Curated for content, computing, and digital experience professionals

Author: Bill Rosenblatt

Environment Concerns Hasten Digital Edition Adoption in B-to-B Publishing

Today I got one of those phone calls: someone from a call center representing a trade magazine, asking me to verify my contact information for their subscriber database and as proof that I’m an actual subscriber that they can include in their circulation numbers. You’ve undoubtedly gotten many of these. They are as much the banes of B-to-B publishers’ existence as they are annoying to subscribers.
I told the phone rep what I tell them all nowadays: I ask if they have a digital edition of their publication. If so, I ask them to switch me to it. If not, I ask them to cancel my subscription. I do this mainly as my tiny way to help the environment, as well as so that I can see what publishers are doing (or not) with digital edition technologies.
The phone rep on today’s call said that the magazine in question, KM World (published by Information Today Inc.), does not offer a digital edition but that he was going to ask whether I’d be interested in one. This shows that digital editions are on more B-to-B publishers’ radar screens.
Our market study of digital editions cites concern for the environment as one of the three primary factors driving growth in digital editions, particularly in B-to-B publishing (the others being lower costs and speed of delivery). Several publishers told us of their own environmental concerns as well as those of their customers and readers.
The routine subscription database update call that included a question about this is further evidence.
And yes, I also don’t like getting trade publications in print because I don’t want my office to be any more cluttered than it is already. Don’t you?

Digital Editions Market Research

At yesterday’s Argyle Executive Forum Leadership in Media conference in NYC, I had an interesting exchange with John Suhler, founding partner and president of Veronis Suhler Stevenson, and one of the deans of media industry private equity. Suhler had just given a talk in which I was glad to hear him excoriate publishers for the lack of attention they pay to technology and digital media as part of their strategies.

After his talk, I compared figures from our just-released market study on Digital Editions with his own off-the-cuff statistics about digital revenue for publishers, and the results were rather revealing. Our study shows a large gap between the readership penetration of digital editions in consumer vs. B-to-B (vertical) publications – whereas digital B2B subscriptions have grown to 15% of overall subscriptions, the corresponding figure for consumer pubs is down to 1.4%.

Compare these subscription figures with Suhler’s figures for digital revenue: 12-13% in B-to-B vs. 2-3% for consumer publications. This suggests that although digital editions are becoming a much more important ingredient in B-to-B publishers’ product mix, they are not quite carrying their share of digital revenue; whereas in consumer media, they are carrying more than their share, perhaps as much as double their share.

Of course, the missing ingredient in this admittedly superficial comparison is costs. For B-to-B publishers, digital editions can provide revenues at lower costs than fancy websites with lots of interactive features. In another presentation at yesterday’s conference, Andrew Heyward of interactive consultancy Marketspace/Monitor Group showed several examples of elaborate interactive websites that consumer media brands like Sports Illustrated launched in order to engage their audiences. I said to him that although these websites looked very cool, they struck me as very expensive to build, non-scalable (compared to advertising platforms like those of Google or Yahoo), and ephemeral in their appeal. He didn’t disagree.

For consumer publishers, the message in the above statistics could be mixed. In our study, noted publishing technology visionary Peter Meirs of Time Inc. is bearish on digital editions for consumer media. The statistics suggest either that consumer publishers are now taking that pessimism too far and under-investing in digital editions or that they don’t see a great long-term future for them. Comparisons in statistics like the above in future years will determine which of these messages is the correct one.

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