For as long as I have been in this business, industry magazines and business databases have been largely separate worlds. Sure, there are lots of big publishers that have both strong trade magazines and strong industry databases, but because they are under common ownership hardly means they work together. Indeed, many of these "sister" properties couldn't be further apart.
There are a number of reasons for this. First, the big B2B publishers have typically tended to organize themselves by media: magazines over here, data products over there. Even when these publishers try to organize themselves by market, you just get a variant on the same result: automotive industry magazines over here, automotive data products over there. This works to create walls.
Second, there have been myriad cultural issues. Trade magazines may not be too exciting, but they're downright glamorous compared to trade data products, so it was the rare magazine editor who expressed any interest in data. On the advertising side, the big, quick dollars have always been in selling magazine space, relegating data products to "filler" status, if they weren't ignored totally.
Third and most importantly, while a magazine and data product might track the same market, they were rarely integrated internally, meaning there was no content leverage occurring, and this further exacerbated the cultural issues.
The bottom line on all of this is that for a long time, magazines were a flourishing business, and could make publishers lots of money, relatively quickly and dependably, making it hard to get excited about dependable, but typically much smaller, data products.
Magazine publishers are just coming out of one of the worst slumps ever. Yet there is a palpable sense in the industry that the heyday of B2B magazines has passed.
That's why magazine publishers are turning to data products. They've created a name for this new-found attraction: "rich data." With the proposition that data products may be their most significant new growth opportunity, publishers are showing a lot of new-found respect for data products. But the learning curve is amazingly steep and there are other hurdles as well.
Some publishers have so eviscerated their publishing franchises through aggressive cost cutting that there isn't enough of a platform left to build leveraged data products. Some are candid that as much as they want to move into rich data, they can't -- or won't -- make a major investment in it. Most stunning of all are those publishers whose parent companies already own impressive rich data products they could harness immediately -- but don't recognize them or don't know how to leverage them.
Prognosis? I am among those who believe that magazine and data businesses can work spectacularly well if put together properly with all points of leverage exploited. I also believe that the magazine industry urgently needs a diversification strategy to maintain its growth and even to hold onto its existing market franchises. How will it play out? I think increasingly we are seeing magazines moving into partnerships and alliances with data publishers, and there will be frenzied bidding for those few remaining database properties that haven't already been acquired. This is good news for our industry, but it's also the right course for magazine publishers. There's room for us all to get rich with data.