Blurring Lines and Erasing Dollars
"It has never been cheaper to get a piece of content in front of a B2B buyer," said Sybase VP Mark Wilson recently. We are now at or near the tipping point where non-publishers eclipse competitive titles as a B2B publisher's prime competition for dollars, if not for advertising dollars.
Marketers not only have more channels available to reach buyers than ever before, they have become content publishers themselves. It started as a few pages on their website and a monthly newsletter, but manufacturers' involvement in producing and distributing content is evolving quickly.
Undervaluing what we do is nothing new. Do you think any profession on earth is expected to provide as many services to non-customers as publishers are? Who else is asked for free stuff all week long? Complete strangers expect us to list their meeting, announce their new product or some piece of business they have won. Most never spend a dime on advertising in our pubs.
Then came "Internet 2.0," which was all about your site visitors generating content―a literal invitation for marketers to give themselves free content in your online publication. Add the social media boom of the past few years and a website can end up with a veritable open door allowing businesses to reach their hard-won readers.
Who is getting paid?
We've been our own worst enemies, widely distributing "paid content" while we are not the ones getting paid. Everywhere I look I see MarketWire and PR Newswire and press releases simulating news and features. Truth is, some content originated by commercial sources is indeed useful to readers.
With blogs, "studies" and analysts reports, you need a scorecard to discern the motive behind a particular article. Many of us remember the old 'church and state' mentality, where the only proper dividing line between advertising and editorial was a clean, uncrossable one. That ethic has never left me, though it provides scant dignity as editorial budgets force a more liberal position on using industry-generated content on my own websites.
Some say all this is just the 21st Century version of advertorials. But at least we got paid for advertorials. With "Content Marketing" advertisers produce content, and your salesman expects you to run it at no charge. Worse, there are times when running non-advertiser content offers an ass-backwards version of editorial integrity―at least you're not selling your editorial space. Huh? B2B publishers better figure out how to monetize this trend, because apparently we are going to keep distributing it anyway.
The publishers' edge
All is not bleak because we have a built-in advantage. After all, B2B publishers invented content marketing, or whatever it is we call this. Most of us have been marketing content for years: researching and writing white papers, producing webinars, selling training and certification programs. Our choice is whether we grab a bigger market share of advertiser-produced content or sit by as others shape the future.
Advertisers are hiring professionals to write their content, often under the guise of marketing agencies or PR firms. Now may be the time to take off the gloves and purposefully compete with these companies―or find partnership business models where we do not abdicate our role in business content production and distribution.
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.