This post was originally published on the WebMarketCentral blog in November 2009.
Content marketing is all the rage. Check out Joe Pulizzi’s Junta42 blog, pick up a copy of Ardath Albee’s wonderful new book eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale (which builds upon the foundation laid by David Meerman Scott and others), follow @Mike_Stelzner on Twitter—it’s everywhere. Marketers are becoming publishers, writing valuable thought leadership and how-to content in order to build name recognition, credibility, and even sales pipelines.
Back in the pre-Internet days, trade publications were pretty much the only way to efficiently reach narrowly targeted niche audiences, like architects, chemical engineers or IT help desk managers. Even in the early days of online, trade publication websites and their newsletters were essential media.
But there’s no question that journalism is taking a beating during this downturn. Across all media, more than 35,000 jobs have been lost in the past year. While a large share of those positions have been shed in broadcast and newspapers, trade publications haven’t been immune.
The challenges faced by trade publications go far beyond the current economic slowdown. Trade pubs traditionally flourished due to five conditions which simply no longer exist.
Audience. As noted above, trade publications were once the only way to reach niche audiences. Today, there are far more options: specific segments can be reached through SEO, SEM, industry-specific blogs, LinkedIn groups, Twitter and other venues. Certainly, trade publications still have value in delivering targeted audiences, but they no longer have a monopoly.
Authority and independence. Content produced by marketers and PR professionals is always, of course, self-serving: that’s their job. Content produced by trade publications, in contrast, has been seen as less biased and more independent. But the fact is that no type of media has ever been truly objective, and it may not even be possible. With the dramatic increase in content enabled by online publishing, this has become ever more apparent, and cynicism has grown. People now understand that CNN doesn’t provide the “news,” it serves up the liberal take on it—as Fox serves the other end of the political spectrum. And the reporting in trade publications, despite assertions of a “Chinese wall” between editorial and ad sales, has always been influenced by advertiser spending. In the late 1990s, when big companies were taking huge write-offs and even declaring bankruptcy due to failed implementations of large ERP systems, ComputerWorld stood out with its honest reporting; most other publications continued to push bubbles-and-sunshine pieces about these systems and vendors.
Expertise. The editors and reporters at trade publications were once looked to as experts in their specific fields, and in many cases they were (and still are). But many of the writers were just that—writers. They may reported for Golf Digest one day and a niche publication focused on mechanical engineering the next. How did they get their material? By interviewing experts on both vendor and user sides. Today, those vendors and users can publish their own content in blogs, article publication sites and elsewhere, without the need for a middleman.
Advertising. Designing clever ads and placing them with targeted publications used to be a primary method for brand building and direct response. But as books like those from Ardath Albee and David Meerman Scott noted above contend, with individuals now exposed to 4,000-5,000 advertising impressions of some sort on a daily basis, advertising in general has become less effective. People use technologies like iPods, TiVo and even online ad blockers to avoid additional advertising exposure. Marketers today are relying more on producing thought-leadership content to attract prospects than on traditional in-your-face advertising, according to a recent study reported by HubSpot. As the report also notes, advertising still has its place, it just doesn’t have the same priority, or share of budget, that it once did.
Aggregation. Trade publications used to serve the role of content aggregator, bring together the best content from experts on both the vendor and user sides as well as leading industry analysts. While they still provide that service to some extent, trade pubs are no longer the only game in town. Content producers now have many more options, including their own company websites, product or service microsites, blogs, article sites like Ezine Articles, Hub Pages and Google Knol, and other venues. For example, this article on H1N1 and pandemic planning was self-published on a company site, drawing traffic through SEO and social media. And other sites, such as the B2B Marketing Zone, aggregate blog posts on specific topics (b2b marketing in this case).
Perhaps “kill” is too strong a word, but the changing content landscape and plethora of publishing options certainly present significant challenges for trade publications and are forcing changes to their business model. What do you think?