Wednesday, September 5, 2012

B2B Day: Publishers of trade publications face issues of replica vs native, paid vs free, and ad problems galore

The next two posts will talk about new tablet editions from publishers of trade magazines. B2B media companies have been the slowest industry segment to adopt both mobile and tablet platforms even though the new digital platforms probably present these companies with their best shot at reversing their slow decline (for some it hasn't been so slow).

B2Bs face serious issues, some of which will probably prove impossible to overcome. The biggest issue involves ownership: so many B2B media firms are currently owned by private equity firms that have been trading around their companies as if they were baseball trading cards.

But those B2Bs brave enough to move forward with the new digital platforms face other issues beyond management questions. Should a B2B title create new designs using a native digital publishing platform, an expensive option; or should they create replica editions, a cheaper but far less reader friendly choice.

A tab edition from the U.S.
B2B publisher Macfadden.
Then there is the issue of free versus paid. Most B2B titles use a controlled circulation strategy which delivers the print edition to a targeted audience that is qualified, either through the reader service card or telemarketing. These qualified readers get the magazine each month free, while those outside the industry – or outside the country – must pay for a subscription.

Apple's rules are a bit fuzzy about how one might design an app edition that gives the magazine free to those who have qualified via the magazines website or through the print edition, while charging for everyone else via an in-app purchase. Most publishers have simply punted and offered their tablet editions for free to anyone who downloads the app.

Then there is the issue of digital ad sales. Few B2Bs have gotten very good at selling online advertising, making scant progress since launching their websites over a decade ago. Most still sell packages that combine print and digital. Others, sadly, are still giving away web advertising as an added-value addition to their print schedule.

Now, with the rise of tablet editions, B2Bs must start to present their customers with yet another new digital product – often one with very little supporting data to justify the ad buy.

But some B2Bs, especially those outside the U.S., are moving forward. The next two posts will look at two new tablet editions just released this week into Apple's Newsstand.