Tim Buckley Owen B2B: glass half empty or half full?
Jinfo Blog

Wednesday, 16th November 2011

By Tim Buckley Owen


In a rerun of the situation a year ago, information industry analysts on each side of the Atlantic have recently published their own assessments of the health of the business-to-business information market. The differences in their prognoses could scarcely be more stark.

After declining revenues in 2009, the United Kingdom B2B market did begin to stabilise in 2010, although there was still a marginal decline of 0.5% in market size, says a report from the British based IRN Research (£350). Some limited growth can be expected across all market sectors in 2012 for the first time since 2008, it continues – but, it warns, given the recent downgrading of UK economic and advertising expenditure forecasts, this growth could be “quickly curtailed”.

The United States economy may be facing problems scarcely less severe than those of the UK, but in contrast to IRN’s tone, the US-based Outsell’s market forecast and trends report for B2B trade publishing and company information ($1,295) sounds a distinctly upbeat note. It foresees the segment more than doubling its growth between 2011 and 2014 compared to 2009, growing 3.4% in 2011.

Unlike IRN, Outsell doesn’t release any outline findings – so it’s obviously difficult to tell whether these two reports really are comparing like with like. However the degree of consensus between them this time last year, when Outsell’s findings were made available to LiveWire, does indicate that they’re covering broadly the same territory – so why the stark difference in tone?

Perhaps there are some clues to be gained, despite the paucity of information. Outsell speaks of the “disruptive forces” that up and coming players embody, and notes that some more established companies are also worth watching because of how they are diversifying or adapting to the market; whereas IRN focuses on the challenges that those newcomers pose to traditional directory and trade journal publishers.

Poster children for the problems that IRN chronicles would likely include Reed Business Information and Yell. Trade journal specialist RBI faced a prolonged period of title disposals a couple of years back (LiveWire coverage here) and was still confronting big challenges by early this year (more LiveWire coverage), while directory services provider Yell has faced chronic financial problems (LiveWire mentions from last April, May and July) and is just now taking steps to renegotiate the terms of the loans it has needed to finance expansion.

So – glass half empty or half full? Whichever prognosis you take, the issue for content procurement professionals seems to be whether to stand by tried and trusted suppliers as they work hard to reinvent themselves, or take a chance on up and coming newcomers and hope that the disruption they cause turns out to be the creative kind.

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