The New Trade Press

Most of my journalism career was spent in the “trade press.” I worked for editors who tried to channel what small groups of people — TV executives, MIS managers, or business marketers — were thinking about. They tried to get me to answer questions before they were asked, sometimes on as much as a three-month lag time.

It amazes me how often it worked.

ClickZ is a different beast entirely. I don’t have to guess what you’re thinking about. I have to respond to it, right now. My editors can’t give me the kind of direction their predecessors did — there’s no time. It’s sink or swim (or, in old-IBM speak, Think or Thwim).

What I didn’t realize, until recently, was how thoroughly the model of trade journalism has changed. Then I talked with Steve Larsen.

Larsen is a senior vice president for NetPerceptions Inc., the Eden Prairie, Minn.-based maker of personalization software. If this were 1989, the creation of such a niche would call for a trade magazine, or perhaps a newsletter.

A publisher would hire a credible journalist to channel the market’s insights onto paper. Then they would buy some mailing lists and send copies of these insights to the marketplace, along with subscription blanks. The fatter and fluffier the book, the less it would cost. (Newsletters cost $495/year and go to a few hundred people, while magazines may be free to the trade and go to 50,000 or more people.)

Instead, Larsen funded a new web site, called Personalization.Com, and hired Chris Locke to run it.

Locke, based in Colorado, ran the old Internet Business Journal for CMP Media (it was sold to Meckler when CMP started Interactive Age, where I worked). He may be best known as editor of the “Cluetrain Manifesto,”, which summarizes how the Internet is changing relationships among buyers and sellers.

What brought Locke on-board was Larsen’s promise of complete editorial freedom. “It represents a different style of corporate communications,” Locke says, which he calls “open source marketing.”

Larsen insists his promise of independence is genuine.

“We deliberately talked to him about not promoting NetPerceptions and our point of view, or any vendors’ point of view,” he says, sounding a lot more like a publisher than a vendor. “Chris was perfect because he has unassailable credibility in the Internet space. He’s known as a visionary, and is trusted by a host of people who know he can’t be bought.”

In addition to the site, Larsen is also doing some other publisher-like things, hosting a “Personalization Summit” on November 15-16 in San Francisco. “We got almost every significant player in the space to sponsor at some level and go to this conference. Everyone who is anyone is going to be there,” he says.

It’s not unusual for a key vendor to provide backing for a new publication — IDG has used this model for years with some success. But it is unusual for a vendor to take all the equity, and time will tell whether Larsen can be true to his word, either when he takes a hit or tastes success.

What is clear is a new model is emerging for trade publishing, and vendors are no longer waiting for publishers to get on board. This Cluetrain has definitely left the station.

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