August 15, 2017 Last Updated 12:14 pm

As consumer publications cross over into B2B, some B2Bs might find success when crossing over to consumer

With the growth of the web and mobile publishing, the line between consumer and B2B often gets blurred, especially when stories are developed that, while relating to industry readers, might also be of interest to the general public

The dream of every B2B publisher is, or at least should be, to find a way to crossover into the consumer space. There, the hope is, one might find new advertising riches, beating out one’s B2B rivals to a new pot of gold.

For B2B publishers these days, it is a jungle out there, one where their ad clients often no longer see them as vital to their success. Worse, in some categories, one sees consumer titles taking away some of their business by expanding their editorial coverage into areas they felt once were their exclusive territory.

The Industry StandardTechnology has been this way for a long time. Here, the line between B2B and consumer is often very thin, and frequently moving.

No better example of this, I suppose, would be The Industry Standard.

Launched in 1998 to cover the growing Internet industries, by 1999 it suddenly found itself taking in a huge number of ad pages — and by 2000 was the most successful magazine in America. But by 2001, when the tech bubble burst, it was running chicken recipe stories in a desperate attempt to stay in business — it didn’t. (Even the great book about its short life — Starving to Death on $200 Million: The Short, Absurd Life of The Industry Standard — is out of print.)

What accounted for the magazine’s amazing growth was that there was little to differentiate consumer from B2B in 2000. Any computer ad, any router ad, might also have a consumer appeal to it.

In the late nineties, after building a new sales team and setting a new direction at a B2B construction magazine, I found myself wondering if we might tap into consumer advertising. The categories that seemed the most obvious where computers and cell phones. Every engineer needed a PC, of course. And executives all began to have computers on their desks by then. But contractors out in the field were starting to make sure they had cellphones, too. So, we targeted the cellphone providers to see if we might actually get a hit. We did, Sprint was the first to bite.

Of course, one can go one way, can go the other. And every once in a while one begins to see a consumer media outlet grabbing our business. Many of the big construction equipment advertisers experiment with spending money in areas one would consider consumer, advertising through the NASCAR circuit, on television, etc.

It drives me crazy, as you would imagine, to find publishing industry news showing up on Politico, or WWD, or elsewhere. Often a single reporter targets the industry, and when they move on, the coverage stops.


I’ve seen this interesting crossover myself at work here at TNM. As politics and the media mesh together, thanks to our new president’s hatred of the media, stories that do not gain much attention from TNM’s traditional publishing industry audience, explode in audience thanks to Google or Apple News.

Just last week, an article about Twitter suspending an account that had been retweeted by Trump received its normal audience on the web through the home page. But with Apple News, nearing 40,000 people read the article — a huge audience for one story appearing on a B2B website about digital publishing.

It got me to thinking, obviously, if TNM needs to move even further away from it traditional mission of covering the digital publishing industry. But it also got me to thinking if this kind of crossover could be possible in other industries, as well.

What, for instance, would I tell the editor of my old construction magazine about trying to make this work. What stories might crossover to a consumer audience, and through which mediums? Obviously, few readers of the 70,000 print magazine would be interested much in consumer stories, would they?

Well, maybe.

That is when I can always go back to my experience involving the 1996 election. To make that long story short, I had asked my editor to reach out to the Clinton and Dole campaigns to get answers to questions about their infrastructure spending plans, should they win in November. Clinton’s campaign enthusiastically responded, as they were for increased government spending in this area. Dole’s campaign hesitated, but were forced to eventually respond, knowing that the Clinton campaign had done so.

The story make quite a splash in the pages of our October issue, and probably helped set us up for the 1997 year as a magazine that had to be taken seriously. But in 1996 we did not have a website, and certainly didn’t publish through mobile devices. I often wonder what kind of huge audience we might have garnered for that story had those things existed then, and I realize that we made a huge mistake by not letting The New York Times or The Washington Post know of our story, they surely would have picked it up in some manner.

The point is this: if you publish or editor a trade publication, isn’t there some crossover potential? Some stories you publish that might seem minor in your print magazine or online, that might have a wider appeal through another medium? I bet there is.

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