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Monday, April 21, 2008

Centaur Fires Hacks to Boost Online Edit Strategy

Centaur has decided to use its magazine teams to drive content on its MAD website, making the digital only reporter jobs redundant in the process. This news tells us something about Centtaur and raises a thorny question about online journalism.

For Centaur this is partly about cost cutting. Their business is potentially vulnerable to a downturn, being exposed to the media and marketing sector (one of the first to suffer in a recession) and the finance sector. To compound the worries of the Centaur team, underlying revenue growth (ie stripping out acquisitions) has been extremely modest indeed over the past four years.

There are rumours about that Centaur may look for a way to get off the public market and cost cutting is a normal preparation for maximising value. It all depends of course on what founder Sherren wants to do. He may back an MBO but that depends on how enthusiastic he is about CEO Geoff Wilmott. An MBI with the coessence of the founder is equally likely.

In any event with little prospect of meaningful revenue growth in the months to come, expect further cost reduction announcements dressed up as strategy.

And what of the editorial issue? What most publishers fail to grasp is that online writing is not the same as off line writing. Journalists whose first loyalty is to their printed magazine will often avoid scooping themselves - holding back on stories that they could break online until the mag deadline. Few print journalists pay enough attention to deep linking to third party source material and background. Nor do they properly tag stories so they can be relevantly retrieved on future occasions. It is also usual for the audience footprint of the web site to be different from the magazine. Often the website will have an international audience. It will come from several parts of the industry value chain too. That should mean it should have its own editorial characterisation, style and content map - but left in the hands of the print guys, it will be ersatz the mag stuff put online.

If b2b publishers are ever going to crack the online world they will have to take it seriously - as seriously as they would have taken a weekly magazine launch in the last century. That means proper research, detailed content, design and taxonomy planning, focussed resources and a clear vision of what the product is, what it does, how it says its, who it says it for and why it should matter to its audience. If they don't magazines will continue to die and the web sites won't be up to much, will lose money and eventually lose share of mind to alternative solutions.

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