Bizo, Evolve, Thrillist: Why Publishing Businesses Are Not Dead

LinkedIn recently acquired Bizo, and I have to say it was a great move for everyone involved.  It’s a marriage of two really strong companies who were destined to work together from day one.   Bizo has done a great job of building a B2B data business and properly monetizing it in a way that LinkedIn sees as valuable.  My guess is LinkedIn will steal some of the embedded knowledge from the Bizo team for LinkedIn’s significantly larger user base, and create new revenue streams. 

Of course with every strong acquisition, there are questions.  In the B2B space, Bizo was clearly a leader in gathering data and applying it to marketing efforts, but it had never really effectively cracked the programmatic side of B2B, relying heavily on what I would consider third-party data. Third-party data is dangerous because everyone has it and its in danger of becoming obsolete in the next few years.  What if Bizo was able to secure most of the data it used as first-party data and applied it in a programmatic model?  That would create an extremely defensible, cross-device model for success. 

There are some companies finding interesting ways to aggregate data as first-party in different ways and apply it to both B2B as well as B2C marketing.  In the B2B space you have companies like Multiview who aggregate associations’ websites, providing management services for them, while agreeing to help them monetize their sites using audience-based targeting.  In that instance you can consider that data as first-party data, which creates a competitive advantage and an opportunity to differentiate from other B2B platforms because your data is exclusive. 

On the B2C side, you have a company like Evolve Media, with its network of owned and operated sites that has quietly become something of a juggernaut in the entertainment category, especially for marketers looking to reach a specific segment of the online audience (and a passionate one at that).  Since Evolve either owns or operates most of the sites under its purview, the company is able to retain its data as first-party, keep it exclusive, and offer a distinctly unique offering to its advertising customers.

In both examples, companies can also explore new and different ways of monetizing their user data that does not involve ad exchanges, DSPs and other “remnant” style methods.  In a world where data is king and content is queen, these two models have strong value.

Of course building a publishing 3.0-type business is not easy.  It’s rife with pitfalls and risks.  Look at the moves Thrillist made over the last five years. Doing fine as an email-content-publishing platform, it risked a lot to buy a clothing site. That risk paid off.  The model is similar to that of Multiview and Evolve: Own your own destiny rather than renting it out based on third-party good will.  The risks Thrillist took are different, for certain, but rooted in the strategy of maintaining a competitive difference through an exclusive offering.  On one side, it’s about data.  On the other side, it’s about a lifestyle. 

I have to imagine that a company like LinkedIn, which certainly has smarter people than me within its hallowed halls, recognizes the value of its acquisition and sees opportunity in the ideas I mention above, and likely far more.  The name of the game in publishing is less about pure content and more about providing an exclusive service to your customers and maintaining a competitive advantage. 

Of course, to do so you need to clearly understand who your customers are.  Maybe your customers are the users who read your content or buy your products?  Maybe your customers are the marketers who pay for the advertising on your site?  Maybe it’s a combination of both? 

To create a publishing model in this age of cross-device, multiplatform, fragmented attention world, you have to own something that’s exclusive to keep your competitors at bay, and deliver it where your audience is.  It’s a pricey proposition to pull off. Not everyone has the money to buy a retailer, or own all their own content sites, or even craft services and manage thousands of individual sites.  However, if you have the deep pockets and the right vision, you can pull it off.

Who said publishing is dead?

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2 comments about "Bizo, Evolve, Thrillist: Why Publishing Businesses Are Not Dead".
  1. Andy Kowl from ePublishing , August 6, 2014 at 12:20 p.m.
    Oy, "Publishing 3.0." Must we? BTW, Bizo collects first-party data from thousands of great sources -- i.e. B2B publishers -- in addition to the 3rd-party data. Their ad retargeting is far more nuanced than the rest of the cloud big-data-boys, other than LinkedIn, of course. As for programmatic being some valiant goal, it ends up being a race-to-the-bottom for ad rates. Must we really find a way to let advertisers pay even less than the pennies and low-single-digit dollars per thousand they are paying now? I for one sure hope they Bizo avoids becoming another RTB bottom-feeder. This is "Media Post," so hopefully we are all rooting for media to actually get paid for their work.
  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , August 6, 2014 at 3:08 p.m.
    "...than I (am smart - understood)" instead of "than me am smart". Subjective case. You are smarter than I am. You are, Corey.