Digital Publishing Top Stories
5 mins read

“It’s a bit Darwinian out there”: How B2B Media must adapt to survive

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Key takeaway: B2B publishing faces severe headwinds not least with subscriptions, classified, advertising, and events, all seeing marked declines in revenue according to the latest AOP/Deloitte report. However, with the correct strategies in place, allied to a flexible and adaptive mindset, the prospects for B2B Media are still strong.

For anyone in B2B publishing, the latest quarterly Digital Publishers’ Revenue Index from the AOP and Deloitte makes for sobering reading. Whilst B2C witnessed a significant rebound from a year earlier, B2B revenue decreased by 5.1% relative to Q2 2020, with the decline driven by drops in subscriptions (-15.9%), classifieds (-99.8%) and display formats (-51.5%).

Whilst the AOP figures are skewed by the fact that only four B2B publishers participated in its survey, there’s no question that B2B faces serious headwinds across a number of fronts. What’s New in Publishing reached out to Carolyn Morgan, one of the UK’s foremost B2B media specialists and consultants, to gauge the pulse of B2B media and to hear her thoughts on how B2B publishers can adapt and transition to business models that only allow them to survive, but thrive.

Our interview follows an in-depth B2B Media CEO Roundtable Carolyn hosted in London with a number of B2B publishers for Renewd, a community of professionals in B2B subscriptions and events. The Roundtable found that B2B Media now needs to be more adaptive than ever, with a willingness to be flexible and to pivot quickly, all the while maintaining a positive work environment in order to retain staff – a heady challenge for any publisher.

Carolyn Morgan (far left) moderating a panel at the 2021 Publishing Show, London

WNIP: Can you give us your overall ‘big picture perspective’ on B2B media?

Carolyn Morgan: The business environment is undeniably tough for B2B Media. Advertising collapsed in 2020 and now publishers face higher salaries and spiralling paper prices and venue costs.  “Old school” business models that were reliant on display advertising in print titles and online, and large in-person events have been exposed.

The future will belong to those who are quickest to adapt – it is a Darwinian process and not all will survive.  The good news is that others have trod this path before, and there is a clear route to building value in B2B media.

Carolyn Morgan

WNIP: In the AOP’s recent report it says that B2B revenue decreased by 5% relative to Q2 2020 with the decline driven by drops in subs. However, you’ve seen the pubs you mix with actually grow their subs. What divides the winners and losers here?

CM: Business sectors hard hit by the pandemic, such as travel and hospitality, may have had more of their readers on furlough and not actively working so may have reduced paid subscriptions. But amongst those business readers who were working throughout the crisis there was a strong appetite for up-to-date information on a volatile market. In the more specialist B2B sectors I am close to, free traffic, newsletters and paid digital subscriptions have all grown. It sounds basic, but providing readers with timely, considered, and actionable content they can use in their business is the key to growing subscription revenues.

Many niche B2B publishers I know are moving towards metered paywalls and successfully converting free readers to paid subscribers.

Carolyn Morgan

WNIP: Classifieds have dropped by nearly 100% according to the AOP survey. Whilst only four B2B publishers participated, which is hardly a representative sample, it’s still an unprecedented figure. What has fueled this?

CM: Recruitment crashed during the lockdown but has since come back with a vengeance. However, B2B media face a structural issue here as recruiters are using online platforms such as LinkedIn and Indeed rather than media job boards. Very specialist senior jobs boards are still working for publishers as recruitment bounces back, but in the long run they will be challenged.

WNIP: Ad display has also dropped precipitously, what can be done?

CM: Smart B2B media are moving away from display advertising and towards sponsored content, from bespoke research to in-depth themed reports. The switch from in person to virtual has prompted growth in sponsored live streams, next-generation webinars, and larger virtual events.

Most B2B marketers realise that relevant content is more effective in attracting the right decision makers than old-school display ads. They are more interested in demonstrating thought leadership through events and reports and buying digital marketing solutions that generate qualified leads.

WNIP: What advice would you give to B2B publishers moving forwards?

CM: These are the keys to success in B2B Media:

  • Deep understanding of your business reader and the information that helps them do a better job, advance their career, and make better decisions
  • Delivering content in the form they want – succinct, actionable information, as video, audio, report, virtual event, live event or data – and easily searchable when there is a specific need.  Many publishers have moved away from print to fully digital content.
  • Tracking who is reading what, where, and when, through first party registration or subscription paywalls, and acting on that information to provide readers with more relevant content
  • Ensuring advertisers create relevant, useful content, and showcasing it to targeted readers at the right time, and capturing qualified leads
  • Providing the right mix of virtual and in person events to enable audiences to learn about their industry and make meaningful connections
  • Developing tailored subscription and membership propositions that offer relevant content, data and professional networking to your core audience.
  • Look beyond your own borders – quality digital business information appeals to an international audience, and with remote working, you can hire staff from around the world.

WNIP: Are there a few B2B publishers really standing out in their ability to adapt and navigate the disruption? What examples would you give of ‘best in class’? 

William Reed are moving many of their free titles to metered paywalls.

TTG Media were hard hit by the pandemic but have come out fighting with a paid digital membership package and a new series of events.

The Lawyer has made a success of moving from free content, print publications and a reliance on advertising, to a wholly digital, subscription-driven business with a premium data proposition on top.

Independent publisher B2B Marketing has switched from web and magazine content to a membership proposition built around an interactive content-rich community.

The Drum pivoted early into virtual events, but have now returned to live, and are developing premium membership packages.

Exec Grapevine, who serve the UK HR community, shifted their live events to virtual and enhanced their digital marketing solutions for tech clients, growing revenues throughout the last two years.

WNIP: Thank you

About: Carolyn Morgan has launched, acquired, grown and sold media businesses across print, digital and live events. She was formerly an Exec Director at EMAP plc, specialising in marketing, events, digital development and strategy. Carolyn was a co-founder of the Specialist Media Show, which she sold to SIIA in 2013. Carolyn has wide experience of niche publishing businesses and advises many independent media owners on digital strategy through her consulting business, Speciall Media. She regularly curates and chairs conferences on digital media strategy. She is a Non-Exec Director for Thomas Telford, the commercial arm of the Institute of Civil Engineers, and also Executive Grapevine International, an independent niche media business. 

Follow Carolyn on Twitter @carolynrmorgan
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