In B2B, Email Content Is Key

As you probably know by now, internet.com bought ClickZ this week. Good thing internet.com CEO Alan Meckler was the first speaker at the ClickZ B2B Email Strategies Conference Wednesday.

For me it was a great opportunity to hear the strategy of someone who “gets it.” This is not schmooze or suck-up – look at the record: Since selling most of Mecklermedia to Penton in 1998 for $250 million, Meckler has taken what Penton considered an “online rump” public and grown it from 50 to 380 employees. (Meckler paid about $37 million for the unit.)

I noticed first that since going “all online,” Meckler has become very comfortable in his own skin. At the ClickZ conference he strode the stage like a standup comic, riffing for an hour off a few notes scribbled on a well-thumbed sheet held in the palm of one hand.

Meckler’s growth strategy is simple: It’s based on the inbox. Of the 7 million page views his site gets each day, just 40,000 go to his home page. This doesn’t bother him. “That’s how people use content.”

Meckler cares less about total page views than the size of email subscription lists. “internet.com is selling for 20 percent of what it’s worth because no one measures email newsletter views. That’s more important than page views, especially in the B2B market.”

Oh, and if you’d like to be funded by Meckler’s venture fund, show him a way to measure the total views of email newsletters, including pass-along readership. “I’d fund that in a minute.”

The marketplace understands the value of email, even if the stock market doesn’t. Banners sell at $40 per thousand views, he noted, while ads in email newsletters sell at $60 per thousand views.

Meckler figures he’ll start getting credit for his strategy only as email fatigue sets in. That’s because the key to a long-term success in email is content, and only three or four publishers will eventually dominate the market. He’s aiming to be one of them.

“The B2B marketplaces that succeed will add content. Content is like the coffee bar at Barnes & Noble. Once you capture the hearts and minds of readers, you can offer them other services.”

Perhaps Meckler’s most controversial take was his view of VerticalNet, the B2B industrial portal: He thinks it’s toast. He said internet.com gets more page views in three hours than VerticalNet gets in a month.

More important, “they’re in ninth-inning industries,” industrial markets where growth is gone. Meckler figures VerticalNet will be squeezed out by B2B marketplaces that add content on the one hand and trade publications with content on the other.

This overshadowed Meckler’s contempt for the views of Mary Meeker, the influential Internet analyst at Morgan Stanley. He recalled a profile The New Yorker wrote on her last year where she basically said the competition for Internet market leadership is over. “I thought, ‘She is so totally wrong,'” he said. “I think we haven’t even started yet. Things are only going to get better.”

Change is constant, Meckler insisted, recalling how Pointcast turned down a $400 million offer from Rupert Murdoch and wound up going under. The next change will be the fall of portals like Yahoo that don’t own their own content and aren’t adaptable for use in wireless devices or broadband markets.

But Meckler’s key point was that email content is king. “We have 215 email newsletters now, and we’ll have 400 by this time next year. internet.com is built completely wrong, according to the pundits.” He smiled when he said that.

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