Emap Will Raise The Paywall In Next Few Weeks

Emap CEO David Gilbertson

B2B magazine publisher Emap will convert all its websites from free to pay-for, starting in the next few weeks.

CEO David Gilbertson told us in an interview that all websites in the Inform division (19 business magazines including Construction News, Retail Week and Drapers) will stop giving away free news and instead start bundling web access in with subscription packages. There’s no exact timeframe, though the process has been one year in the making. Retail Week will start on November 13.

This is another about-turn for Emap, which has previously done paid content. It was only last November that Gilbertson said he would phase out pay walls, which were worn by two thirds of Inform’s sites. Then in June Emap announced an end to free content and an embrace of paid.

“We’ve had a free-to-air approach with our (websites) in the last 12 months and our view is that B2B success is based on distinctiveness — and a highly targeted audience, they will pay for that content,” Gilbertson told paidContent:UK. “So we’re moving all our sites to a subscription based model.”

The company last year invested in a website and CMS upgrade from Abacus eMedia; that platform’s paywall technology will be activated shortly.

From magazine to multimedia: “We’re shifting the balance of the marketing message from, ‘this is a magazine and it has a website’ to ‘this is an information brand that delivers content across a range of media”, says Gilbertson, adding that alerting services, emails, data services and mobile apps will also come with the paid strategy. He points to Broadcast magazine’s recently launched online data service The Commissioning Index, which tells the TV world which programmes are being bought and sold, as an example of things to come.

There are chinks in the paywall, however: as a marketability exercise, individual stories visited via Google (NSDQ: GOOG) will remain open and free via Google’sFirst Click Free scheme. Gilbertson is keen on a tiered subscription model, just as FT.com offers standard and premium subscriptions.

Customer ROI: Why should anyone pay for something they’ve been getting free for 12 months? Because it will make you money, says Gilbertson. Echoing his speech to the AOP Summit this month, Gilbertson says: “If [readers] can see where they can displace costs or find new revenue, then that becomes high value content compared to information that is just informative.” Gilbertson’s fond of the idea that, if readers spend £5 and make £100 in extra revenue through better decision making, they’ll happily part with more cash.

Ads not enough: Why can’t B2B publishers survive on advertising alone? Their readership isn’t big enough, according to Gilbertson. He says the company’s year-long research proved that each title’s audience was a “small, defined universes” and that couldn’t generate enough advertising volume on its own.

More cuts coming?: The company has laid off at least 75 jobs in the past 12 months; Inform CEO Simon Middleboe has left and won’t be replaced — so can Gilbertson rule out further cuts? Not really: “We have to continue to make sure that our costbase is as efficient as it can be… we are hopeful we can continue with the level (of staff) we have now.” He says the goal is to preserve the quality of the titles has to be preserved, even if it means lower returns.

Apax, Guardian exit strategy: Emap was bought out by private equity group Apax Partners and Guardian Media Group for £1.3 billion in 2008, at the height of the debt-fueled PE boom. Does the recession mean they will have to wait longer to sell Emap and make a return? “It’s hard to know, the original thoughts were pretty flexible, but I guess they were thinking of a five-year window… This is still pretty early in the deal, it’s not inconceivable that if the world returns to some sort of growth in the next year that that timeline could be achieved.”

Though he doesn’t give a figure, Gilbertson says for the half-year period to the end of September, the company’s profit was down two percent year on year, although revenue is “a bit more compressed”.

Disclosure: paidContent:UK’s parent company ContentNext Media is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Guardian News & Media; GNM’s parent company Guardian Media Group is a joint shareholder of Emap.

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