10 Great Media Websites
Every year, Media Business' selection of 10 Great Media Websites provides a status report on the industry's ongoing digital shift. Although the U.S. economy is providing little tailwind to drive growth, business media companies continue to invest in digital infrastructure and innovation as their executives envision a profitable digital future.
Bob Sullivan, exec VP-group publisher of Northstar Travel Media's Travel Group, is one of those optimists. “We've invested heavily across our entire digital portfolio. The digital marketplace has been very strong for us in 2012, and we expect to see the benefits of continued growth throughout the year, into 2013 and beyond,” he said.
“I believe that 2012 will be positive for the digital media market,” said Mike Perlis, president-CEO of Forbes Media. “From Forbes' perspective, we are aggressively continuing to evolve the site and to introduce groundbreaking online advertising solutions, which we are confident will have a favorable impact on our business.”
Steve Reiss, VP-publishing director at Vance Publishing Corp., also sees tremendous opportunities in digital media, but he said media companies can't afford to become complacent in the fast-evolving digital world. “It's clearly not the easy money that some thought would flow just from posting print content online,” he said. “Digital media is a lot of work, with a steep and constant learning curve,” he said.
Overall, slightly more than half of the 54 websites submitted for review for this year's Great Media Websites special report qualify as relaunches—a sign that publishers are putting financial, human and technology resources behind their words.
Among the eight websites featured in this report, seven were redesigned in whole or part in recent years. The eighth, launched in December 2011, is EH Publishing's TechDecisions Media, which is actually a family of six separate websites.
Two of the 10 digital media products featured this year are—for the first time—mobile applications. Both are new. The Financial Times' FT Web app is a year old, and Architectural Record's CEU app is less than two months old.
Rob Grimshaw, managing director of FT.com, noted that a December 2011 report from research company eMarketer “found that, for the first time, people are spending more time each day on mobile devices [65 minutes] than with print media [44 minutes]. As this trend accelerates, emerging digital platforms carry great potential for all publishers to reach new audiences, to create more efficient publishing businesses through data analytics and to deliver their content cost-effectively,” he said.
Keith Fox, president of McGraw-Hill Construction, said, “We expect increased adoption of mobile tablets and smartphones to lead to more product innovation, bringing about new ways to engage with architects and the design and construction community, as well as new ways for our sponsors to deliver impact.”
Kathy Astromoff is CEO of UBM Electronics, whose portfolio includes Design News, recognized as an outstanding tech site in this report. “The way our audience is consuming media is changing—whether it's on the go, via multiple devices or simply different format preferences,” she said.
“We're evolving our brands to serve changing demand and to expand and deepen our relationship with our audiences. And, they're responding positively.”
Ken Moyes, CEO of EH Publishing, said, “During the past year, EH Publishing has made investments in infrastructure, staff and content development to keep our brands in the places our readers expect them and in the format that best suits their needs.
“TechDecisions Media is just one of the advances we've made in digital media. You'll also find our brands in social media, delivered for mobile use, and in new and surprising ways to come in the year ahead.”
B-to-b media companies have been under siege for the past 15 years as the Internet has threatened their long-established business model of offering targeted advertising to vertical markets.
In the 1990s, startup, online-only companies such as VerticalNet competed against them. “They called us idiots and dinosaurs,” said Tom Kemp, chairman-CEO of Northstar Travel Media.
Next came Google, which has done far more damage than the defunct VerticalNet ever did. The search engine giant's AdWords platform makes a mighty contribution to Google's $30 billion in annual revenue. Much of the revenue generated by this targeted advertising has come at the expense of b-to-b media companies.
The latest major threat comes from the social media sector, where Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are now offering the kind of targeted advertising opportunities business media companies have always provided.
There's also the long-term menace of ad networks, which, on the one hand, help by delivering incremental ad revenue to business media companies, but at the same time contribute to the overall lowering of CPMs on the Web.
Nonetheless, in the face of these threats, many b-to-b publishers have risen to the challenge and developed exceptional websites—as the properties recognized in this special report attest.
From trade publication and technology websites to portals to subscription sites, business media companies—whether in the technology realm, such as United Business Media, or solidly in trade publishing, such as Hanley Wood—have created online models that contribute to the bottom line.
“For years, we've been told we're good at producing trade magazines, but we don't have the talent, culture and vision to move into other areas,” Kemp said. “It has been a rocky and difficult migration, but I think most b-to-b guys—thank God—have done a pretty good job. Otherwise, they'd be out of business.”
Kemp is proud of his company's new Travel-42 website, which is recognized in the Launch category of this special report. The paid site brings together three offline paid products into a single paid online product that fits into the work flow of the target market of travel agents. “We're doing pretty well with it,” Kemp said.
Hanley Wood's pro.housingintelligence.com is another paid content site recognized among this year's 10 Great Media Websites. The site, which provides real estate trend information for the construction industry, is proof that business media companies still offer information that users will seek out and—sometimes—pay for.
Many of the sites recognized in this year's report are positioning themselves as the center of discussion in their vertical communities. Summit Business Media's PropertyCasualty-360 is designed as a portal for insurance industry professionals. In addition to Summit's own editorial content, the site aggregates stories from news wires and features prominent industry bloggers.
So far the strategy has worked, as PropertyCasualty360 has garnered more visitors than the five separate Summit magazine websites it is aggregating. And that's a good thing, because the company plans to employ the portal strategy in all the vertical markets it covers.
Other properties on the 10 Great Media Sites list are borrowing some of the lessons taught by Facebook and other social media sites. For example, Cygnus Business Media's Officer.com, which serves the law enforcement sector, features Forums and Squad Room, which is designed to be a Facebook-like community for police officers.
Officer.com also offers online training to its users. UBM's EETimes.com, which is recognized as the top tech site in this year's special report, also has a section on its navigation bar devoted to education and training, featuring technical papers, courses from manufacturers such as Texas Instruments and hundreds of webinars.
In the end, EETimes.com and others are using websites to do what the trade press has always done: provide actionable information to readers. Now, they're just using a comparatively new tool, their website, to do it.