Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

What’s EE Times’ Future Now? (And What’s Ours?)

Posted on | September 6, 2013 | 14 Comments

By now, you’ve probably heard: Two cornerstone editors are leaving EE Times. Peter Clarke (London) and Dylan McGrath (San Francisco) are headed off to different pastures to ply their trade, McGrath to IHS and Peter to parts unknown.

Those two guys represent half the core staff of EE Times, with Junko Yoshida and Rick Merritt remaining on board (at least for now). Since January, Times has also has lost Sylvie Barak, George Leopold, Alex Wolfe and Nic Mokhoff. I don’t count myself because I was running EBN when I decided to leave. IMG_7865

These moves raise two important questions:

  • Does it matter?
  • What’s the future of EE Times?

An editor’s relevancy

The first question is probably more directly phrased “Do editors matter any more?” From the standpoint of UBM and CEO Paul Miller, I think the answer is “sure but in a different way.” Editors-as-gatekeepers and interpreters of marketing fodder? No. Editors as community leaders? Absolutely.

UBM gets a lot of grief for what’s gone down in the last decade, especially in electronics. There,  we began overhauling how we do business 13 years ago, showered as we were in the radioactive rain of dot-com bomb.

The company’s hand was forced by industry spending trends (own-website investment at first and later by starvation-ration marketing budgets). Paul & Co. reacted in ways that at first cemented the company’s go-to spot for electronics readers and marketers. Everyone else at first poo-poohed the digital transformation; UBM got out front.

Today, the state of affairs is even tougher, and the body language out of UBM’s London HQ is that media is radioactive. That’s business: If it ain’t growing, it’s time to consider Plan B.

Today, electronics companies are picking up the editorial diaspora and slotting them into content-creation and content-marketing roles with success. So companies control more of the story-telling and messaging. These companies are getting a completely new marketing capability in house, and it’s just beginning to take root.

But there’s a sense of unhappiness in our ranks. We can crank out that content all day long, but if there’s no one to validate it or call B.S., then we become an industry of echo chambers.

That serves no one. We’re missing a vital voice in the conversation.

What’s the future of EE Times?

And that’s why publications like EE Times matter. Still. But the shift this year of nearly all UBM publications to the Deus M platform and model fundamentally changes the relationship with the reader. The platform itself is great for sponsors (at the moment): It’s a very effective way to create content, drive conversation and deliver metrics and leads to advertisers. For editors, it’s as healthy as a pit bull is around a toddler.

Sure, you can recruit new editors (well maybe not in electronics), but the community approach will last only as long as advertisers don’t get distracted by some new shiny digital marketing object. And there will be a shiny new object, I guarantee you.

In the community model, an editor shepherds a flock of contributors, each telling a piece of the story. But most of those contributors are paid to do something else. Just a small fraction of editors today put food on their table trying to understand how technology and the industry is changing and then communicating that the engineering audience in the old, quaint “objective” observer model.

A number of smaller publications are emerging to fill the vacuum but they don’t yet have the audience, the momentum or, more worryingly, the brand and trust in engineers’ eyes.

What matters anymore?

Meanwhile, publications likes Times and EDN (the latter really strong since its excellent redesign) still have the biggest website numbers in the business.

But for how long? For how long with guys like Clarke and McGrath leaving? For how long with a content mix that leans on endless “top 10 whatever” stories and page-view pimping slideshows? Miller should sell the electronics group so it can have focus outside a huge organization like UBM–we had this conversation as I was leaving. It would be quite profitable. But he’s not in a position to do that right now.

That’s life but it’s too bad, because as currently constituted, EE Times is telling us less and less about what’s going on in the industry, what connected dots are going to influence how we design circuits, boards and embedded systems next year. (Junko and Rick can only break so much news every day before they keel over from exhaustion).

The community model–the conversation model–is, right now, the brand’s IV drip, a way to keep its heart beating within a bony chest. But the model only really encourages conversation among people on the site (it’s supposed to). But it doesn’t really encourage conversation within the industry, where it matters. We don’t gather around the office coffee station any more and marvel at what EE Times reported.

There’s no blame to assign; we’re all involved here. It just is. It’s the evolution of a business. The editorial diaspora is already revolutionizing electronics marketing and communications, but that’s just one answer to our challenges.

We’re realizing we need back that town square we just bulldozed and we need vibrant publications to tell an industry story consistently, to nurture debates and arbitrate them; to be an extra set of eyes and ears for the engineer; and, yes, to call B.S. on our own carefully crafted product and technology stories–or to validate them.

I’m not just talking to myself. Gary Smith is writing about it as is Dan Nenni at SemiWiki. And of course Lou Covey is always hovering and hectoring and rightly so. Gary was so concerned about the state of affairs he called and said we needed to foment a revolution and lunch in the Valley was a good place to start. He and Lori-Kate and I ate well, laughed a lot and came away with no brilliant ideas.

What are yours?

 

 

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Related posts:

  1. What’s up with EE Times and EDN?
  2. Engineer-bloggers and the future of the electronics conversation
  3. EDN closes the audience gap with EE Times
  4. A peek at the new EE Times
  5. Back at EE Times–What gives?

Comments

14 Responses to “What’s EE Times’ Future Now? (And What’s Ours?)”

  1. Bob Beachler
    September 6th, 2013 @ 2:29 pm

    I personally find a poor signal:noise ratio with online communities. Never read comments (like this one!), because you never know the commentator’s background or motivation.

    I suppose high-velocity/low-drag/strong editorial vertical ePubs like FPGA/EE Journal, Ars Technica, Anandtech, etc… will be one side of the spectrum, and the other would be a Gizmodo/Engadget linkbait/blurb-regurgitation. But I don’t any way a high-touch, bloated vertical website can make any money with their current overhead.

    In terms of Trend Reporting – perhaps the market research orgs can take up more of that, but they’d need the right people, not just number-gatherers (Gary Smith obvs excluded).

  2. Don Scansen
    September 6th, 2013 @ 3:24 pm

    Brian,
    Thanks for this history of the meltdown of editorial and the problems it is creating. You nailed it.

    These problems are true of all media, but I believe the electronics people like yourself stayed objective and relevant a lot longer than most outlets who call themselves “journalists.”

    Whether it is budget, laziness or incompetence, media is so advertiser-manipulated that there is no value left for the reader (or viewer). I just read a piece referring to a “press-release drive by.” It’s hard to find anything else to read these days.

    The path to a living in the business is unclear especially for newcomers. There seems to room for only a select few who can make a decent living in the business. I won’t even comment on trying to maintain ethics along the way.

    I wish I was closer so I could buy you a beer and discuss it more. Next time I head west perhaps.

  3. LOUIS COVEY
    September 6th, 2013 @ 3:49 pm

    Brian, as you’ve come to realize, we ain’t in Kansas anymore. Hell, we can’t even see Oz from here. And that’s because we are still caught in the whirlwind.
    Earlier in the summer something hit me right between the eyes. Marshal McLuhan’s famed concept, “The medium is the message,” is not relevant in the 21st century. McLuhan defined the working philosophy that the audience had to adapt to the media, and all advertisiers had to do is pound messages into the customers’ skulls because it would eventually stick. But that was during a time when media was owned by a select group of corporations. In his time, there were three networks and 14 channels of TV. Today, the audience can program their own networks without advertising (Roku, anyone?) make their own films and distribute them, write their own books and publish them. Their has never been a greater opportunity for the market to completely ignore corporate messaging altogether. Corporate media NOW has to adapt to the audience and not in one mass market but dozens, hundreds and thousands of audiences. That means they have to be adaptable.
    Corporate marketing is anything BUT adaptable right now because they are still working in the 20ths century paradigm McLuhan described. They ren’t going to let it go because the CEOs still believe that the paradigm is in place with only the tools changing. It ain’t so.
    I’m running a series of roundtables for CEOs through the fall. Anyone who wants to sign up for them is welcome to, but only CEOs and EVPs can participate in the discussion. They can signup here. http://footwashermedia.com/Footwasher_Media/Webinar_signup.html

  4. Brian
    September 6th, 2013 @ 4:55 pm

    @ Bob, you last point is an intriguing one and it’s probably the reason IHS wanted McGrath (and they already have Rayner).
    I think we’ve gotten to the point in the Bridge on the River Kwai where Alex Guinness realizes what he’s done. We’ve substituted technology (RSS) for human filters. We get many more choices and voices but we have to filter them. I don’t care how much of the day you can access information from all your devices, you still need to get it from sources that are trusted and relevant to what you do.
    I go through my feeds every day and there’s tons of repetition and irrelevance. Peter and Junko and Rick and David Manners give me stuff about the industry that no one else has.
    The rest of us are adding voices as well but we’re all axe-grinding in one way shape or form.
    @ Don, you mention press releases. I think we’re at a point where a lot of companies are debating their value today. They’re a checkbox item for marketing, but communications looks at the metrics and knows that most are a waste of time. So maybe we’ll blog more announcements, which is at least a better way of communicating, but it’ll be a process.
    @ lou, I’m not sure I completely agree with you (at least today!) on your corporate marketing take. You do a Google trends search on FinFETs or 3D ICs (one of the few terms from our industry that shows up in the results) and there’s a spike this spring. More people are looking into it, talking about. Given the media meltdown, you have to give corporate marketers some credit for that conversation, for sparking the searches. TSMC, GloFo, Cadence, Synopsys, Mentor, ARM, Samsung, you name ‘em, they’re producing content around that theme.

  5. Paul Miller
    September 6th, 2013 @ 8:31 pm

    I actually don’t think that this is about editors or the past or investigative journalism Vs community, its about change and that is tough on any industry.

    What it’s really about in my humble opinion is the community that we serve and they are responding really well to the engaging conversations.

    We do need and we will hire news reporters, complemented by industry analysts complemented by real engineers/practitioners complemented by an army of bloggers and contributors….it actually works and content is back but back in a different way…the brand is key, the engagement is key, the history is, well, history!

  6. Brian
    September 6th, 2013 @ 8:54 pm

    @Paul, you said on Facebook the magic word: Analytics. Analytics is the new “I got my story on page 1 of EE Times.”
    You can monetize that stuff because I’ll tell you from personal experience that your sponsors are just now starting to come to grips with it. And once they get the idea and start to try to do it themselves, they quickly learn it’s a quagmire and they need help.

  7. Loring Wirbel
    September 7th, 2013 @ 7:17 am

    What is apparent at Light Reading and many of the DeusM community sites is that when a conversation is forced, over-moderated, and populated by paid commenters, it has an artificial quality to it that is hard to deny. True conversations arise spontaneously.

    The design engineering community, particularly in North America and Europe, has an additional unique problem – a good deal of innovation and wonder has been sucked out of engineering as a profession. You end up with a world where everyone has moved on to Texas Hold-‘Em, while those still playing euchre have little to discuss as a community other than “Remember the good old days?”

  8. Patrick Mannion
    September 7th, 2013 @ 5:36 pm

    Boy, if I had penny for every time I heard ‘editorial meltdown’ in the context of EETimes over the past 13 years…

    What’s often overlooked is that EETimes, EDN, Embedded etc.. have been doing community for years (getting contributors, finding great columnists, online feedback etc.. etc.). Heck, even Don Scansen above has been a long-time contributor. It’s not new, we’re just leveraging better tools, reach and social technologies to take it to the next level. We amp’d it up in 2010 with EETimes relaunch, then in 2012 with EDN’s even deeper dive into the idea of giving the community a voice. Now the practices being incorporated are being fine tuned, and in some cases even thrown away and new ones added.

    About comments: Comments in a community often become even more important and interesting than the original posting/article (heck, look at this thread — sorry Brian:)) We’ve had industry-changing conversations aplenty in the first few weeks alone (ARM vs Intel and the ensuing modification of the Antutu benchmark comes to mind: all community driven, from the original blog to the conversation that followed.)

    For years outlets have patrolled the fringes of the EE fishbowl looking in and making astute observations based on conversations with amphibious inhabitants with the time and motivation to come to the surface to talk.

    Being a community means being IN the fishbowl, talking with everyone and enticing everyone with a stake in the industry to engage, from EEs to marketing types, experienced technicians to CEOs of startups with a great opinion and new perspective that might otherwise have gotten overlooked.

    It’s a shift in thinking and it requires quite a bit of guts to get out there and be exposed. It’s always been hard to cover the waterfront editorially, even when there were 50 editors worldwide. But if someone wants to have their point of view or technology validated, write it up and put it out there and let the community decide whether it’s valid or not. A community’s very self filtering, BS wise. Maybe we’ll have a weekly “Show and Tell.”

    I could write a novel on the past three months alone, and we’re only scratching the surface of how this is evolving and where it will take us. Change is hard, but only if you like sitting still.

  9. Kathy Astromoff
    September 11th, 2013 @ 10:58 am

    “Miller should sell the electronics group so it can have focus outside a huge organization like UBM–we had this conversation as I was leaving. It would be quite profitable.”

    Sell to whom? Who wants to join the game of “catch a falling knife” that Paul, David Blaza, I and the good folks still at UBM have been playing with these brands for years? Any takers?

    Once the knife has hit the ground, selling becomes a viable conversation. For now, still too many hands getting sliced.

  10. Toby
    September 11th, 2013 @ 12:28 pm

    @Patrick, you might be right about communities sorting through the BS.
    The problem with these DeusM things is that they aren’t real communities. They get launched with a load of PR, filled with paid commenters (if you want real BS try reading some of the ‘moderators’) and when sponsors start to see through it, they get closed after 6 months. Anyone remember Scope Junction?
    Hopefully the smart people around EE Times will make it last it a bit longer.

  11. Brian
    September 11th, 2013 @ 5:09 pm

    Kathy, thanks for the comment. Love the metaphor, BTW. I think the electronics industry’s overall business model has evolved to the point where an industry organization such as SIA or GSA or an alliance of the two could purchase and support these legendary industry brands. Think IEEE and Spectrum. While it wouldn’t be a “truly” independent publishing entity, I think you could do something special if the right publishing people and industry advisory board were crafted. It would be a different beast but not completely unfamiliar. I think you could make it work with the right people.
    That’s my answer. No independent investor(s) are going to buy the ELG for the “falling knife” challenge.

  12. Todd Bria
    September 11th, 2013 @ 5:59 pm

    Good piece Brian. IMHO the engineering community still needs and wants the kind of content Peter Clarke, Dylan, Junko and Rick Merritt produce. I was working for UBM when we had to stop EBN in print, not because the content wasn’t needed by the readers but the advertisers would no longer support it at a profitable level. Ten years later this has happened across the entire electronics industry media. Forbes, Bloomberg Business Week and WSJ have all found ways to monetize this kind of content in new ways. I just wonder if the electronics industry is going to be willing to support this kind of content once they have built their own content departments. I know Paul and Junko can speak to this, the readers see value but so far they have not been willing to pay to get this level of content. Given the volume of content available online, I can’t imagine they will be willing to pay.

  13. Brian
    September 12th, 2013 @ 8:35 am

    Todd, thanks for the comment. Sponsors will go where the audience is (and increasingly will support sites that are driving traffic to their sites). Right now, the audience is all over the place and that’s a challenge. I think we need to open the war on the next front which is the reader. Free ride’s over. Time to pony up. I know it seems unimaginable. But consider that our audience doesn’t drive junkers to work and that just a few years ago you’d never consider paying to watch movies on your iPad (Netflix) or pay to have an infinite library of music always at your fingertips (Spotify).
    Do we have enough value and volume in electronics to work that model? Time will tell.

  14. Gary Smith
    September 15th, 2013 @ 6:47 pm

    Back in the day ;-> Actually in the early 1980s I was at Telmos and Jim Riley gave me a call. He was heading up the Semiconductor group at Dataquest at the time and a good friend. He said he was sending over some people who were trying to put together an Design Magazine and he asked me to buy an ad to help them get started, which I did. That’s how things worked back then.

    Maybe it’s not that hard. Maybe what we need is a combination of old Media and New Media to get us back to where we were. Let’s face it, it’s much cheaper to put together a start-up than it was in the 1980s. Maybe it’s because we’re not in our 20s and 30s like we were back them. Maybe we can throw away what wasn’t working with the new media and add only what worked in old media. Maybe it was the bureaucrats and the politicians that screwed it up.

    How about some brave soul going out and starting an electronics magazine? Maybe he could get some Angel to put in a few bucks to keep his/her family fed for a year or two. Then we set up a time and venue, each week where we all get together. Maybe at a Starbucks and the PR guys pitch the editors and the analyst hang out so they can give feedback. And Peter, and other non-locals, could skype in to someone’s PC and we spend a few hours doing what we did around the coffee pot plus more. I’d sure put that on my calendar. Then the next week the Brave Soul comes back with a few hundred copies of the magazine he/she had printed at FedEX and sells them for a few bucks to whoever shows up that week. I don’t need daily information but I do need weekly information. That would be a change from the daily paper or monthly magazine. Of course Peter could do the same thing if he set up a weekly venue as could someone in Shanghai or Paris etc. The Magazine could be sent out electronically for those that don’t prefer paper + face to face contact.

    How do you think that would work ?

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