The next wave of B2B media

A conversation with CJ Gustafson of Mostly Metrics

Thanks to everyone who has filled out our first survey, done in collaboration with VideoElephant, delving into the state of publishers’ video businesses. The survey takes a couple minutes to complete. I’m going to take the results and, with help from Next in Media’s Mike Shields, turn it into a research report that we will distribute next month.

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B2B media’s next wave of change

Business-to-business media has long been a media backwater. Dreary trade magazines existed mainly to serve as industry cheerleaders, list makers and front operations for events businesses.

That’s changed somewhat over the last decade as existing titles modernized and new entrants shook up sleepy categories. And now, B2B is one of the healthiest media segments, thanks to readymade diverse business models, and a long-held habit of focusing on small, direct audiences. B2B never had to pivot to email, because B2B always relied on email as a workhorse. Industry Dive proved how a modern approach to B2B can be so lucrative.

I believe the next wave of change in B2B media is playing into the shift from institutions to individuals, particularly those with expert knowledge and experience in their fields. B2B media at its best is narrow and deep. I would always tell reporters that the surface of the sea is crowded because it’s readily accessible, but the real action is down at the bottom of the sea. That requires a radically different approach than the generalist mindset of consumer media.

There’s much of how the newsletter ecosystem is evolving that I find as fleeting as the previous social media craze. One vibrant area is expert-led micro media B2B. These publications are typically led by practitioners who have a deep understanding of their fields and can also reliably produce information that does the essential job of B2b media: helping people do their jobs better and advance their careers.

This isn’t to say there’s no space for modernized versions of trade publications, only that the type of content produced by practitioners is different – and can have far greater impact beyond reporting hires and fires, new product launches and trend pieces. And we’ll see networks emerge, whether that’s Workweek or Turpentine.

Think of the field of product management at tech firms. Someone like former Airbnb product manager Lenny Rachitsky is an essential resource for those in the field. I can’t think of an institutional trade publishing brand that offers the same value. In tech, there’s former Uber engineer Gergely Orosz, who runs The Pragmatic Engineer. He’s amassed 440,000 newsletter subscribers and has a diversified business with subscriptions and a jobs board. In business strategy, Packy McCormick has built a juggernaut with Not Boring. And for corporate finance, CJ Gustafson is creating the playbook for aspiring and existing CFOs with Mostly Metrics.

CJ, who is the CFO for PartsTech, joined me this week for what is likely the final summer edition of The Rebooting Show. CJ is one of the rare people who is both immersed in his field but does not suffer from the tyranny of knowledge. The tyranny of knowledge is when someone with expertise can’t communicate it without lapsing in jargon or assuming a level of understanding that’s not broadly shared. Anyone who has spoken to developers has run across this affliction. CJ uses memes and a conversational style with Mostly Metrics to address what those outside corporate finance would consider dry topics. But most importantly, he completely understands the challenges of being a CFO because he’s a CFO. That’s an advantage over someone who talks to CFOs.

We also discuss why the media business is often a terrible business, and how to think of the financial side of the business. This is something of a test run for a new feature I have planned for The Rebooting in September, where I talk to an expert to get into the nitty gritty of running a sustainable media business, whether that’s managing CAC and LTV in subscriptions, setting up an ad stack, managing and compensating sales teams or operating commerce businesses. I’ve found over the years that these kinds of tactical discussions of the mechanics of operating media businesses are in many ways the most valuable.

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Micropayments still don’t work: Micropayments make a ton of sense on paper, yet in practice have never worked, for a variety of reasons. Blendle is the latest carnage. The model Blendle had was flawed from the start. I recall meeting in New York with Blendle’s very charismatic founder Alexander Klopping, and telling him why I was skeptical about its prospects. I’m always wary of models that worked in small markets like the Netherlands extending to a massive market like the U.S. We see time and again this fail to work in a complex, sprawling market like the U.S. And the U.S. news market is over half the global market, so it’s critical. The biggest challenge is needing to get both consumer adoption – that’s very expensive in a market with tk million people – and also solving the B2B hurdle of getting publisher adoptions. One of my favorite Serbian phrases applies to micropayments: možda sutra, aka maybe tomorrow. (Nieman)

The indirect value of news: The biggest tech platforms are consciously decoupling from the news business. Facebook has no need for news content. It creates more headaches than benefits. But Google is in a thornier position. Publishers have more leverage with Google because Google’s value is the (near) universality of its search engine. Taking news content out of its search index puts a big dent into the entire premise of universal search. The battles over payments for news links in Canada, following Australia’s news bargaining code, will set the stage for far larger negotiations as publishers look to wring payments from tech giants and any large-language model that trains on news content. (Tech Policy)

After the gold rush: There’s upsides and downsides to attaching yourself to an exploding category. Crypto media enjoyed the ride up, and now it’s dealing with the painful downslope. Coindesk, arguably the leader in the field, is cutting nearly half of its editorial team as it adapts to the new reality of crypto markets, On-Chain Summer notwithstanding, and its parent company looks to sell its operations. (The Block)

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