One publisher’s challenge

I met with a Massachusetts magazine publisher on Friday. They publish three print titles in the IT-executive leadership space and do about $40 million a year in revenue. The CEO said the goal is to have online revenues equal print by 2007 .

Ambitious? Sure, but further indication that the print world is seeing some lasting value from the online component, even going so far, as one former employer did, to predict a cross-over in their business model from paper to digits before the decade is out.

What is particularly interesting is the goal of the publisher I met on Friday, while focused on traffic and inventory development in the short term, is the need to support a very high CPM by transforming impressions into leads.

Lead generation is a tough nut to crack. It requires the pass through of contact information via registration which, past wisdom has held, is impossible unless the carrot is big enough and valuable enough to induce parting with personal details that the owner assumes will result in some form of spam — be it emails, cold calls, whatever.

While one can argue that click-through advertising such as Adsense or Overture is one primitive form of lead generation, the publisher in question, who distributes the print product on a pre-qualification basis, is looking for something far more substantive and informational than a mere adjacent relationship between a keyword and a click.

What is the content bait that needs to be set in the trap? Will users reject any lead-generation scheme, avoid registration via work-around like, or can they be teased to part with valid information in exchange for something valuable?

This goes back to an observation made by Andy Kessler to me in 1994, that user information is the currency of online publishing; not eyeballs, clicks, or subscription dollars.

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