Wednesday, June 1, 2011

B2B: BNP Media moves its media kits into an iPad app; Penton uses mobile developer to create tablet editions

The B2B media industry remains miles behind its consumer cousins in both mobile and tablet publishing. Part of the reason for this, no doubt, is the sad financial shape of so many of the companies – either burdened with debt by their private equity owners, or simply mismanaged, in general.
As a result, very few mobile or tablet apps have been launched by US B2B companies. To be fair, some of the better B2B tablet editions, such as Publisher from Digipress, have not been followed up with new editions. My guess is that the media firms involved were disappointed in the number of downloads, finding the market simply to immature to pursue. That's my guess, anyway.

Two B2B recently released new tablet apps: BNP Media, the Troy, Michigan based B2B publisher, and Penton Media, the Wasserstein & Co. owned B2B firm that once claimed Cleveland as its home, but now lists NYC as its headquarters.

The NEWS HD was BNP's first attempt at a tablet edition. The app was released in January and contained a preview issue (or as the editor told me, a "dummy" issue) – sort of a newsletter for the HVACR industry. A February edition was published inside this library app, with a new issue expected in either June or July, according to Mike Murphy, editor of The NEWS.

The product is about what you would expect: pretty much a PDF with embedded content. Although I am not a fan of these flipbook products, I think they work better on the iPad simply because readers have a chance to browse them. Online, the reading experience is poor, as backed up by research data from such companies as Zinio prove.
BNP Media's second app, released today, is even a more modest effort. The app, Manufacturing & Safety - BNP Media, is a library app where media kits for the B2B magazines that are part of this group will be collected. Along with the media kits comes a corporate brochure complete with an embedded video of Tagg Henderson, co-CEO.

The app is supposed to include information on the following magazines: Adhesives & Sealants Industry, Appliance Design, Assembly, Ceramic Industry, FORGE, Industrial Heating, Industrial Safety & Hygiene News, Paint & Coatings Industry, Pollution Engineering, Process Cooling, Process Heating, Quality, and World Trade 100. Unfortunately, only one media kit can be found in the app now, the one for World Trade 100 – again, a PDF-type approach with an embedded video from the publisher Sarah Harding.

BNP Media is apparently one of those companies that does not like to share information very openly as the one media kit found in this app does not even contain ad rates, let alone BPA audit information (World Trade's circulation has fallen from a high of 76,283 in 2002, to 42,006 today).

(World Trade 100 is the rebranded name for World Trade, the name found with BPA. Unfortunately, BNP's websites are currently down so getting more information about their properties is impossible. Also, a disclosure is in order: for a year I was the publisher of Pollution Engineering, then owned by RBI. At that time the circulation was 68K, today it is less than half that.)

Penton Media last week released six new apps into the App Store, one iPhone and one iPad app each for three B2B properties: Home Care, American School & University, and Gov Pro.

All six apps were created by the mobile app developer Handmark. Unfortunately, while Handmark has been producing perfectly suitable iPhone apps for quite some time, they continue to be late to the tablet platform.

Back in March of last year, after Steve Jobs had demoed the first iPad, but before its April launch, Jon Maroney, Senior Vice President of Mobile Publishing told me that the company was eager to develop for the iPad.

"One of the things that is most interesting and most exciting about the iPad, from my standpoint, is how people are going to interact with this device isn't know. We are going to find out so much the week of April 5th," Maroney said at the time.

Unfortunately, what continues to come out of Handmark are these RSS feed driven apps that are far better suited for mobile devices than tablets.

Penton Media, because of its size, should be in the forefront of creating B2B media applications, but . . .

A final point needs to be repeated: because most B2B media properties depend on "qualified" readership, their products are given away for free. So in order for the business model to work on tablets a registration mechanism is essential so that the publisher can tell potential advertisers how many qualified readers they are reaching through their app.

Without a qualification mechanism, the business model falls apart. If one goes to the American School & University magazine website, for instance, and clicks on the "subscribe" link one is directed to a multi-page form that one must fill out to get the magazine.

In contrast, since anyone can download an app from the App Store, the B2B model is hard to reinforce – one needs to build into the app a mechanism that encourages registration. Conversely, one could charge for access to the content while offering print subscribers free access by signing into their accounts through the app, something that Apple is now allowing.

But, and here is the big exception, if your B2B app is simply another form of your website, that is, it is driven by the RSS feeds from your free site, then you can not restrict access to the app's content without running into trouble from Apple's app review team.

So why create free RSS driven apps like these from Penton? The answer I would give would be to sell more advertising, but as far as I can see these apps are completely ad free, making them even more of a mystery. But then again that modern B2B publishing for you.