The days of business-to-business magazines giving away their content for free on the internet are over, speakers at last week’s Total Publishing conference in London agreed. They argued that the only way for B2B magazines to be successful online was to charge for their content and services.
Robin Wood, electronic publishing development director of CMP Information (formerly United Business Media International) claimed: "This is a business now. The days when people passed each other information for fun are gone. You either have to put up with advertising or pay for your information, and people don’t want to see advertising on the web."
Harry Bott, chief operating officer of The Publican Online, agreed, arguing that B2B websites were in a position to charge for their specialised content because users would be willing to pay up.
"Business-to-consumer sites will always struggle to charge, but people will pay for relevant and focused B2B information," he said.
Simon Waldman, director of digital publishing at Guardian Unlimited, said his company planned to start charging users for information but had not decided how to implement those charges.
"Your content is here and your user is over here. There are a myriad of ways to get from one to the other. The complex thing is to find the route with the most value. Syndication and distributing headlines is a great acquisition method for lots of traffic." Bott also predicted that weaker B2B titles would be squeezed out of the market.
"Stronger titles will cross markets and survive. The ad pot is not increasing. Our advertisers will say, ‘we need a web presence’ and will advertise in the print number one and the online number one. That won’t cannibalise our product but it will cannibalise our competitor." He claimed it was unrealistic to spend more on a website than a magazine because an online version would not bring in as much revenue as an existing print title.
Asked whether online publishing in general was settling down, Waldman said: "It has to grow up and act as a single industry. It is famous for fragmentation."
But Wood told the conference that online publishers had not yet started to work together to unify their strategies. "I have a suspicion that the industry won’t gel in the next 12 months, especially in B2B. We are all here to make our own successful business models."
Bott and Wood agreed that B2B sites that weren’t linked to an established print title were unlikely to succeed.
Bott said: "We spent many years developing a magazine brand that is well known, understood and developed. There has been so much mistrust in the past few years that we’d be mad not to work off the back of that, instead calling ourselves, say, aardvark.com."
Wood added: "Most sites are part of a magazine package and there is a lot of strength in that."
By Mary Stevens