve from “printed/online publications that create advertising opportunities for marketers” to “enterprises that deliver indispensable coverage of their industries.”