Ben Heald runs Sift Media, the online b2b publishing business he founded. Ben spoke at the 2011 Specialist Media Conference on how to make money from b2b communities. He's speaking again at the 2012 Conference. Here he shares his priorities for his own business and tips for other specialist publishers.
How did you get into publishing?
First experience was self-publishing some newsletters for a charity decathlon I organised in London in the early 90s. Through this I met my initial business partner and together we launched Sift in 1996. When we launched AccountingWEB in 1997 as I had domain knowledge and some writing skills I became the first editor (whilst also playing a role as Commercial Director of Sift).
What media brands do you publish?
Total of 10 online titles, plus 6 events: main titles AccountingWEB, Going Concern, HR Zone, PublicTechnology & UK Business Forums – main events: Business Cloud Summit, Software Satisfaction Awards & The Pitch.
What’s happening in your market?
Advertisers want ever more sophisticated solutions (and are prepared to pay), websites users (readers) are ever more difficult to engage (because there are so many places online, and they only have only so much time). If you have a well-engaged audience, you’re in a position to drive premium revenues; if you don’t, you’re an also-ran!
What’s new for your products?
We operate a ‘pay gateway’ model, which means access to most of our titles is free, and we welcome everyone in, but once there we like to offer them paid for services. There are a list of things we’re launching this quarter, from an accounts validator product on AccountingWEB to opportunities for companies to subscribe to tender opportunities on PublicTechnology.
Where are your big opportunities?
The biggest opportunity for any online business is actually rather boring – to become an indispensable part of the business or workflow of the sector, industry or niche. So for us this year, it’s about going deeper, with less focus on new launches. However, there are still some gaps in the portfolio that I’m keen to fill with a couple of further acquisitions!
What keeps you awake at night?
Getting the right people in the right structure & motivating them. Even when you’re faced with seemingly intractable people & structure challenges, small improvements quickly have a positive impact.
What big decisions do you have coming up?
Should we start doing something proactively recruitmentwise with our 0.5m business members?
How do you find out about new trends in publishing?
Networking with peers at events, participating in the AOP B2B committee, scanning all the various publishing email bulletins.
What’s your top tip for other niche and independent publishers?
Paywalls are not the right approach for most business publishers. The one thing you guarantee is that the majority of your audience won’t join and will become a target for someone else. Better to take a pay gateway approach.
What’s your favourite magazine (or online publication)?
I’m a keen pianist and recently discovered the pianist community pianostreet.com.
DDI: 0117 915 9603
Ben Heald is speaking at the 2012 Specialist Media Conference. Read more about the conference
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