I’m worried that 2008 is going to be an awful year for B2B publishing.
I don’t have any data to back up this fear. What I do have is a sense that something is about to go wrong.
In the past few weeks I’ve spoken with a number of B2B editors, sales people and publishers. And each of them also seems to be worried. Certainly there is a widespread and justified concern that our print products will continue to face challenges. And certainly more of them will fold in 2008. But that is old news, and not particularly interesting. As my friend Rex said, "every year is a magazine shake-out year."
So what’s different now?
It seems to me that the rise of online has led to unreasonable expectations. The lust of investors, the demands for growth, the need to justify ourselves to the people who control the purse strings are pushing us into a new era of preposterousness. Everywhere I go I meet people with revenue targets that seem delusional.
There’s probably not another person in B2B publishing who has championed Web journalism more than I. But my love of new media is born of my love of all media. Online storytelling excites me. Just like other forms of storytelling do. The fact that new media has also made money pleases me, but it’s not why I love it. Cash flow doesn’t stir my soul.
But cash flow does stir many a soul in publishing. And in some cases, it warps them.
Here’s what I see happening, and why I’m worried about 2008:
1. Amid a credit crunch and suggestions of recession, online advertising is likely to contract. But no one in B2B seems to be revising their online growth numbers downward. Rather, the growth numbers I’m hearing are higher than in 2007.
2. When pressure for revenue growth builds, many
folks in B2B behave badly.
3. The most exciting thing about new media has been the growth of new media. Every established publisher faced more online competitors in 2007 than in 2006. I expect that will continue.
4. The business model currently in fashion in B2B publishing isn’t built to withstand a slowdown in online advertising. Nearly everyone is leveraged to the hilt. Nearly everyone has already cut everything that can be cut.
5. I don’t believe that B2B is prepared for whatever the next big thing may be.
I’m not suggesting that it’s time to panic. I am suggesting it’s time to look long and hard at what we are capable of doing. How much can we reasonably expect to grow? How realistic is it to expect the online advertising market to continue to expand? How can we survive a downturn and meet the debt payments? What can we reasonably expect from 2008?
(For more on this subject, check out what my friend Paul says about B2B in Asia. I think he’s a little worried too.)