Veteran media pro and Mequoda Master discusses niche strategy, data-driven publishing, and quality metrics as B the Change Media gains steam
We can’t think of a better way to launch an upcoming series of interviews with Mequoda clients who are making waves in digital publishing than to post this recent email exchange with Bryan Welch, a paragon of niche strategy and an official Mequoda Master we’ve admired for a long time.
Welch founded founded Ogden Publications in 1996. Based in Topeka, Kans., its key brands include Mother Earth News, Natural Home, Utne Reader, The Herb Companion, and Grit. Ogden Publications also serves niche markets with magazines and books targeting rural lifestyle, farm memorabilia, and classic motorcycle communities. Welch served as publisher and editorial director of Ogden’s many publications before stepping down in 2015 to lead B the Change Media, a multiplatform media company focused on business as a force for good in the world.
The newly launched BtheChange.com has a beautiful, intuitive portal. There’s exceptional content, strong products, nice alignment with its quarterly print magazine, and an elegantly designed interface. We asked Welch about his latest success and the state of the industry, and we’re happy to share his responses with you.
Mequoda: You’ve been a part of or been in the pilot’s seat for your fair share of print and digital launches at this point. How has the process, lead-up, and initial response for B Magazine and BtheChange.com compared and contrasted to your past experiences?
Bryan Welch: B the Change Media is certainly the most ambitious launch I’ve ever been involved with. The energy surrounding the launch was powerful and inspiring, but our goals are also loftier. We are setting out to compete, materially, with major business magazines and to change the world in a significant way. We have raised a significant amount of money ($2 million to date) and engaged with a large, dynamic community. As a result, we must grow faster than any of my previous launches and achieve positive cash flows within a few years. That means we’ll be facing major challenges and pivotal decisions continuously for a long time. We must be prepared to take risks and then change direction nimbly when the data don’t support the model. So it’s the most dynamic, exciting, and in some ways intimidating of the launches I’ve undertaken.
Mequoda: Is there such a thing as “micro-niche” or “thin-slice niche” at this point for publishing companies? It seems like B Magazine and BtheChange.com take niche strategy to a whole new level with their target audience, but your market research must have convinced you that this project has great potential to connect with many business leaders looking to do good. What went into your decision to pursue this particular path?
Bryan Welch: Well, I wouldn’t agree that this launch takes the “micro-niche” to a new level. After all, I previously founded Farm Collector, Community Chickens, and Motorcycle Classics, all of which were arguably much smaller niches. In fact, I find one of the most challenging aspects of the B the Change launch the broad canvas we have to work with: millions of businesses, billions of employees, and consumers, global potential. And because our category hasn’t previously been defined, we are building our narrative frame, our prospective audience and our voice from scratch.
From my perspective, the key variable in any media enterprise is the degree of passionate interest among the constituency. No niche is too small if the audience and sponsors are passionate (see Farm Collector). And no audience is large enough to overcome a general lack of interest. We’ve concluded that there is a large, passionate audience interested in business as a force for good, and that the audience is growing.
Mequoda: What excites you most about the magazine and publishing industries right now?
Bryan Welch: Two wonderful innovations have revolutionized the media business during the past 20 years. One is our ability to encounter like-minded people around the world, basically for free, through the internet. If you’re a branded-media operator who suffered through the era of direct-mail promotion, newsstand erosion, and the manic-depressive advertising industry, you should have an appreciation for our new ability to touch our audience directly through the digital media.
The second innovation that I find most exciting is our access to immediate audience data, tracking not only how many people are consuming our content, but especially which content best engages them. Engagement data can direct us to the people most passionate about our subject and teach us which stories they want us to tell. What could be more valuable, or more exciting?
Mequoda: Multi-part question here: Which metrics are you and your team focusing on with B the Change Media? Which metrics are you guys excelling in? Or, if you’d rather not answer that specifically, where do you see the industry headed in terms of measurement and revenue models? Which metrics are on their way in, and which are on their way out in your experience and opinion? Which revenue models are the most sustainable?
Bryan Welch: I believe the most valuable metrics will always be engagement metrics – time on page; depth of scroll; click-throughs; transactions; time on site, etc. I’m agnostic on the question of revenue models. Some categories yield tremendous sponsorship opportunities when you have endemic sponsors with good customer engagement. Others are primarily audience-driven. I don’t know which we will be, although I’ve drafted plans that show the majority of our revenue coming through sponsorship. Time will tell.
Mequoda: Where would you say you’re strongest? Any self-evaluated weaknesses you’re working on?
Bryan Welch: We’re very good at execution. We understand the plumbing. We’re facing the challenges of inventing a content base and a voice in a new category, but that’s where the largest challenges lie, I think.
Mequoda: Events would seem primed to play a big part in B the Change Media’s success, and in fact, your inaugural Best for the World Gathering has a sharp microsite up. What are your hopes for the event itself, and for what it can add to your reach, impact, and bottom line?
Bryan Welch: I can’t imagine a media brand that has the potential of gathering its audience and sponsors at live events missing that opportunity. What could be more valuable? We believe our first event will engage dozens of sponsors, perhaps 2,000 visitors and break even at its first occurrence. It’s a tremendous driver of value.
Big thanks to Bryan for agreeing to this interview as B the Change Media’s first event rapidly approached. Did anything jump out at you in his responses? Let us know in the comments!
Visit BtheChange.com to get a look at the site’s launch for yourself.