On the face of it, Internet technology should be a b-to-b publisher’s best friend. Sure, the Internet effectively put an end to the long and lazy golden age of publishing (1493—1993, RIP) when we used “ink” and a composite of mulched tree to disseminate information. But that same Internet is making our lives as publishers easy in so many other ways, right?
Take recent efforts by Google and Apple to resell e-subscriptions to publications (in case you missed it, Google is rumored to be launching a digital newsstand, an attempt to one-up Apple’s iTunes subscription service). These offerings will supposedly provide publishers with an exciting and ubiquitous new sales channel for their products.
Except… they won’t. And b-to-b publishers wondering which company to work with should go with choice C: Neither.
Let’s say you sell a subscription to a reader via iTunes. Ostensibly that’s one (1) new subscriber for you. But really, it’s one new subscriber for Apple. By going through an intermediary you have ceded direct control over the subscriber relationship, never a good idea if you base your business on subscriber relationships (and you value things like controlling price and customer information).
In theory, partnering with Apple and Google should pay off in another way: allowing publishers access to information collected by these companies about potential customers so that the publishers can use it for marketing purposes. Here again, reality falls short of the dream. Apple doesn’t share any information with its publisher partners. And regardless of what the industry hype says Google has actually turned out to be a bit rubbish at the data collection lark.
You Want Targeted Solutions, Not Mass
I would even argue that these services’ most persuasive selling point—their ability to reach hundreds of millions of potential subscribers—is all wet. Yes, they reach vast swathes of the planet’s population. But as a publisher of b-to-b minutiae you don’t want to reach vast swathes— you want to reach the teensy-weensy swathette of the population that (1.) Gives a crap about your minutiae and (2.) Has the money to pay for it. Using Google to do this is like trying to fill a cup by peeing into it from a zeppelin—impractical, if unintentionally amusing.
Factor in the cost of working with these companies (Apple charges publishers an outrageous 30 percent of anything it sells) and the case for these services is anything but clear.
Countdown to Reality
All of this shouldn’t be earth shattering analysis for those who have tried to exploit other consumer Internet technologies to support their publishing business; for every company that claims to have used Twitter or Facebook to drive revenue there are at least another 99 who haven’t.
But this raises another interesting fact about the latest Internet technology: It takes an awfully long time for people to admit when it doesn’t live up the hype (half a dozen years, from 1993 to 1999, in the case of the first Internet bubble). So who knows, maybe the Apple/Google syndication programs will attract b-to-b publishers in 2011—just be prepared for fallout sometime after that.
Stephen Saunders is the Managing Director of DeusM (www.deusm.com), a marketing services company specializing in the creation of online communities targeting any combination of industry, geography, or profession. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org