The darlings of the publishing world are the consumer publications. Breaking news on the latest farm tractor or radio transmitter doesn't capture the imagination like a buzzworthy Rolling Stone cover or risqué Vanity Fair spread. But toiling in the shadows are smart teams of editors, marketers and publishers who are thriving, innovating and making money.
What used to be basic magazine publishing businesses have become complex B2B information distribution companies. These publishers have the advantage of knowing their readers in a way consumer publishers cannot. B2B publishers embed themselves in the industries they cover and the best among them are viewed as industry leaders in their own right.
Here we present revenue-generating ideas that may be of value to your publication, as shared by five smart B2B publishers.
Lead-Gen & Content Marketing
Lead generation has been a primary demand of B2B advertisers, especially since 2008, and content marketing is taking a larger and larger slice of marketing budgets. A combination of the two creates a profitable product with high value.
MediaTec Publishing has four magazines serving the HR industry, or as they call it, human capital. The Chicago company is revamping its websites to serve readers and sponsors in a more profitable way. Its newest title, Workforce, was acquired from Crain Communications this past January and became its first redeveloped site.
The new Workforce site was launched with an elegant, reader-friendly look and a sponsored content tool called Roadmaps. At its core, the Roadmaps lead-gen product is based on white paper downloads organized by topic. Workforce adds a content marketing component by making brand-sponsored articles a central focus of the section.
"The editorial and sales staff worked together to develop topics that readers were most interested in," says Kendra Chaplin, VP of development and technology. Topics include such HR mainstays as performance management and recruiting. Each Roadmaps section launch is promoted in the corresponding issue of the monthly magazine. There is a feature story on the topic accompanied by a one-page advertorial for each sponsor.
Each Roadmap topic presents a mix of sponsored content, magazine articles and original content written for the site. The branded copy is clearly identified and has a sponsor logo alongside each. "We like to make sure people know what they are downloading," Chaplin added.
Advertisers must commit to a six-month program. Each sponsor can post up to 12 articles and are encouraged to update them frequently. The website's advanced SEO tools help them gain search engine visibility and the Roadmaps are featured in the dropdown menu.
A Buyer's Guide "Storefront"
The typical online buyer's guide or product directory has not changed much from its print origins. Most present a company's name, address, website link and a cursory list of its products. Microwave Journal, a 45-year-old publication owned by Norwood, Mass.-based Horizon House, has taken this to an entirely different level by integrating a full range of web content and digital tools.
The Microwave Journal Buyer's Guide is billed as a "source for the latest product announcements [and] industry news." Companies are offered free listings. "We add listings for those who don't sign up," says technical editor Pat Hindle, seeing value in offering the most comprehensive source.
The real action is in the premium listings, which are branded as Vendor Views and promoted as a "storefront." Each is displayed at the top of its alphabetical grouping. The Journal achieves editorial structure by fully integrating these pages in its CMS. Any news story, press release, product review or video which mentions the advertiser is tied into the storefront. In addition to complete contact information, marketers can include as many products as they want, each with its own page. They can run white papers, image galleries, events, downloads and videos, and advertisers are able to upload all this themselves, saving staff time while empowering the client. Each premium listing becomes a microsite of value.
Marketers are also attracted by advertiser inclusion in the 30,000 circulation weekly newsletter. Each edition carries a few product blurbs with the Vendor View logo, linked back to the directory. Sponsors see one of their products there about every six weeks. "That is the biggest selling point," says Hindle.
By significantly increasing the value of the offer, Horizon House has been able to increase the price to $7,000 per year. This is well above the amount B2B publishers can typically charge for directories, which rarely exceed $2,500. But the success of the program is best indicated by its 90% renewal rate.
Outbound Content Links
Breaking Media is a growing, 7-year-old New York-based company with exclusively digital media properties. Its brands serve up B2B content with a feisty, insider attitude that has helped build big audiences. CEO John Lerner says more lawyers read Above the Law than any other legal publication. Breaking Media's six websites cover topics ranging from defense to fashion with and often feature stories with broad, consumer appeal, enabling them to attract more than four million unique visitors monthly.
The primary sales for Breaking Media are "custom marketing solutions," says Lerner. The company offers a mix of banners, native advertising and sponsored content in each market. With millions of ad impressions, the firm supplements direct sales with the usual mix of "programmatic, mass buys" as delivered by ad networks like Bizo.
As part of the mix, the websites have also been earning performance-based revenue from sponsored headline links. These are not ad links. The heads lead to content on other publications or on brand-owned sites. Breaking Media is paid for each click by Outbrain, which claims to have similar agreements with 100,000 publishers. These headline groupings are commonly seen on many sites with names like "From Around the Web," and are often bought by other publishers to increase site traffic.
The content link revenue has started adding up, says Lerner. Recently Breaking Media added two other sales partners, Newsmax and Content.ad. "For the past two months we've been experimenting and fine-tuning this, because it's become worth doing." The comments sections of its sites are highly popular, so sponsored links are positioned right above them, the click equivalent of retailers placing candy by the front counter.
In addition to the headline link format, Above the Law now has a section of heads with thumbnail photos. So far they are slightly outperforming the non-graphic format. Lerner said the frequent bikini-clad images and occasional puppy photo did not seem to be a concern. "If it's successful from a click-rate, then it's working for the audience."
Text Messaging and Coupons
If your market has a need for fast-changing information, there is a humble technology you may be able to tap for not-so-humble profits: text messaging. Farmers, for example, have a crucial interest in the commodity price swings occurring each day. With prices rising and falling based on the Chicago Board of Trade, the difference between selling a crop at 10 a.m. versus 3 p.m. can have a significant impact on profits.
Farm Journal Media (FJM) has 75,000 subscribers who receive reports on commodity pricing from one to nine times each day delivered via SMS texts to their mobile phones. Mitch Rouda, president of FJM's eMedia division, gives three reasons this content is perfect for phone delivery: "Commodity prices change frequently, farmers care about that data and it's short."
Called Commodity Update, the service is priced at $10 per month. (Doing the math should have you rushing to figure out an equivalent need in your market.) "The vast majority are sponsored subscriptions," says Rouda. FJM sells advertisers on providing this service for, say, 1,000 of their best customers. Each text starts with "Sponsored by Monsanto," for example. Also, farmers must specifically opt-in as texting rules are more stringent than email regulations.
"This gives us a channel with specific phone numbers, to specific guys, having specific demographics," says Rouda. FJM uses this list to deliver coupons on behalf of advertisers, who can buy all farmers in 50- or 150-mile radius for delivery coupons via a multi-message service (MMS). This has given FJM its first localized product, opening a category of new advertisers who now buy ads to vie with regional competitors.
Selling Unbundled Content...And More
There is a clear line in the B2B pub world: those who sell subscriptions and those who don't. The majority of publications are controlled circulation, of course, but even among those that require readers to subscribe for online access, few sell content in individual pieces.
RFID Journal is a Long Island-based publisher whose revenue is heavily geared towards the six events they hold each year, conferences and trade shows. They pride themselves on well-researched, original journalism and rich technical details. And though publisher and founder Mark Roberti estimates 80% of the online content is free, it can still manage to charge $189 annually for full access. (By the way, RFID stands for radio frequency identification).
During the Great Recession, RFID Journal took a big hit like everyone else. Looking for new income opportunities, it added the sale of individual articles and reports. Detailed articles, case studies and best-practices white papers are offered throughout its website at $19.99 to non-subscribers. They had already been selling training courses for $199 and have since added case study DVD's and 3rd-party, in-depth market reports.
Now that the cash register is ringing, Roberti started to look at the requests the magazine gets in a new light. For this new technology there was a need for entry-level, one-off products that advertisers were not filling. With this in mind, he recently started selling two products: a Power Mapper, which locates UHF signals, and the RFID Journal Find It, a personal inventory management solution for a smartphone or tablet.
No one product is lighting the world on fire-each month RFID sells one of this, a dozen of that-but the cumulative revenue has become noticeable. Earlier in his career, as the internet age was dawning, a publisher of seemingly random books about the web told Roberti, "When it's raining money, you put out as many buckets as you can." Mark Roberti sees a parallel in his magazine's product revenue today. "It may not be raining as hard; but we have a lot of buckets."
Andy Kowl is a journalist and entrepreneurial publisher with more than 30 years developing, marketing and growing publishing companies. He is senior vice president of publishing strategy for ePublishing Inc., a leading enterprise publishing system provider that manages content, audience data, workflow, newsletters and e-commerce for publications.
Andy Kowl is a journalist and entrepreneurial publisher with more than 30 years developing, marketing and growing publishing companies. He is senior vice president of publishing strategy for ePublishing Inc., the leading enterprise publishing system (EPS) provider which manages content, audience data, workflow, newsletters and e-commerce for hundreds B2B online publications. He helps publishers increase reader engagement and response by integrating behavioral data with contextual content, and shows them direct ways to monetize the results. Andy writes the B2B Beat blog for Publishing Executive magazine. His background in B2B includes publishing, editing and/or owning magazines and information products covering specialty retail, horse breeding, real estate, credit unions, Wall Street compliance and wireless technology.