Recently I asked the question: will content marketing kill trade publications? Gordon Plutsky seems to answer in the affirmative, contending that marketers need to set up their own content distribution channels, bypassing the trade media. Ted Bahr, on the other hand, not only won’t concede the death of trade magazines but isn’t willing even to give up on print versions of them.
Personally, I believe that trade pubs can continue to play an important role in the distribution of industry-specific, niche content to focused groups of readers due to several advantages they have over other channels. Mind you, I’ve never worked for a trade publisher and am not telling them how to run their businesses, these are just observations based on nearly 20 years of media buying and 25 years of business experience.
Conversation Aggregation. Publishers no longer have a monopoly on content creation, but they can potentially create integrations with bloggers, Twitter feeds, YouTube videos, LinkedIn groups and other places where their industry is being discussed and provide a centralized portal for vendor, user and independently created material. They need to go beyond content aggregation to conversation aggregation, facilitating not only publishing but also interactivity.
Research. As independent third-parties, trade publishers are in a unique position to conduct industry research. If buyers are asked whether they have a more positive opinion of vendor A or vendor B, they are far more likely to answer honestly to an independent source than to a vendor.
Ratings and Rankings. Expecting a vendor to objectively rate its products against those of competitors is like asking a mom to honestly evaluate her kid’s artwork against the rest of the class. Not possible. Bloggers could do this independently, but few have the resources to do a thorough job. Only trade publishers (and industry analysts, but that’s another business model) have both the resources and independent perspective to do a credible job in this area.
Events (Online or Offline). Again, publishers are in a unique position to bring together a wide range of participants from both the vendor and buyer sides for online or live events focused on education, networking and yes, marketing.
Republishing – Providing a Forum for Thought Leadership Content. Many marketers have figured out that David Meerman Scott was right in The New Rules of Marketing and PR: buyers are interested in information that helps them solve problems, not marketing brochures. Those marketers are now writing insightful, helpful thought-leadership content. They have many options on where to publish, but trade publications, with their focused audiences, have the opportunity to stand out as premier publishing venues. For example, this article on IT service catalog software was originally published in a help desk trade publication, then later republished on the vendor’s website. Through SEO, it continues to draw traffic in both places.
And finally, a recommendation: start charging subscribers for print publications. You can offer incentives, such as publishing longer, more in-depth feature articles only in print, or first in print then later online, or in print and in a premium, fee-based area of your website (which paid print subscribers could be given free access to), but charge a print subscription fee.
Advertisers are far more likely to see value in buying print media that 5,000 readers are willing to pay for (and hence may actually read) than for 25,000 “free qualified” subscriptions most of which will end up, unread, in landfills. If readers aren’t willing to pay for print, that’s a strong signal—and one ad buyers are unlikely to ignore.
With some refocusing of their business and content models, trade publications have the opportunity to continue to have a central place in the dissemination of industry-specific content. At least that’s my take. What do you think?