This article was published in WNIP.
While 2020 proved to be a difficult year for many in the media business, the last several months have seen a string of wins for B2B publishers. Bucking several prevailing trends, many business-oriented publishers are in a period of growth. This growth has even been punctuated by acquisitions such as Industry Dive growing its coverage for financial professionals with the purchase of CFO.com, and Adweek expanding its access to digital media and marketing audiences with the acquisition of Target Marketing and Publishing Executive. But what’s powering the success of B2B publishers in this otherwise challenging economy?
What Makes B2B Media Unique
In a troubled time for digital publishing, B2B media has some unique advantages. First and foremost, business publications are often essential in a crisis. These are the publications that business leaders and other professionals turn to for advice and even reassurance when facing the unknown. Because they provide critical insight that businesses can use to weather a crisis, B2B publishers don’t often face the same level of immediate cutbacks that consumer-facing media does during uncertain economic times.
Business publishers are also more resistant to churn because their subscriptions are typically paid by corporations, as opposed to individuals. B2B publishers can command a premium price for their content and that price is usually paid with a corporate credit card, meaning that demand is less elastic than it is for other forms of media. Even when times are hard, people typically cut back their personal expenses before trimming tools and information resources from their professional budget. The same is true for their advertising revenue streams. Their niche focus commands a premium from advertisers wanting access to a specific audience they often can’t find anywhere else.
Finally, many B2B publishers enjoy a more diversified revenue stream than their consumer counterparts. Many business publishers already have a full suite of events and eCommerce opportunities and while the COVID-19 pandemic has forced some events to cancel, the majority of trade shows and professional conferences have adapted fairly successfully to a virtual environment, allowing them to generate revenue while experimenting with a whole new genre of digital events that could persist or expand even as the pandemic eventually recedes.
Next Steps for the B2B Space
Looking ahead, it’s clear that the health of the B2B publishing space will continue to create new opportunities for experimentation. The challenges of 2020 forced many publishers to find profitability without relying on VC dollars. For those that succeeded in turning a profit, the coming year will likely see them reinvest in experimental growth areas guided by the due diligence that goes with spending their own money. For other publishers experimenting with new formats and revenue streams, these efforts are likely to attract new injections of venture capital which could accelerate their efforts to build new revenue models.
The coming year is also likely to see more consolidation in B2B media as publishers leverage their current strength to acquire smaller complementary outlets and grow their overall footprint. The strength of the sector is attractive to private equity firms who will be eager to pull stronger players into larger conglomerates or assemble smaller publishing groups to build scaled media businesses through targeted acquisitions. Private equity will likely see value in packaging these acquisitions for sale to larger funds and conglomerates or operating them independently. It’s also possible that some of the strongest players in B2B media may use this opportunity to follow in the footsteps of a growing number of consumer-facing publishers like Group Nine Media and take themselves public via Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC).
Pain Points and Solutions for B2B Publishers
All this consolidation means that publishers will be onboarding more and more siloed business units, all of which will take time and effort to integrate. While the acquired and the acquirers can learn from each other, they will need to create transparency to do so. They will also need technology that can be customized to their respective media business needs, and tools allow for operational flexibility in high touch areas like sales stages, and approvals. Executives need to look for ways to create an instant view of the new combined business. Finding tools to overcome these initial integration challenges will be the single biggest factor in determining whether the success of the past year can be extended and expanded.