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B2B Media and Web 2.0 Start-Ups May 23, 2007

Posted by Bernard Lunn in B2B Media, Enterprise Web 2.0.

History sometimes repeats itself, although usually with a surprising twist. Web 1.0 started with the Consumer and went onto B2B. Will some Web 2.0 technology trace the same steps?

I spend my time working with “traditional” B2B Media companies, the industry specific magazines, web sites and trade shows that connect buyers and sellers in all major markets. These companies are often derided in the Web 2.0 Blogosphere as mainstream media or dinosaurs. So a quick reality check may be in order. B2B Media in the USA alone is a $31.1 billion revenue business and the breakdown of that revenue may surprise those still muttering about “dead trees”:

  • Trade Shows $11.3 billion (36%)
  • Print Magazines $10.9 billion (35%)
  • Online “eMedia” $4.3 billion (14%)
  • Other (mostly databases) $4.6 billion (15%).

The growth (28%) and the margins (25%) are in online. If you ask a random sample of B2B Media CEOs about their priorities, it is very clearly “online, online and online”. Many now describe their business as online with print extensions. In some cases this is delusional, in some aspirational and in a very small number of cases it is already fact. Private Equity money is pouring into the industry and smart, aggressive new management teams are ensuring that the transition to online is real.

This leads to a lot of partnership opportunities. Web 2.0 start-ups want access to market and B2B Media want more online traction. But this is not the environment for bleeding edge technology. In Geoffrey Moore Crossing the Chasm terminology, you will find a few Visionaries and a lot of Conservatives, but not a lot of Early Adopters.

This relative conservatism suits the B2B Media audience demographic, which tends towards the Baby Boomer “digital immigrant” that still likes print but also uses new technology that crosses into the mainstream. RSS is an example. RSS is not a subject to quicken the pulse of a Read/Write Web reader, but the opportunities created for start-ups when something as fundamental as RSS cross the chasm to the mainstream are significant. The future clearly belongs to the “digital native” generation that grew up with MySpace and Instant Messaging, but in the B2B world the checks are still signed and deals decided by the Baby Boomer with bifocals scanning a print magazine.

B2B Media executives do not expect any silver bullet; no single feature will transform their business. They do need lots of new features that in aggregate make a difference to their mission of connecting buyers and sellers. This may suit the reality of many of the smaller, younger Web 2.0 start-ups that get referred as “a feature, not a product and certainly not a company”.  These may not be the transformational deals that start-ups dream about, but they maybe the niche markets (“bowling pins” in Crossing the Chasm lingo).



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