Wednesday, April 22, 2009

State of the Industry? Not All That Clear

The American Society for Business Publication Editors’ Kansas City chapter hosted a panel discussion April 7, The State of the B2B Industry, in which three key Kansas City-area B2B executives shared their opinions about the challenges facing trade magazines in 2009.

The speakers included:

  • Donna Sanford, the publisher of EXPO Magazine
  • Lisa Parks, senior vice president of digital operations at Penton Media
  • Becky Turner Chapman, vice president and general manager of Advanstar Communications’ Veterinary Group.

The consensus? Well, unfortunately, there wasn’t a consensus on the state of the B2B industry; opinions varied greatly among this panel.

“The state of the publishing industry sucks,” said Sanford. And she sees the profession from three sides: as the publisher, editor, and sales person. “It’s changing in a dramatic way—we’re experiencing a seismic shift, especially in advertising. Print advertising is falling out of favor because advertisers want to see ROI and metrics.”

At EXPO Magazine, Sanford sells lead generation through downloadable white papers, Webinars, and sponsored online content—not traditional print advertising.

And Parks agreed. “We need to deliver information to our audience in ways that are not dependent on print advertising.”

Parks was optimistic about the current state of the industry. “There is good news for B2B publishers: we can provide what readers want, we offer a trusted source of information, and we don’t own the capital equipment required for print publishing, which makes this economy less risky for us.”

Parks is also optimistic about the future. “We’re using technology in ways we haven’t before—it’s an opportunity for us to succeed above others.” But she warns that her company is now being faced with competing against businesses developed specifically for online media, which has prompted her to consider Web-first thinking.

And Turner Chapman welcomed this transformational time for the industry. “There’s a lot of fun ahead!” she exclaimed. She explained that for B2B publishers, the fundamentals have not changed. The audiences’ needs have not changed, and advertisers still need to reach those audiences. The only thing that has shifted is the publishers’ ability to reach their audiences in different places.

For example, Turner Chapman described a print article idea her company generated in the early 1960s: teaching veterinarians how to design a veterinary hospital. By 1965, the company had launched a hospital design conference so its audience could learn directly from design experts. Throughout the next few decades, the company printed books and continued expanding its magazine coverage of this subject. Today, it’s covered online through web-only articles, interactive elements, message boards, and photo galleries at, the company’s web portal.

“It all started with a print idea and it grew up,” Turner Chapman said. And now if the editors publish a print article about the subject, they marry it with an online-only piece, which promotes a message board, and that message board refers back to a different print article. It’s this never-ending circle of content that allows the editors to reach their audience across all media.

What did these executives say was the most profitable part of their online business?

Sanford said it was webinars due to the high price point. Parks said e-newsletters and online advertising. And Turner Chapman mentioned and custom projects for advertisers; however, print publishing still represents the largest chunk of revenue overall.

So although none of these executives could see clearly in their crystal balls, they all agreed that the economy and other factors are presenting some real challenges to B2B publishers. But it’s up to us—the editors—to help identify creative ways to deliver our trusted content across all media.