Day Two began with a trip down Memory Lane – a presentation from the Editor of Estates Gazette (EGi) that at once reminded me that it is now 16 years since Mark Kelsey’s innovative interactive service at Reed Business engaged that most conservative of audiences, the British commercial property agent, and that EGi itself needs, like us all, to adapt to changing market circumstance. The old magazine is still there in print, and in replica on iPad (50% of users have one) with embedded video (this edition published a revolutionary 24 hours before the print!). The sale is still a bundle, and at £3,000 for an individual, and £30k multi-user licences fairly normal, cannot be called a low price deal. In difficult markets for commercial property net growth is a problem, but the hint in this presentation that the answer lies in data integration seems to me just right. Enable all that data on occupancy, planning history (zoning), ownership etc to be linkable, and you have the ability to mine the data for building reports (they have created 635,000 so far) and for custom re-use. They have just signed their first exclusive contract with a major agent: this data really needs to be used in conjunction with the agent’s own data to make sense. And of course they are redesigning, going global with links to major property trade shows etc, but to me the essence lies in the data. Get it all on one platform, encourage users to avoid print through the pricing bundle so as to increase margins, and then play the data game to become the bedrock internal information service provider for the agencies. Digital may make you smaller, but it should also make you more profitable and very sticky in increasingly less competitive markets.

Someone who clearly gets it is Charles Thiede, the CTO at Informa Business. His portfolio, with revenues around $400m and an operating margin of $140 m is 80% digital in its revenue base, and is concentrated around Healthcare, Global Trade (Lloyds, in print since 1724) and market research (Datamonitor). He spoke lovingly of the campaign for data discovery. Data flows naturally from the business – Lloyds report 65 million navigational positions on 72,000 commercial vessels each year – but everywhere it is locked up in spreadsheets, search results, structured databases, reports, filters etc. The message was clear: re-platform to enable access to data, allow modular and customizable research, and then drive directly towards integration with customer workflow. His current methodology is the Tableau data visualization tool, but this perhaps is less important than the principles involved: turn your customer into your collaborator, put personalization at the heart of the matter, and recognize that the user is now, in every sense, the Publisher, and you are the enabling service provider.

Regular readers here will know that a drought of such undiluted Kool Aid will have made your correspondent tired and emotional – or at least in need of a strong drink. And indeed some other presentations also drove in that direction. Bryan Glick, editor in chief of Computer Weekly, clearly took the right step when he and his colleagues deserted print in April 2011. But new owners TechTarget, while they have 200k Computer Weekly subscribers digitally rather than 90k in print, have a business with a revenue base closer to £5m than the £20 m they had in print at its late 1990s peak. The way to address this issue lies, as the previous paragraph indicates, in the service base rather than in events (good as they are) or other traditional industry diversification expedients. What happened to the Computer Weekly community, one wondered, and of its product data from those innumerable and interminable industry press releases? Or is this business that the new owner does in other ways in other places? To a certain extent the industry must get used to “Get Smaller – with bigger margins”, but that can only be tolerable if the full service supply opportunity is also being exploited. In this whole debate, only Charles Thiede mentioned the Internet of Things – a clue to how fascinated the magazine community, especially in B2B, has remained with the editorial and production process for news, and how detached they still remain from where their client interest really lies.

John Kennedy of IBM tried to improve the customer focus at the end, and Christian Ropke, Managing Director of ZEIT ONLINE, wanted to re-assure us that in a well-managed newspaper economy, loyal to print, like Germany, then online could run alongside print and succeed in pleasing differing tastes of the same readers. His 25,000 subscribers are 5% of print and generate 33m uniques a month. When he inelegantly proclaimed that “The Shitstorm Never Came”, I was left wondering. In the comfortable offices of Die Zeit, would anyone notice? Out there in commercial property, or shipping or technology sales life may seem quite a bit different.

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