Magazine Executive Roundtable Explores Shift in Business Models
Samir "Mr. Magazine" Husni wrapped up the Magazine Executive Roundtable at the Publishing Business Conference & Expo by asking about the "future glass"—the level of optimism panelists felt about the future of their business. For Frank Anton, CEO of B-to-B publisher Hanley Wood, the glass was three-quarters full. For Don Hawk, president of online enterprise IT publisher TechTarget, it was 80 percent. Hugh Wiley, publisher of Bloomberg Businessweek, put it at 100 percent.
In some ways, though, Anton was the most optimistic, as his assessment seemed to augur a dramatic turnaround from what has been an extremely challenging couple of years for Hanley Wood.
Since the housing downturn, Hanley Wood, which mainly serves the construction market, has been hit hardest where it counts. At their mid-2000s height they enjoyed profit margins of 45 percent for ad pages and 75 percent for exhibit space, both of which have shrunk considerably.
Trade shows have been great business since time immemorial, Anton said, but exhibitors today are no longer sure of ROI. "As these two businesses are threatened by secular forces I wonder if Hanley Wood can ever get back to the glory days," he said.
Additional pressure comes from traditional buyers investing more of their advertising spend in their own websites. Anton sees opportunity, however, in the lead nurturing business, as companies struggle with their own efforts to generate ROI from data about customers. "The [new] media landscape," he said, "is changing the way we do absolutely everything."
Wiley was more bullish. A year after a major redesign and new international focus enabled by Businessweek's incorporation into the Bloomberg media empire, the magazine has leveraged new journalistic resources to enhance its frequency and reach. Businessweek, for its part, brought 4.5 million worldwide readers to the deal, and the kind of brand prestige that leads to interviews with sitting U.S. presidents.
(A day after the roundtable the PIB reported a 48.8 percent ad page gain for Businessweek, which Bloomberg said allowed it to capture an additional 6.7 percent share of the business magazine ad market that includes The Economist, Fortune and Forbes. This was followed, on April 11, by the launch of a new app for the iPad, Bloomberg Businesweek+)
Wiley called the iPad a "fascinating area of convergence" for cross-platform publishers. Businessweek's new app, he said, strikes a balance between the missed opportunity of mere pdf re-creation and "overly tripped out" apps that are too complicated and confusing. "Some apps are so complicated they take you from the attic all the way to the basement and you can't find your way back to the master bedroom," he said.
A toolbar sitting beneath the content allows for easy navigation through the app and keeps users within Businessweek's curated space. "You don't want them to go outside your app to google someone you mention in an article," he noted.
Hawk said he was initially surprised to be invited on a panel of magazine executives. With an all-digital business, TechTarget does not occupy the traditional magazine space. But, he acknowledged, "At its core ... I think the issues we wrestle with are not that dissimilar to those that multimedia publishers wrestle with."
These include shifting expectations placed on his publications by advertisers, who expect the publisher to be able to move beyond lead generation, inserting themselves into workflows to help develop internal CRM systems. The old, high-margin business model of traditional B-to-B publishing is gone, he said, necessitating diversification and flexibility. Publishers need to be able to gauge the length of a business product or service's life cycle, what can be done to extend it, and how to anticipate the next cycle before anyone else. "The bar is consistently raised as far as what constitutes ROI," he said. "The winners are the ones who have been able to adjust."
Editor's Note: Check out the May/June issue of Publishing Executive for additional coverage of the 2011 Publishing Business Conference & Expo.