Friday Rant: Doubling Down on Spend Matters (Part 2)

In a column from last Friday, I provided some background details on the current state of Spend Matters as well as intimating what might be around the corner. To summarize, for those who missed it and don't want to read the first installment in this series, what’s happened is really quite simple. Over the past 12 months, Spend Matters' traffic has increased to a level that places it among the top two procurement media sites in the world, as measured by third-party sites like Alexa and Quantcast, as well as our own metrics. We're in the same league as Purchasing, and materially larger than others that trail behind. But our challenge surrounding this growth has been finding new ways to deliver value to our readers outside the core model on a consistent basis.

The solution to this challenge dawned on me in Q4. A friend who has watched Spend Matters from the start remarked that what I had here was "essentially a well-paid hobby." While I never thought of this discipline as a hobby until that point, it became clear that I was treating this thing more like an avocation than anything else. Now, there's both a good and a bad side to this. The good is obvious: if you're passionate about something like a hobby, you pursue it because you love it. And the spirit shines through in the product that emerges -- or at least one would hope. When Spend Matters is cranked up -- as it hopefully is more often than not -- it truly represents an ardent hobby. But the downside, of course, is that with a hobby, you're never quite fully committed to it all the time. Other things can -- and often do -- take precedence. Resisting the call of a well-paid billable hour, speaking engagement, or transaction-oriented fee for corporate development work is hard to do. I realized that I haven't resisted enough.

So starting in 2010, I've decided to dedicate my time first and foremost to do just two things: build Spend Matters into a truly global online publishing business, and pursue limited consulting work that I look forward to versus those engagements I take to just fill the pipeline. Everything that I've done in the past, such as writing private-label thought leadership for providers and helping companies market procurement initiatives internally, will have to come second if I'm to succeed in taking Spend Matters to the next level. But what, precisely, will that next vista look like? So as to not assume that I know best where to take Spend Matters, I asked a cross-section of readers for their input. Their suggestions proved invaluable, as well as quite prescient given what's happened in the analyst world over the past few weeks.

Many suggested that Spend Matters should go down the path of becoming more analyst-like by providing deeper research on particular subjects. While I initially brushed off this idea, I've come to agree with it -- but not in the way you might think. You see, I believe that content -- unless it's heavily customized and client specific -- will face greater and greater price pressure, and ultimately most, if not all, of it will be free. So rather than charge for it by the drink -- or charge a research subscription to access it -- I thought of alternative ways to create a revenue model that would enable deeper and comprehensive research on subjects. I also got the feedback that people want a balancing act in this research that maintains the "Spend Matters voice" while also introducing new and potentially dissenting opinion. In other words, create a true conversation around a topic and, above all -- as readers stressed in their advice -- make sure Spend Matters remains independent and never turns into an analyst or whitepaper shop for hire. And what I further heard in this feedback was, "kill the objectivity and independence, and you kill the vision that created Spend Matters in the first place."

So to hint at what's to come from a publishing standpoint -- to be fully unveiled in a post next Friday -- look for an evolving research and business model that retains the core Spend Matters style and opinion/forum design at its current level, but contributes significantly more on the non-blog research flank. We'll focus on a detailed and objective analysis of particular technology and process issues at a level that's simply not common from any publishing or analyst model in the market today. Moreover, look for these new offline/downloadable formats to maintain the same edge as the rest of the content that's actually on the site and distributed via RSS today. And look for them to be published on a regular basis starting in January and continuing throughout the year based on a regular publication schedule and calendar that we'll be sharing a quarter or more in advance. And if you're a provider in this market, you too will be able to get in on the action, not only by sponsoring this content to drive qualified leads your way, but also by commenting on our research while agreeing with or dissenting from our opinions.

Stay tuned for the next installment of our new chapter, when we’ll share more details of our evolution.

Jason Busch

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