Spend Matters and MetalMiner — Growth, Fighting Words, and a New Chapter

Five years ago, Spend Matters was just really beginning to enter its initial period of growth (I started the thing as a hobby that provided just a bit more than beer money through a single advertiser in the fall of 2004). A few years into the business, we eventually became an "ankle biter," nipping at the heels of the publishing and advertising folks at some of the larger trade publications (and even an employee at one particular pub who called a Spend Matters advertiser in spite and told them his magazine would not cover them if they continued with us -- needless to say, you can probably guess the outcome of that outburst). But flash forward to today, and Spend Matters has not followed in the footsteps of what a Purchasing might have been had Reed not stupidly jettisoned it and the good work Paul Teague and others were up to. Rather, we've taken our own road, building a large media presence (number one in the market) through our columns and insights while also producing the highest quantity of -- and we hope some of the highest quality -- research papers and briefs in the market.

Spend Matters (US) has also grown to a full-time team of four ragtag individuals (there are eight of us in the broader company and soon-to-be nine). But while our growth continues, the most curious site in our portfolio right now, inflection-wise, is MetalMiner, which primarily covers the industrial metals markets from expert sourcing and trading angles (much as Spend Matters covers technology and related solutions from an insider point of view). In less than four years since being founded, MetalMiner has overtaken numerous incumbent media sources that have been around for generations. It's now the number one trafficked North American media site in the sector.

MetalMiner recently covered the news of an M&A deal in its own publishing marketplace: Platts' move to acquire Steel Business Briefing. They offered their own twist at the end, which has rankled some old-boy feathers in the metals trade publication market. But first, here's the news in context. MetalMiner suggests that "The metal news marketplace made its own headlines yesterday when Platts announced it was acquiring Steel Business Briefing, including its TSI unit...from our perspective, the deal has significance for metal buying organizations as well as for the balance of the metal news/analysis/intelligence community. We also continue to believe that the primary way metals sourcing professionals typically obtain market pricing and market intelligence to facilitate their contract and supplier management efforts remains mired in 'the old model'...and this acquisition will do little to help."

So what's the problem? Lisa Reisman, editor of MetalMiner, observes that the greatest unmet need in today's market for industrial metals buyers is "a series of price points that actually impact the buying decision as well as analysis informed from a broader strategic sourcing angle." Spend Matters believes these needs aren't being met by the services today of larger publishers such as American Metal Market. Perhaps this explains why in part, according to Lisa, how "MetalMiner has become the largest online metals media trade publication in North America from its humble roots as a side-blogging effort less than four years ago (when we were simply trying to sell more consulting around metals cost reduction). In fact, some sources (Alexa) even suggest that our overall traffic rankings are now two, even three, times higher than incumbents such as AMM." However, we acknowledge the business models differ -- AMM is largely a subscription model.

What's next for MetalMiner? The original part of the business plan when the team set out beyond just acting as a lead generation tool for their consulting business was to "build the traffic and influence." Now, "part two is now about to take shape" and "in the coming year, you'll see us begin to do for metals pricing and price points what we've done for how metals industry watchers and buying professionals inform their sourcing strategies by reading our coverage and insights."

In the early going at Spend Matters, we were constantly faced with attacks -- personal and professional -- about our approach, objectivity and motivations, especially when we took aggressive stances about how our readers were being under-served by the traditional trade media and analyst coverage at the time. But we stuck to our guns through the criticism and rapidly took the pole position in a market that we're using as a launch point today to attempt to do much more. And we did this by being different and serving what we saw as an unmet need -- not simply following an established approach. MetalMiner is planning to do the same for metals sourcing and supply chain analysis. But no doubt, as MetalMiner continues to push the envelope and come out with fighting words against incumbents that premise their entire existence on business as usual approaches to informing the market, it will continue to "raise the eyebrows," as one commenter on the site puts it, of those with vested interests in legacy houses that look inward and not outward.

Jason Busch

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