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Digital revenue for b2b media companies expanded again last year, increasing 22% over 2010, according to American Business Media. Growth like that demands ongoing investment in technology.
Here are six publishing technologies that will contribute this year to the continued digitization of the b2b media world:
Last summer, UBM Electronics launched DataSheets.com, a website to help design engineers source electronics parts. Between July and January, the site's monthly traffic increased from 35,464 to 167,651.
Analytics contributed to the growth, said Amandeep Sandhu, manager-audience acquisition and engagement at UBM Electronics. From the beginning, UBM used Google Analytics and Adobe Systems' Omniture to analyze user behavior on the site. For instance, Sandhu said users were quickly abandoning the pages where search queries had directed them. UBM deduced that the search parameters weren't comprehensive enough to deliver satisfactory results, so they were expanded from four to eight.
Analytics is just one tool among many UBM has used in making these changes. It also looked at email and other direct communications from users. Incorporating this feedback and analytics, it has modified the site regularly.
Sandhu said the current design of DataSheets.com is far different from the look of the launch site. “It's a process of continuous improvement,” he said.
UBM is not alone in employing analytics. Virtually every publisher is using some form to analyze its website traffic. “It's clear that publishers of all types are trying to develop a much more comprehensive picture of their customer,” said Bill Trippe, VP-lead analyst at Outsell Inc.
A more accurate view of the customer can enable a publisher to revamp a website to make it more user-friendly. Analytics can also help a publisher deliver the most compelling subscription offer to a particular user or serve the right ad in the right context.
“When you're able to target the advertising specifically, you can charge four to eight times for that type of ad when it's placed in the right context,” Trippe said.
As mobile devices proliferate, b2b media companies are struggling to streamline their work flows and ready their content for a variety of mobile gadgets, such as the iPad, iPhone and Android devices.
HTML5 is seen by many as a solution. Media companies are using this evolving language to help ensure that content is created once, then distributed to as many platforms as possible.
“The question of developing for specific mobile devices versus a more generic approach, such as HTML5, is really starting to be clarified. HTML5—that's only going to grow,” Trippe said. “We did list HTML5 as one of our technologies to watch for this year. We think standards-based technology development is always in the consumer's interest and, in this case, the publisher's interest.”
The Financial Times has been a leader in using HTML5. The newspaper introduced its first tablet app, which relied on RSS feeds, in conjunction with the debut of the iPad in 2010. When Android and other tablets appeared later, FT faced the challenge of prepping its content for several operating systems.
“We were asking, "How are we doing to handle this?' ” said Mary Beth Christie, FT's online product management director.
Eventually, FT found HTML5 to be the best option to streamline its work flow. The technology, however, is not perfect, as prepping content for the Android operating system requires an extra step that Christie likened to placing a “wrapper” around the content.
The FT's Web App has amassed 1.7 million users—without the benefit of sales via Apple Inc.'s App Store, which FT bypassed in part because Apple doesn't provide direct access to subscriber information.
As print advertising pages continue to become less central to the revenue stream, many b2b media companies are exploring other ways to help their clients market to customers and prospects. A handful of publishers, such as Randall-Reilly Publishing Co., are offering software-based solutions to their customers.
In 2010, Randall-Reilly, publisher of Equipment World, acquired Real Time Content, a marketer of software to create interactive video presentations. David Schwartz, VP-sales and marketing at Electronic Data Associates, a Randall-Reilly company, originally was a client of RTC. Impressed by RTC's potential, he helped spearhead Randall-Reilly's acquisition of the company.
Schwartz saw RTC as a way to introduce a level of automation into the sales process and to replicate the best sales techniques via online video. “It gives you a salesperson working 24/7/365,” he said.
Machine tool manufacturer Okuma America Corp., a client of Randall-Reilly, is currently using RTC's platform on its corporate website. Visitors see a polished, real salesperson (not an avatar) begin a presentation.
The salesperson greets the visitor with a hearty, “Good morning, welcome to Okuna.” (The software adapts the message to the time of day based on the visitor's IP address.) A prospect can interact with the presenter by clicking on any one of a handful of questions, and the videotaped salesperson has an answer at the ready.
RTC is designed to allow a salesperson to give a presentation once and distribute it to numerous customers without having to visit in person or even present a 60-minute WebEx session.
Another business media company exploring the possibilities presented by software is CFE Media, publisher of Plant Engineering. CFE developed ContentStream software that allows marketers to access its content and use it for their own corporate website or other content marketing initiatives.
Mobile opportunities for publishers are expanding quickly, and Crisp Media, Mojiva and other mobile ad networks continue to grow. Mojiva recently found that mobile rich-media ad impressions increased 235% between Nov. 1 and Jan. 31.
Most b2b media companies, although slow to embrace mobile, do have digital editions viewable on tablets. Some have created apps designed to become part of their readers' work flows. In the agricultural sector, for example, Farm Journal Media offers Commodity Update, an app that keeps farmers apprised of prices on the Chicago Board of Trade, and Farm Progress Cos. offers the Growing Degree Days app, which can help farmers determine when to harvest their crops.
Other publishers are finding a fertile field in creating apps around conferences and other events. For instance, SourceMedia, publisher of American Banker, recently introduced SuperBanker, a mobile Web-based game that was played by attendees at the Best Practices in Retail Financial Services Symposium. The company said the game—which awarded points to players for networking with other attendees, visiting exhibitors and answering trivia questions about conference content—was played by 40% of the more than 500 attendees at the event. They accessed the game via an American Banker Events app on iPhones, Android phones or the mobile Web.
“Our goal was to make people motivated to play the game, and it worked,” said John DelMauro, senior VP of SourceMedia's conference and events division. “We had some power users. Attendees said they felt more confident about approaching other attendees because there was a reason to introduce themselves.”
The paywall is not a new technology, but it is an increasingly accepted one.
“The technology to do it has been there forever—at least since early in the days of the Web. It's more a matter of business models,” Outsell's Trippe said, adding, “More publishers are trying it, and more publishers are having success with it.”
Among the more noteworthy forays into online paid content has been that of The New York Times. The newspaper introduced a metered paywall on NYTimes.com last year. Users could access 20 articles per month on the site for free before being asked to subscribe. With this model in place, the number of paid subscribers to various digital editions of the Times and International Herald Tribune rocketed to about 454,000.
With such rapid growth, The New York Times' confidence in the metered model soared—so much so that, beginning this month, it reduced the number of free articles per user per month to 10.
Newspapers aren't the only ones expanding their paid content efforts. NewBay Media's TWICE has installed the Press+ platform to enable the magazine to use a metered model on its website. Currently, TWICE allows users to read eight articles before requiring a subscription.
“Ten percent of our users visit the site more than 100 times a month, and 3% come 200 times or more per month,” said Denise Robbins, VP-audience development at NewBay.
TWICE began using Press+, a product offered by printer R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., late last year. So far the technology has yielded an uptick in both digital-only subscriptions and print subscriptions, which include unlimited digital access, Robbins said.
There are currently about 280 Press+ users, with another 245 preparing to launch the platform on their sites, according to Donnelley. B2b users include Frockwriter, a fashion industry blog, and GlobalSecurity.org.
Like paywalls, online video is another technology that has been around since the early days of the Internet. But as increased bandwidth has made watching online video significantly less frustrating, the possibilities for the medium have expanded.
The Wall Street Journal is among those that have made a big push into online video programming. Including the recently launched “News Hub GMT,” the Journal now runs more than four hours of live programming a day.
Online video, however, is not reserved for the Journal and other business media brands with deep pockets. Summit Media Group, which publishes Packaging World, is ramping up its efforts to produce online video for its clients.
Already this year, Summit has hired two staffers who will focus on creating custom video for the company's marketing clients.
“That's a sea change for a little old company like ours,” said Dave Newcorn, the company's VP-digital and custom media.