Q: Will display advertising go completely? What is a healthy division between subs and ad revenues?
A: B2B advertisers are spending a bigger proportion of their marketing budget on content, so publishers have to facilitate that. Display is harder to measure: it is fine as part of a campaign where it’s there to signpost say a white paper or research report or webinar which has a mechanism to capture leads, but it will become a smaller part of the mix. If your ad revenue is dependent on display advertising, then that is a risky place to be. And subscription revenues are more secure and more highly valued than ads. I’d suggest you want at least half your revenue from readers, and if you can move towards 75% and get 90% renewals, which is quite possible in B2B, then that adds real value to your business.
Q: How important is it currently to have publications easy to read and use on mobile devices, and will this rise in future?
A: Even in business markets, people aren’t at their desks that much – they want to be able to consult your content while on the move. Mobile is getting towards 70-80% of online time for many news services, and it’s only going in one direction. So, your content has to be designed to work on phones and tablets. That doesn’t mean it has to be an app; in fact I’m seeing B2B publishers move away from stand-alone apps and instead designing their core website to work on mobile first.
Q: What is a viable strategy for AI for a small publisher with limited resources?
A: AI is a large and rather unmanageable subject, so I’m simply flagging it up as something to watch. One straightforward step is to commission one of your editors to research how AI is affecting your customers’ market. This should make good editorial and also help highlight new areas of content for the future. And, looking at AI that can assist journalism, there is a good report by Francesco Marconi of Associated Press that mentions tools for tagging, summarising features, transcribing audio, writing headlines and creating simple templated articles; eg for corporate earnings or sports results. I’m certainly planning to research and write an article soon on the available tools.
Q: Building more insightful data is very difficult for publishers as people are wary of allowing B2B marketing. What is the benefit of gathering such data?
A: What I’m advocating here is having in-depth, face to face conversations with your customers, rather than trying to force them to complete ever longer online forms. This could be at an event, or over lunch, or an informal gathering. What is essential is to listen to how their information needs are changing and use that intelligence to refine your products and services. If you are developing a new product, get your users in every couple of weeks to get feedback on how well it is meeting their needs. And where you have larger corporate subscribers, it’s important to really understand how the organisation operates, and how decisions are made, so that you can ensure your content is relevant and is reaching all the job titles. This knowledge also will help you advise advertisers and sponsors on what content to create and who they need to reach.
Q: How much of this is relevant/applicable to B2C media?
A: There is a “grey area” between B2B and B2C where readers are primarily concerned with their work but are operating as individuals, not cogs in a corporate machine, such as freelance photographers or teachers or agency nurses. In these markets the principles that work in B2B apply just as well. In consumer markets, life is a bit harder – I’d still advocate a focus on growing subscriptions, and events, but you don’t have the pricing headroom you have in B2B for premium subscription products or conferences. B2C has the same issue with display advertising and needs to put more emphasis on content marketing.
Q: Is there still a future for print?
A: Print is part of the mix, but there is a definite move towards less frequent publication. As recruitment advertising declines, and people look for news online, there’s less need for a weekly publication, so many B2B publishers are moving from weekly to monthly, or from monthly to bi-monthly, or even quarterly. Much depends on the market you are in as to how fast you need to change. Some niche publishers have stopped print altogether and they have transferred all the advertising to digital and the readers aren’t bothered. There is still a place for print – it’s good for more reflective, analytical, reference features – but it might just be quarterly rather than weekly.
Q: What is the value of social media in B2B?
A: Social media is great for connecting people with specialist interests, especially as more B2B markets become global. It has a value to editorial teams finding opinion formers and contributors and building awareness of a media brand. It’s particularly useful at live events, where speakers can reach a wider audience who couldn’t be there in person but are just lurking in the ether. So, it’s a valuable way to reach right across the business community and amplify the message, even if it is hard to directly attribute revenue. And of course, if a media brand has a strong social following then that can be used to distribute sponsored content as well.
Q: What is the best way to grow subscription revenue?
A: First step is to consider how you can add value to the content in a subscription – not just articles but data, analysis, research reports. A lot of B2B publishers are developing membership propositions, adding in networking and opportunities for peer best practice exchange on top of subscriber content. This is really the gold dust within an industry, business people are often more interested in hearing from their peers doing similar roles than from “experts”. And if you aren’t sure whether your audience will take a price increase, consider tiers of subscriptions and see how many you can trade up to the premium level.
Q: What is the potential of virtual reality?
A: There are a few cases of publishers making money from VR. The New York Times distributed google cardboard headsets with the paper and readers used a free smartphone app to view their VR stories. Their revenue is all from sponsorship. Some B2B publishers have experimented with VR as a storytelling device, but again this is all sponsored. But it is worth watching. Google are investing in Daydream, which is smartphone based, so doesn’t require a specialist headset. And I can see the value of VR for say viewing venues, or hotels, or new buildings where flat images or even video don’t quite work.
You can view a recording of Carolyn’s presentation here.