Business Press: The motivation of Online Business Sites - Business magazine brands and the Internet share an affinity but proof of what this link can deliver is only now becoming clear, Richard Cook discovers

To say that the business press has a certain affinity with its electronic press partner doesn’t go nearly far enough. However, for all the obvious attraction, it is a relationship that still has to be properly consummated.

To say that the business press has a certain affinity with its

electronic press partner doesn’t go nearly far enough. However, for all

the obvious attraction, it is a relationship that still has to be

properly consummated.

It’s as if the pair have moved swiftly past a few casual dates at the

pictures, taken in a couple of intimate meals and then promptly fast

forwarded to the state of mutual bafflement in which they currently


But then it’s not difficult to see why the business press initially

embraced on-line publishing with such alacrity. The Internet, after all,

appears to be the one true broadcast medium with all the narrowcast

advantages thrown in. Publishers can find a mass-market audience and

still know the identity of all the people they are reaching.

For a business press publisher that is sitting on masses of specialised

information and rationing it out to its named database, the Internet

should, in theory, offer the chance to broaden the target market without

losing any control over the quality of the audience. In other words, it

offers the best of both worlds.

’We saw two main attractions of electronic publishing,’ Robin Wood, the

director of Miller Freeman electronic publishing, explains. ’ First, we

could improve communications with our existing readership base. By

posting archival information and background that won’t fit into the

printed version because of lack of space, we can strengthen our

relationship with existing readers.

’Second, as a predominately controlled circulation publisher, we operate

the 80/20 rule; that is, the bulk of our circulation goes to the

minority of our potential audience that spends the most. The Internet

should offer a low-cost way of broadening your customer base, not least


Certainly, Wood’s confidence in the potential of the Internet is shared

widely. According to a report released at the end of last year by First

Magazine Marketing, more than three-quarters of the magazine publishers

it surveyed viewed electronic publishing as a crucial factor for their

long-term survival. Already 43 per cent of the publications canvassed in

the worldwide survey marketed their publications online and 41 per cent

published information online. The most telling data of all showed that

only 4 per cent of respondents had no plans at all to incorporate the

Internet into their eventual publishing or marketing plans.

But it is only recently that this confidence in what the Internet might

be able to achieve for business magazine brands has been replaced by

real evidence of what it can actually achieve.

’A year ago we did the same thing as everyone else and put some

slimmed-down versions of our biggest titles on the Internet,’ Steve

Malone, the associate publisher of the Ziff-Davis title, Computer Life,

explains, ’but basically all we were doing was saying ’hello’ and not

really creating something different or exciting for advertisers. Now

everyone has moved on and online services are starting to take on a life

of their own, such as featuring unique material.

’Here we have moved from the concept of magazines on the Web towards the

idea of ’channels’ - which seems to be this year’s buzzword in the

business press. It means that our one central Website is divided by area

of interest rather than by magazine.’

This approach means that browsers of zdnet do not have to wade through

the news sections of each of four Ziff-Davis magazines that are branded

on the site. There is just one news section, which is culled from the

best news from four magazines. The same system applies to product

reviews and other subjects throughout the site. The system encourages

browsing and helps to cross-promote the various titles.

This approach also makes more sense for advertisers. So far, online

magazines have offered advertisers three main routes - sponsorship,

banner ads on individual pages and recruitment advertising. The majority

of business press publishers believe the most scope for growth lies in

the last two categories.

The classified sector, which can be responsible for 80 per cent of

business press revenue, is already an important source of online revenue

and it is expanding rapidly. However, what is really exciting is the

progress made by banner ads. These work like conventional press ads but

they allow advertisers to encourage users to click on their ad and be

transported to the advertiser’s own site. In practice, this works rather

like direct mail - because it is so hard to encourage users to explore

advertisers’ sites, Ziff-Davis reckons there is a hit rate of the order

of 2 or 3 per cent.

But this whole sector is starting to take off as professionally run

sales houses start to package up Websites into advertiser-friendly

chunks. The best example of this came with the decision made by the

television airtime sales house, TSMS, to launch a series of Internet

audience packages earlier this month. The house bundled together

Internet sites with a common demographic to make it easier for ad

agencies to reach target audiences and to encourage them to start using

electronic publishing as a part of a complete advertising campaign,

rather than as a one-off. It has already started to happen with

companies such as Levi’s, which included Miller Freeman’s dotmusic site

in its media mix, a move that is likely to open the floodgates.

’What we have been able to do with dotmusic is to broaden a site, which

is the vehicle for all trade music magazines, to a wider consumer

market,’ Chris Sice, the commercial manager of dotmusic, explains. ’We

have attracted advertisers like Levi’s that wouldn’t usually go in our

printed magazine and use dotmusic as a vehicle to sell CDs around the


Its not a huge business - Miller Freeman has clocked up sales of around

8,000 in the four months the scheme has been running - but it is hard

evidence of the existence of new revenue streams which, after all, is

what this persistent courtship of the Internet by business press

publishers should be about.


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