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Stale ideas still prevalent in b2b publishing?

July 18, 2011
Norton Big 4

Running on fumes? How long can b2b publishing carry on if ideas don't change?

If there’s one thing destined to get my back up in publishing it’s when someone says that such-and-such product will receive huge take-up because it has been written by such-and-such an author. Oh yeah? Like the way people still buy Rover cars because they’ve always bought them? Or Henderson motorcycles? Or Cadbury’s Aztec bars? Bull.

For years, publishers have been running on the fumes of past success – expecting their fuel tank of authors somehow to keep feeding the carburetter of their portfolio. Alas, like a lusty single cylinder Norton motorcycle, publishing cannot run on fumes for ever (although a Norton Big 4 I once owned was able to travel without engine oil for 6 miles without blowing up – but that’s another story).

Take an ex-editorial colleague of mine from the 1990s who said that the company “must be seen to be publishing” a book of legal essays. Or the director of a company I met a few years back who insisted that a certain crop of recognised professional “names” would be sufficient to grow his business because “people will want to read what they say“. This sort of nepotistic genuflection belongs now to a distant age – yet sadly, things like this still go on.

It’s not authors but commercial ideas which sell products. What does it do for me? Is the economic sacrifice I made to purchase it overshadowed by the economic benefits I receive? These are what drive sales. Hence, it was interesting to read of David Gilbertson’s comments to the UK SIPA conference this year.

David Gilbertson has an impressive track record at Informa and latterly EMAP and needs no introduction when it comes to leveraging high-value products across the professional and B2B spectrum. His comments I think are best summed up when he says:

“If you want to sell me this stuff, show me a return … People are often less protective of their money than they are of their time. [So] if you can add to my time and money,” that’s key. “If you can’t do that, then the product you sell is entertainment and you have to then compete with my entertainment items.”

The problem, I perceive, is that in many b2b publishing companies there simply isn’t enough time – or even editorial skill – to be able to work with authors to leverage value. As such, key issues of product value are being left to the authors to determine – but many authors are often not in the business of value generation; instead they are in the business of reputation.

Clearly, there are many authors who boost both their reputation and their products’ value but it is a sad fact that many publications in the b2b arena are stale, fail to excite and fail, ultimately, to generate a return on their purchase. This creates value corrosion – what Adrian Slywotzky calls value migration.

And value migration is a problem which b2b publishers should really worry about. If they fail to invest in their brand, if they fail to invest in their value, their customers (and their prospects) will fail to invest in them.

In an environment where now even news has no value, b2b publishers need to invest heavily in value creation: niche solutions; measurable value delivery; staff involvement; metric transparency; competitive intelligence; brand research and so much more.

Failure to do this will leave them, like Perceval when he fails to question the purpose of the grail, wandering in the Waste Forest – oblivious of his past, his present and even his future.

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