Publishers targeting professional markets have long relied upon high-ticket subscriptions to hard-copy publications to produce good returns for their investors. The times have been a-changin’ and may now be doing so even faster.
The New York Times has a story about Reed Elsevier (they of Lexis/Nexis), and its plans to place various premium medical journals behind the gatewall of a “free” website called OncologySTAT.com. If it sounds like a play for online ads, it is:
Elsevier hopes to sign up 150,000 professional users within the next 12 months and to attract advertising and sponsorships, especially from pharmaceutical companies with cancer drugs to sell. The publisher also hopes to cash in on the siteâ€™s list of registered professionals, which it can sell to advertisers.
The story goes on to confirm the plight of many publishers:
Although Elsevierâ€™s medical and scientific journal business is profitable, revenue is flat and online readership is growing faster than print subscriptions.
If successful, Reed Elsevier reportedly plans to roll this model out to other medical medical specialties. Can a legal application be far behind?
With no offense intended to the ad at the right (it’s now a bit more svelte, by the way), I think the attempt to monetize eyeballs with online ads is a difficult thing to do well (or profitably). Some experts talk in terms of “banner blindness” and others are even figuring out ways to block ads entirely.
Delivering information digitally is not only seductive as a business model, it’s also demonstrably cheaper for the publisher (no costs of printing and mailing, for starters). Many users like it as well, unless they prefer installing new bookshelves to handle the paper-bound influx. Digital also facilitates better search.
Ideas like OncologySTAT.com may be trying to buck the long-term trend that most information will be free, and only insight and interpretation will gain a premium. If you have the leading website in a market or on an issue, maybe the ad thing works. But only for a while, since new sites sprout up all the time.
The recent sales of professional publishing assets (like ALM to Incisive Media) show that some think it is time to take money off the table. It will be interesting to see who got the better part of these deals.