Is the Giant B2B Online Ad Network Created by Pontooning RBI, Cygnus, McGraw, and Nielsen a Good Idea?

In short, yes.  In long, no.  What I mean by that is:

In the Short Run

B2B publishers are under terrific pressure right now due to declining ad page numbers and page yields.  I won’t rehash some of the negative stories we’ve seen this year so far (not to mention the negative numbers we will be seeing in the weeks and months ahead.  “Sucking wind” is a phrase I’ve been hearing a lot from magazine folks.)  Lashing the boats together during a storm to go after non-endemic advertising sounds like a pretty good idea.  This reminds me a bit of the “A-level” advertising initiative that gave a low 7-figure boost to Cygnus’ top line late last year.

You have captivated business customers — decision makers, buyers, influencers, and people with high incomes and steady jobs — but you’re too small to go after large, national business and hybrid advertisers for your little manufacturing site.  So band together with other somewhat similar sites to be a more attractive buy for marketers.  But….

In the Long Run

I see two negative possible side-effects.  First, this initiative will help turn space on sites into a commodity, which is bad for the idea of the brand as a central strength of trade publishing.  And if the strength of brands online is meaningless, then how can you make those all-important endemic sales?  How can you tell an advertiser that what they’re getting is better than what they can get at the competitors’ sites?  Second, Talk to an editor at The Hollywood Reporter and then one at Variety and tell them that they’re selling the exact same thing, and they may disagree with you.  Worse, they may lose the competitive edge that has propelled both books to be among the best in trade publishing.

Verticality has served trade publishing well.  Hitting all those points on the long tail with targeted outreach works — in print, online, face-to-face.  Will flattening those verticals on the advertising side have unintended consequences?

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