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IDG-Linkedin Partnership: Re-Defining Publishing?

Just yesterday, the major business publisher IDG, through its Custom Solutions group and its ComputerWorld, InfoWorld, CIO and CSO media properties, announced a partnership with LinkedIn to create “targeted marketing opportunities for b-to-b brand marketers.” So what does this partnership means? It appears that IDG will sell to its advertisers the right to sponsor an IDG owned and operated LinkedIn group on either a specific IT-related topic, or a custom LinkedIn group likely tied to things such as new product launches. In the latter case, the advertiser controls the direction of the group.

On its face, this seems like a clever sponsorship idea. But then you might ask why does IDG need to partner with LinkedIn to create a LinkedIn group? Anyone can do that. For that matter, why does the advertiser need IDG to create a LinkedIn group? The answer is partly content, and mostly audience. And here’s where it gets interesting.

LinkedIn’s role in this partnership, according to Folio, is to “be responsible for promotion, content distribution and member recruitment.” Yes, LinkedIn is going to be supplying both audience and content distribution. What IDG is bringing to the table is the advertiser, the content and management of the group.

Traditionally, the role (and much of the value) of the publisher was building an engaged, target audience and charging to deliver messages to it. Here, both the audience and the distribution platform no longer belong to the publisher.

I’m not disparaging this deal; indeed it has hints of brilliance showing through. But what intrigues me is that LinkedIn, a professional network and data content company, can now so effectively perform most traditional publishing functions.

While I admire LinkedIn for building the most important biographical database in the world (still the primary source of its revenue), it is also both a powerful network and content distribution platform. LinkedIn groups thrive for tens of thousands of specialized audiences, and LinkedIn has shown real talent in selective news distribution to users. LinkedIn has all the elements necessary to be a major publisher in its own right. To date, however, it has chosen to be a platform rather than a publisher.

It’s likely we will see a greater shifting and blurring of roles over time. Already, we have examples of companies that leverage LinkedIn groups to build publishing and events companies. And IDG shows us here an example of a successful publisher leveraging the power of the LinkedIn platform.

I don’t see LinkedIn trying to muscle itself into B2B publishing, but I think this is the first indication of a profound re-definition of the publishing business. This is not necessarily bad news, but if you thought things were settling down, you better fasten your seat belt.