I normally try to focus on the European electronics media, but the changes across the pond at UBM Electronics are so far-reaching that I thought I should discuss them in Napier News. I’m on my way back from holiday, so haven’t seen what anyone else has said, but have a 13-hour flight to think about the changes.

The main news is that UBM is closing all of its print titles in the electronics sector, which means no more print copies of EDN in the USA. Test & Measurement World online is also closing, although visitors will be routed to the T&M Design Center on EDN.com. Kathy Astromoff is also leaving UBM.

So is this just a reorganisation, or is there something deeper happening? The key paragraph of the announcement from UBM says:

“UBM Tech is moving to a new community-focused strategy that unites our world-class industry events with our digital brands and supports them both with advanced analytics technology to provide members a continuous information and experience based on  shared interests and peer-to-peer learning. In doing so, UBM Tech events will flourish beyond their live exhibition dates through like-minded UBM Tech digital brands that will keep the interaction and discussions alive before, during and after the events themselves.”

UBM has been talking about a “community-focussed” strategy and “peer-to-peer learning” for some time – certainly these were two of their themes at electronica last year. But will this work? The challenges of getting engineers to talk about technical issues on a social network have been discussed many times: and there is a huge difference between getting UGC on Raspberry Pi projects for home and hardware for safety critical systems. Let’s be honest, most of the content that is going to apply to large customers is going to be coming from component manufacturers or distributors, not engineers working at customers. It is going to be really hard to achieve a transfer of even a small amount of content generation from editors to engineers. And surely too much content that is written to promote a particular component manufacturer’s products is going to devalue the site.

However, I believe that UBM will be the first electronics industry publisher to make a decent investment in analytics (read “marketing automation”) tools. If they can really understand their readers, this will be a huge advantage. Just imagine being able to target engineers that have read a number of articles about a specific topic: that’s going to be far more effective than the current “tick any boxes that apply” approach.

UBM has a huge advantage because of the sheer volume of traffic across its electronics sites. And whilst it seems clear that they are going to need more UGC to supplement limited editorial resources, I don’t see any plan to move away from having quality content generated by their team of top-quality journalists. The question isn’t really whether the strategy will succeed or not: it’s how far they can move from the push model of traditional publishing to one that engages readers and takes advantage of their contributions.

Perhaps the biggest questions are going to be about the future of European publications. Its much harder for them to switch from journalism to an interactive community as their audiences are limited by language. The number of engineers that can interact on a German-language site is much lower than those who are fluent in English. But the size of the electronics industry is just the same for both audiences. If it’s going to be hard for UBM to build substantial UGC, the challenge is an order of magnitude higher for most European sites. So don’t expect European sites to follow UBM’s lead: simple maths says that in Europe we’ll see a more conventional strategy over the next few years from most of our publishers.

Update: UBM has also decided to quietly cancel Design East. Whilst I’m sure that UBM Electronics will continue to be a strong publisher and event organiser, it does seem that these changes are as much cutbacks as they are the reflection of a new strategy.

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