Will Blogs Reshape Media and Analyst Business Models?

In the past few weeks, I've had a number of conversations with the usual suspects who I talk to in my everyday blogging activities -- vendors, consultants, analysts, and users. What's been most interesting about these talks is how many folks are finally bringing up how much they are reading blogs. And what many are saying might surprise you: what used to be somewhat of a novelty, a form of entertainment if you will, is rapidly becoming a great venue for candid analysis in the Spend Management and overall technology market. Indeed, more and more people are reading blogs such as Spend Matters for candid analysis, insight, and opinion. And they're turning to blogs first for breaking news and analysis. Witness how Coupa, a new Open Source Spend Management vendor, already has been written about by at least four blogs -- before a single traditional media source has latched on. As important, blogs have a "long tail" -- or staying power, if you will -- to cover subjects overtime. Consider the ongoing analysis and reporting of significant topics such as supply risk, which Spend Matters alone has covered dozens of times in the past year.

Given this rise -- and the fact that blogs have finally caught many people's attention -- I believe that it is a good time to question how we will impact other forms of content and analysis from traditional publishers and analysts. First, we now have the data to prove that when it comes to the online media world, blogs will soon overtake the traditional trade pubs. If you add up the monthly unique visitors and readers from Spend Matters, E-Sourcing Forum, Supply Excellence, and the other top blogs in the sector, we should be larger than the biggest trade publications by now. And as I've noted before, I'm hoping that Spend Matters alone will have a greater online readership than the traditional trade rags in the sector in the next 6-12 months.

Perhaps because of this traffic rise, I know at least some trade publications are running scared from an online advertising standpoint, given that vendors and other advertisers will begin to shift marketing spend from the old media to the new as blog traffic continues to grow and goes mainstream. Perhaps this will force trade publication in the Spend Management world to improve their online reporting if they hope to maintain their share of the online advertising pie. Or maybe they'll end up starting blogs of their own -- like CMP has done so well -- or licensing or buying existing blog content. As background on why they need to do this, you can read a short piece of mine on the downfall of online reporting here.

Enough of the trade media. On the analyst front, firms are beginning to come to terms with the value of content as opposed to traditional advisory work -- which they can charge a premium for relative to consultants, given their subject matter and vertical expertise. Almost all of the major analyst firms still charge approximately twice the amount per day of what a subject matter expertise from a Big Five or strategy consultancy would bill out at. And they get this not always because of their actual knowledge -- a friend of mine at a Big Five firm is probably the most knowledgeable person I've met when it comes to feature/function analysis of different Spend Management vendors -- but because of their brand and reach.

As analyst firms revisit the role of content relative to advisory and other work -- and how it can promote other activities and revenue sources -- they're making far more available for free, although there's often a catch. For example, AMR often provides free content and analysis of breaking news for a short period of time, but they only open up their archives and detailed research studies to clients (which is where the real value is). And Aberdeen has turned the traditional analyst model on its head by making even its detailed reports available for free if readers agree to have their information shared with sponsors of each report (who pay in exchange for receiving leads and brand awareness through sponsoring content). This model, too, represents a great adaptation to the changing role of content, and one that can make sense for all parties involved. In general, these new content models can help analyst firms gain lucrative custom advisory and consulting dollars by giving them a foot in the door.

At this early point, I see the analyst firms adapting to the changing role of content in a blog-informed world more than the trade publications -- at least within this sector. It remains to be seen, however, how the trade publications will react. So far, they're ignoring us. But wishing away a new media force is probably not the best long term strategy.

Jason Busch

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