Tuesday, March 29, 2011

US media's digital strategy mirrors its editorial strategy - with the same results; ABM approves new business plan

It's not hard to see what is wrong with the US media's attempts to understand electronic publishing: disregard readers and reward failure. It is a lot like the media's editorial strategy: insult the intelligence of the audience, and repeat mistakes.

You would think that following the debacle of the Afghan and Iraq wars that the US media would be a bit more skeptical about US military ventures. But the same folk at the NYT, for instance, that tried to convince us that Saddam Hussein was a national security threat, and that weapons of mass destruction would surely be found, continue to write weekly columns for the paper, or are the paper's senior voice when it comes to the Middle East or all things military.
Being right is pretty irrelevant.

This same strategy drives digital strategy. Look at who is being hired and brought on as the industry's consultants: those who have dismissed mobile applications, the rise of the tablet, and anything that was in any way outside the comfort zone of 1990's era web-think.

It is incredibly frustrating day after day to read so-and-so's opinion of the NYT paywall, or the latest media app; it is exactly like reading about the events in the Middle East, you know the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution, Karl Rove or Frank Gaffney are bound to be in story somewhere.

The consumer magazine field appears to be better positioned to survive and even thrive in our New Media environment. Possibly this is because the industry has always been more willing to experiment with its platform. Magazines are launched, magazines are folded, the industry moves on.

The folding of a newspaper, however, is national news, a cause for a decade long wake. The veterans of the Rocky Mountain News or even the Chicago Daily News write about their old papers years or even decades after the paper has folded. Maybe the reason for this is that as papers fold their employees rarely move on to another paper, another launch. It is as if the industry only has a set number of positions available and the rule is that the number can only go down, never up.

No wonder that it is so easy for AOL to find editors for its Patch properties.

But, of course, it doesn't have to be like this. Web, mobile and tablet publishing doesn't have to involve $30 million investments, such as News Corp. is spending on The Daily. Even The Daily, I suspect, knows this based on its single issue special section on Elizabeth Taylor. Sometimes it can be quick, inexpensive, and endlessly variable -- the exact opposite of mainstream newspapering.

Update: Right on cue John Gruber tweets about this post about mobile websites versus native apps. I think the author, Josh Clark, is spitting in the wind, though. It is easy for Clark to advocate for native apps, he has experience designing them, those who are against them haven't -- and they are often the ones in charge of digital strategy.

American Business Media (ABM) today announced that its board of directors has approved a new business plan, which under the leadership of new President and CEO Clark Pettit, is hoped will bring the industry trade group back to life.

“The B-to-B media industry is currently grappling with fundamental changes in the ways that businesses get and use information,” Pettit said at the time of his appointment in July of last year. “Many of these changes parallel the ways that the consumer-focused media industry has been transforming, particularly through digital media and internet connected technologies. I believe that my experience in managing transformational change, embracing these new technologies and behaviors, and finding new business and revenue models will be directly relevant to ABM, its members, and the B-to-B media industry.”

The new business plan echoes some of the ideas presented last summer at the time of Pettit's appointment: bringing a cooperative approach, partnering with industry experts, providing greater value. (For many B2B media executives, the "value" of an ABM membership was, and probably is, foremost in their minds.)

The business plan lists five areas in which the trade association should concentrate:
  • Industry research and actionable business metrics
  • Education and training programs around various new business models and solutions, and how to execute on them
  • Increased networking opportunities and focused leadership groups
  • More robust committees and councils focused on tangible deliverables and professional development
  • New events, including regional programs and events in cooperation with other organizations and experts, focused on driving new b-to-b business models
My last ABM event was probably over two years ago, but the experience was similar to what I had seen over the last decade -- lots of talk about digital, lot of talk about ways to cut costs, and lots time negotiating mergers and acquisitions. No surprise, most of the executives who attended these events had little hands on experience in the industry as either an editor or publisher, and rarely was there anything on the agenda of interest to editors, sales people or publishers -- no wonder that so many of those positions have been eliminated over the years.

When I first started attending ABM events, there was a lot more talk about the specifics of sales, in particular. Sessions on media kits, sales presentations often involved staffers bragging about their cool kits and pull-all-the-stops out presentations -- but those sessions produced lots of talk and idea sharing, and inevitably ideas were brought back to the office and tried.

Hopefully the new hires announced today -- Michael Burns as VP, Events, Claudia Flowers as VP, Recruitment & Retention, and Marie Griffinas VP, Content & Programming -- can bring in new ideas and allow the ABM to better serve not just the executives that make up the board, but the editors and sales staffs of those who actually are producing the B2B magazines and websites (there are still only a handful of mobile apps and tablet editions being produced by US B2B media properties).