Disruption on the Horizon for B2B Publishers (Again!)
When I read an article these days, I like it when the author gets right to the point. So, here it is: the B2B publishing model is inefficient and out of sync. It’s the reason why the industry continues to struggle to find its way forward. In the age of the Internet, this leaves the industry vulnerable for disruption.
I’ve spent the last few years studying the flaws in the system as well as what a new publishing model should look like in the not-too-distant future. My hope with this article is that the readers will begin to recognize, as I have, that, in order to thrive, the industry has to morph into something new and powerful. I’ll try to make that clear.
I recently came across a new book: “Business Strategies for Magazine Publishing: How to Survive in the Digital Age.” The title seemed a bit odd to me. In order for me to buy a book like this it would need say something like: thriving, exceling, succeeding. I am not interested in just surviving. It did get me thinking, though, and inspired this article. I need share my thoughts on what I’ve discovered.
From a title like that you get a sense that publishing is still trying to find its way in the digital age. Look at the conference programs along with articles and books being written, which mostly all focus on survival. The industry isn’t driving the digital age, it is being driven by it! So, stepping back a bit, it seems pretty clear that something’s out of whack.
Check out this Folio article from 2017: Where is B2B Media Going? It’s Anyone’s Guess. Based on the earlier book title and, now, this article, it seems like the industry is in survival mode and has no idea where it’s headed. For most, I would characterize the industry’s current status as one where just as things start moving in the right direction, someone or something moves the cheese!
I’ve been working in B2B publishing since 1987. My business served and was closely aligned with the printed circuit board industry. I considered our print magazine to be an extension of the industry. As a result, we were intimately involved and instrumental is pushing the industry forward though editorials and our own action. The industry was in transition from “mom and pop” shops to sophisticated, global manufacturing companies. It was a hard transition for a lot of entrepreneurial, garage startup personalities. They knew little about running a sophisticated manufacturing business which required modern systems and highly trained employees. It took some time to get the industry leadership and our industry association, the IPC, to see the value and the need to drive these initiatives for the industry and their member companies.
I have a lot of experience with change. And, when things are unsettled or uncertain, it helps to take a step back to gain some perspective, to move beyond the symptoms, to seek out the source of the problem. As a result, we were able to build a highly successful publishing business not based on publishing norms but rather looking at the requirements needed to be successful in the industry we served.
Luckily, I happened to sell this business in 1999, just before the dotcom crash and just before the painful transition to digital began in earnest. I returned to publishing in 2003. By then, the deal was done. Those unwilling to invest in digital technologies continued to lose ground to anyone with a computer, a video camera and a website. The game had changed, drastically, almost overnight.
From that point on it’s been a time of confusion for most publishers as they’ve struggled to figure out their next moves while nimbler, tech savvy competitors continue to gobble up market share. There’s been an industry wide acceptance that this is the new landscape: that in order to survive, companies have to continually adjust to this onslaught, stay nimble in order to react quickly to the next threat.
With my digital media business, we seemed to be doing mostly everything right (all digital products, lots of video, etc.), still, it was difficult. Even though we were miles ahead of our direct competitors, it seemed like we could never catch our breath. There were always new competitors or major customers questioning our value. Innovators were constantly introducing new software and internet tools to pull our customers away and dilute our share. We had to up our game at every chance just to keep our heads above water. I couldn’t see how this would change going forward. Again, someone was always moving the cheese!
The onslaught continues, today, and seems to be unending and accelerating. Although, it’s an intriguing book title, “survival” isn’t what’s needed or desired! And, if survival is the best we can hope for, something’s fundamentally wrong.
Discovering the problem
Publishers have had to adapt to these new market realities as the promise and power of the Internet have done little to improve their lot. Instead, with each passing year, they’ve become much more vulnerable. Most believe, like me, that the next new innovation coming down the pike or, the one after, or some giant Internet company, will likely take them out. You see, the industry’s stuck. The contradiction of digital, internet-based publishing bringing both new opportunities as well as eminent threats can’t be reconciled within the current model. The system is out of sync with the potential and power of the internet. As a result, this leaves the door open to an unending stream of competitors: homegrown blogs, newsletters, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, etc., all grabbing market share.
Not knowing any better, publishers laid their business model right on top of the internet, clinging to what they knew, hoping to expand their businesses with this amazing new platform. In the beginning, it looked promising. Publishers could continue to produce profitable magazines and generate additional revenue from websites, newsletters and more! Since then, publishers have been trying to force a square peg into a round hole and it’s been a struggle.
The solution is buried beneath the publishing model. It’s not their fault. As the book title exposes, most are focused on survival and looking for any scheme to enhance revenue. I get it. They’re so caught up in “Survival in the Digital Age,” they don’t recognize the problem. And, until the problem is identified, the solution can’t be discovered.
The strength and opportunity for B2B publishers is in the markets they serve. The weakness is in the very inefficient, 100+ year old model they use. It’s the model which creates the vulnerability and it’s what sets the stage for disruption. Adopt a model which fully embraces the power of the Internet and leverages the strength of B2B publishing and the game changes.
Vloyen: something new
After I sold my most recent business I began thinking about the underlying structure of publishing. There had to be a better way. What we were doing was way too difficult. After some time, I began to look at the model itself. The system is broken, and I believe people know something’s wrong but aren’t sure what to do about it. Of course, there are tons of “how to” articles and books but nothing addresses the cause, only the symptoms.
Working with a clean slate I began looking at how the publishing industry should work within this new communication/distribution platform. It took a couple years to formulate what this might look like. I call it Vloyen. The good news, and, what’s really exciting, is that business publishers can take control, again. They are in prime position to reap the rewards this new model offers. The bad news is, this new model is disruptive and will transform publishing as we know it. It’s similar to what Amazon’s doing to retail sales, or what Apple did to the record/CD music industry. The new model changes the game for publishers and a whole lot more.
Vloyen isn’t an evolutionary, transitional business concept or strategy allowing folks to “transform” into something new or, a “how-to” method for increasing ad rates. Vloyen represents a new model for publishing. I do expect a lot of resistance as folks hang on to what they know, attempting to protect their legacy products but, a word of caution: this new model will not compete with the old model. There won’t be an opportunity for that (think record or book store or Blockbuster). Vloyen is disruptive.
This point has to be restated: this new model will not compete with the old model. The two will not operate side-by-side. The new will replace the old.
As you may have gathered, this is much bigger than business publishing, but publishers potentially hold the key, for a time. They can either lead the charge or let companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook or Apple take this on. Those “Internet” giants are looking for ways to attack the B2B market. And, right now, they don’t know the current model is broken so they don’t see the opportunity. But they’re there, nibbling at the edges, looking for a way in.
Today, the world’s largest companies are focused on consumers and consumer businesses. As a result, the B2B sector has been left alone. Sure, there are tools to assist business and there have been some minor disruptions in marketing and sales. Businesses also have Facebook pages, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts. For the most part, the major disruptors are focused somewhere else, so, there’s time. There’s time to reorder the business environment around a new model which all starts with business publishing. It’s kind of ironic that one of the industries most disrupted by the Internet, has the potential to be one of its greatest beneficiaries.
From here to there
There’s a lot more to this story. The first step, though, is to realize that the system is broken. That’s my hope with this article, that there will be a realization that something is fundamentally wrong. If you don’t get it right away, take some time and think about. Let it sink in. The solution won’t make much sense until you realize there’s a problem.
For those courageous and adventurous enough to step into something new, the rewards will be the transformation of publishing and a front row seat to the revolution. It’s pretty cool and exciting. Of course, if you’d prefer to fight it out in the trenches, here’s that book again: “Business Strategies for Magazine Publishing: How to Survive in the Digital Age.” I’m sure you can find it on Amazon or from Apple’s iBook’s or you can watch the Netflix original movie, when it comes out.Oh, and “google it” for more information.
If what I’ve presented in the article is making some sense to you, let me know. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
The Vloyen model will change business. Visit the website for more information.
Ray Rasmussen can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or at, 916-337-4402
About the author
Rasmussen started in B2B publishing in 1987 with the creation of CircuiTree Magazine, a print publication servicing the printed circuit board industry. He founded BR Publishing in 2003, a digital media business serving the global printed circuit board industry, the Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) industry and PCB design. He sold his interest in this business in 2014.