Effective Online Strategies
While the revenue "tipping point"-where online revenue has equaled or eclipsed print revenue-is a phenomenon that’s occured only with a handful of publishers, primarily in the technology sectors, most publishers have accepted that they need to ramp up their e-strategies. Sixty percent of b-to-b publishers that generate more than $5 million in annual revenue and 36 percent of publishers generating less than $5 million per year say that "increasing Web business" is a major priority in 2007, according to Folio:’s B-to-B CEO Survey. On the consumer side, 56 percent of larger publishers and 34 percent of smaller publishers say e-media was there fastest growing revenue stream.
Still, most publishers are feeling their way, trying to determine which strategies make sense for them. Folio: spoke with three publishers that are making the jump from token Web strategy to committed business about where the opportunities lie for them.
ALM Narrows The Focus
Steady print success had actually stalled ALM’s online drive, but that’s about to change.
by Matt Kinsman
With more than 33 magazines and newspapers and a growing live event and e-business, and more than $200 million in annual revenue, ALM is one of the more successful b-to-b publishers. In July, London-based Incisive Media bought ALM for $630 million as a platform to extend into the U.S.
However, even publishers of ALM’s size and resources are grappling with the shift to digital. Much of the company’s online content remains repackaged from its magazines, and some of its brands don’t even have an online presence yet. "That’s the legacy of owning newspapers that have been around for 150 years, and magazines that have been around for 20-30 years," says Alex Kam, vice president of digital strategy & business development. "But you’d have to live in a hole if you don’t understand that even our publications, which are more immune than most because we’re dominant in our space and have high retention rates, need to be smart about how people are consuming media."
ALM’s size and its diverse portfolio (which now includes media products serving the real estate market) makes a coherent shift a challenge. "One thing we don’t do well is our integrated network," says Kam. "The biggest challenge is creating coherence for original content online. We have so many different publications, how do we create a more current model? We’ve been growing a lot but there are a lot of resource requirements to creating a regular refreshed content model along the lines of CNN."
Simple news feeds aren’t the answer when many of the products aren’t news driven. "We need the right editorial focus-we have different publications with different focuses," says Kam. "We have great editors but they put out a magazine-that requires a lot of work. Going online requires even more resources. Our Real Estate Forum has 60 years of brand equity and we haven’t maximized it online yet."
However, Kam says ALM needs to avoid the trap of simply chasing the latest trend online. "We recognize we can build incremental advertising revenue by creating fresh content but the real home run is creating real substantive ‘workflow’ content," he adds.
ALM last month partnered with Courtroom View Network to deliver live court proceedings online. "This isn’t Court TV online, all of this is geared toward a professional audience," says Kam. "News and content is a way to get people into the network but our goal is to have products and create assets that are of premium value and can be premium-priced."
Kam thinks there are significant opportunities for ALM to leverage social media, provided the company keeps it in perspective. "One thing that gets beaten to death is Web 2.0 and social networking," says Kam. "I get back to concept of relevance. We tend to push content out, we don’t create two-way dialogue between users. We need to create more of a two-way street and more community loyalty. Lawyers like to debate things and we don’t take full advantage of that. Professionals are looking for jobs online and we should be a one-stop shop. We need to be cognizant of the younger generation and we need to pull out those elements that allow us to create more community and loyalty. That in turn creates more page views and higher CPMs. It’s very much a virtuous cycle. Our goal is not to put a message board on every single site, it’s to put it where it works. Sometimes these things become more about just doing it than why the publisher is doing it. That’s where we need to be careful."
One community area where ALM has been successful is the creation of a blog network that features 28 bloggers, typically well-known professionals and law professors. Going forward, Kam would like to emphasize the social value of the blogs. "I think we could create blogs that are a little more social oriented and a little less practice-specific," he says. "Make them more gossipy, more chit chat."
The company currently has a site called nylawyer.com that caters to younger legal professionals in New York City. "It wouldn’t be a great leap to say, ‘how do we create a community around this site that has people coming in every day to look at content?’" says Kam. "We can create stickiness with topical message boards and recruitment. Is there a way to generate new revenue streams? We do that by building loyalty and frequency. It’s important for us to look at the younger generation."
B-to-b publishers often tout how their revenue mix is changing, demonstrating how digital and events are growing to replace any slide in print. That’s not the case with ALM.
While Kam says digital-including e-media and electronic data-accounts for a "low double digit" percentage of ALM’s overall revenue, the company doesn’t look at it in terms of specific percentages. "We’re growing revenue substantially each year but whether there’s an optimal number, I’ve yet to see anything analytical that says b-to-b brands need to be, say, one-third print, one-third online, one-third events," says Kam. "We have a corporate parent and we’re owned by an equity fund and we’re in conversations with them to see what are the best benchmarks for evaluating our business. When we went into sales discussion for buyout of ALM, that never came up."
Kam does say ALM is looking for double-digit growth in e-media. "We can benefit from Incisive as a strategic investor," he adds. "Either you invest out of pocket in this industry or you beg, borrow and steal."
Among ALM’s e-media initiatives, Kam is excited about courtroom video and social networking. "Advertising will continue to grow but we know there are certain limits to growth," he says. "I don’t think there are limits as long as you can give the audience something to help win their case. Law firms will spend millions of dollars on trials, and if you can influence that, the value there is incredible."
Previously, Kam worked on the consumer side at HBO, and he sees some distinct advantages for b-to-b. "The consumer market is a zero sum game, he adds. "You’re fighting for your share of the $200 every consumer household spends per month on entertainment. In b-to-b, it’s not a zero sum game. There are no clear limits. As long as you deliver value to your customers, you can get financial value in return."
Search and Custom Publishing Drive
Network Communications Inc.
Trial and error has led NCI to avoid trying to be all things to all people.
by Joanna Pettas
For publishers, the ever-evolving online world demands an ever-evolving online strategy. In 2001, Network Communications Inc. began developing a stand-alone Web site which basically replicated the content of its print publications (local real estate, apartment and home improvement and design titles like The Real Estate Book and Apartment Finder). Today, NCI generates about 30 percent of its 10 million total estimated leads through its sites, which now feature videos, virtual tours, and other uniquely Web-based traits. The company has several local sites collectively attracting over two million unique visitors; a national site with 1.3 million; and partnerships with about 30 other sites including Yahoo, Viacom, and Google.
Understand Your Product, Consumers, and Sales Team
NCI’s executive vice president of consumer strategy, Glenn Goad, says the challenge was to "build an integrated media offering that carefully understands its media constituents and the consumer . . . and that the sales team understands how to sell"-not an easy thing to do in an era with countless new online ideas and opportunities swarming around Web strategists.
For example, a few years ago, NCI created a standalone Web-only business called "Fast Values," inspired by an online lead generation model called "House Values" that seemed easy to replicate. The program, Goad says, was "outside the core of what advertisers expected and what we knew/understood. It was hard for us to sell and explain." The business couldn’t stand alone so it’s been entered back into their core.
Early in its Web development, NCI tried, Goad says, "to be all things to all people" by building a portal packed with broad content that turned out to be too much and too irrelevant to their users’ immediate purpose. Goad says he’s found that narrowing content to suit consumer needs works to drive more traffic and leads to a better conversion rate for advertisers.
Print and Web: Working Together
NCI has also learned to use each medium for its strength. "For a while," Goad says, "we were replicating listings online with those in the magazine. From a user standpoint, we weren’t adding much value." Now, instead of rehashing what their users have already seen, NCI perceives its Web sites as search extenders, moving users from early stages of search-when they pick up the print listings-until they turn to the Web and connect with advertisers who now feature interactive floor plans and videos, instead of just listings, on the NCI sites. Therefore, the sites are advertised on the cover of the print directories, and each listing has a Web ID with a dedicated URL address that will provide more information. Conversely, about 60,000 print publications are ordered every month from NCI Web sites. Goad says that NCI hasn’t "tried to protect print" because "consumers have different expectations for Web and print products."
Instead, NCI has tried to develop a strategy where these mediums enhance and complement one another. To reinforce this concept, NCI deviates from the norm by bundling its online and print ads in one price.
Managing and Distributing Content
For NCI, advertisers make up a great deal of their online content. But for anyone, Goad says, "advertising not done right can destroy content." According to Goad, consumers want personalization. "They know we can match up relevant stuff," he says. "They don’t want us pushing them in different directions because of relationships with advertisers."
Finally, NCI has learned the value of not hoarding information. About six years ago, the company began developing relationships with and broadly distributing content to well-known sites like Yahoo and Bobvila.com, while "others," Goad says, "were trying to hold it close." As a result, both NCI and advertisers got more exposure and more leads.
Extending from this concept, NCI has now partnered with Google to sell search engine marketing and optimization services to its advertisers. These types of search efforts presently account for roughly one-third of NCI’s current Web traffic. They plan to expand on what’s working, such as virtual tours, which have increased ad viewership for those that include them by up to 500 percent, according to Goad. NCI expects to add 300,000-500,000 Web IDs per month and hopes to become the "You Tube" for real estate by hosting 400,000-500,000 videos.
E-Media at a Crossroads
Time Out New York gets off the fence and ramps up its Web development. by Bill Mickey
Time Out New York, at the admission of its digital content director, Chad Schlegel, has been rather slow on the e-media uptake. But, that may have turned into an advantage. By sitting on the fence and waiting out an aggressive strategy, the company now feels comfortable in relaunching its Time Out New York, Time Out Chicago, and Time Out New York Kids Web sites with features that customers will actually interact with.
When asked what the company’s Internet strategy is, Schlegel frankly replied, "The short answer is we really haven’t had one until very recently." He notes the Time Out franchise debated, perhaps longer than it should have, whether to make its content free or tuck it away behind a subscription wall. Given that The New York Times recently pulled the plug on its Times Select subscription model, one that netted the company an annual $10 million no less, it was probably fortuitous Time Out selected an open content model. "We decided to say, ‘What the hell, let’s make it free and see what happens,’" Schlegel says. "As we did this over the last couple of years, the path became clear."
Reflective of the company’s commitment to building out its Web sites, the Web team has grown from four employees at the end of 2005 to 17 today. Recent additions were Schlegel himself. "In a sense, we’re recreating our print structure online," Schlegel says. "Unlike a lot of other publications, the editor does not answer to the publisher. We separate the business and the content sides."
The first priorities in ramping up for the relaunches, which will roll out at the end of the year, were to clean up the database, enhance the sites’ search functionality and add Web 2.0 features that made sense for their market.
A podcast on the Chicago site did not fare too well, and Schlegel says those products will likely get dropped, especially since they’re moving heavily into video. "The podcasts didn’t generate a lot of traffic, but it was a good experience because at the same time in New York we had a production service come in and start filming Vlogs
Despite the low traffic numbers on the podcasts-Schlegel declined to share them-he felt the experiment was worthwhile. "It wasn’t a total waste of time because the editors got used to keeping messages short and on point and writing for broadcast."
In January, Schlegel expects to roll out community features that allow users to plan their social and event itineraries. "We’re not trying to be another Facebook, but people do need a site they can come to and plan and invite people and get reminded when something they’re interested in is about to happen," he says. "We’re trying to figure out how it makes sense for our readers and for our content and frankly that’s come down to commenting on listing and articles and this idea of providing people with tools so they can plan their social life around our content.