Friday, April 29, 2011

Two approaches to launching replica editions of B2B magazines on the iPad: neither quite gets the B2B model

A recent conversation I had with a consumer magazine professional went like this: "I understand the consumer magazine business, but B2B is beyond me," said the consumer mag pro. "It's beyond most B2B media executives, as well," I said.

Besides being snarky, I made the comment to tell a basic truth: too many heads of B2B publishing companies have either forgotten their own business models, or never knew them to begin with.
The model is simple: B2B magazines attract and serve their readers in order to attract industry advertising. In order to attract industry advertising the publisher has to prove that the movers and shakers of a particular industry actually read the magazine – usually through a good BPA statement. But if the editorial content is really good – that is, essential to readers – then the magazine can sell subscriptions; AdAge or Engineering News Record being two examples. If not, then the magazines are given away free to qualified readers.

It's a simple formula, that current seems beyond the grasp of far too many B2B media execs. In order to cut costs and maintain profits they have eliminated their BPA statements, lowered the quality of the editorial, and now are beginning to give away their product to anyone who can download an app.

I downloaded two B2B magazines this morning, thinking that one of them was going to provide a good model for B2B publishers. Unfortunately, once downloaded, the actual app varied considerably from the screenshots used in the app description. In the end, neither app really adheres to the basics of good B2B publishing.

The first, Restaurant Business, was produced by RR Donnelley. It is a straight replica edition of the print magazine, offering no enhancements for the reader, and no reason to use the app versus the print edition.

This might be a good thing.

The app is a free download, and once downloaded provides free access to the magazine editions, as well as text versions of the stories inside. There is no subscription charge, and no registration process. That means that the new readers attracted to the app will be unqualified readers – of no value to the advertisers of the magazine.

In contrast, the screenshots for Supple Chain Media, an app made by YUDU Media, shows that there is a "Register" button built into the app. I considered this a step in the right direction, which is what prompted me to download the app.

But once I installed this free app I discovered that the actual app varied considerably from the screenshots shown in the app description. Gone was the "register" button. In fact, the issues that were available in the app were different, as well. The App Store shows that the most recent issues available were from 2011, but the live app only gives you access to older issues.

One wonders if there were issues getting the original app approved by Apple. The basic business model of giving away content for free in exchange for vital information from the reader is a bit different from what Apple usually requires. Apple wants to protect user information from its developers, creating a serious conflict with the goals of publishers – especially B2B publishers.

The solution might be to have the app only work with existing customers of the B2B magazine. In order to use the app one must have a log-in, this can be obtained on the website of the publisher, who would approve the new account only if the reader proves to be a qualified member of the industry being served by the magazine.

This is not so different from the model used by Netflix or MLB. The Netflix app is worthless to any downloader who doesn't have a Netflix account, which is obtained on the company's website. This seems like the model to use for B2B. Unfortunately, like those Flash flipbooks sold to publishers for use on their websites, an iPad app only will prove worth launching if the publisher doesn't forget or ignore the basics of good B2B publishing.

Left: Restaurant Business; Right: Supply Chain Media.