2014: the end of free for B2B

Posted on December 13, 2013 at 10:03 am by Native Consultancy

As more national newspapers pulled up the drawbridge on their free content in 2013 it is worth asking – how long will B2B publishers continue to put out content for free?

There are already signs that the shift we have seen in the national press towards subscription-led pricing is being followed in B2B. It is over a year since Haymarket rolled out its metered + subscription model for PR Week and its other marketing titles. This is being mirrored elsewhere by premium trade titles like EMAP’s Retail Week.

After the commercial bloodbath of the past years which has seen trade and professional titles shrinking and folding in all quarters, it seems like B2B publishers have realised that when it comes to subscriptions, it is a case of do or die: charge for content or go under.

Will the market tolerate this? I think it will. While there has been plenty of talk about ‘freemium’ models á la Huffington Post in B2B displacing established trade brands, there is little evidence they really work – at least in the B2B verticals I work in.

The free content I see tends to be entirely PR-led and have little punch or bite. Many just create more noise, add little value and have questionable reach into the right audiences.  The clients I work with see little value in these sites as commercial partners or as channels for PR activity.

What is also clear from the clients I speak to is the “trade bibles” continue to be the most valuable in terms of reach and influence. They truly value their authority which of course, comes from investment in content. That is the important process of editorial filtering and independence.

While social media could be considered a threat to these paid models – after all it is a platform which depends on free content to drive the conversations – I think this is overblown.

Social media provides a lot of “bubble gum” content: interesting to chew over for a short while but largely insubstantial. B2B and trade titles were built on a need for people to understand what is going on in their sectors. They still do that by providing insight on markets and commercial developments which helps businesses plan and make decisions. .

For those who just don’t have the time or inclination to trawl the breathless reaches of social media for this, they also provide a service which is more valuable than ever: something worth paying for.

So while we may have got used to free a largely B2B media in the last few years, I think its days are numbered.