April 18, 2013

5 Min Read
The Return of the Prodigal Saunders

Hey, how are you? So nice to see you again! It's certainly been awhile -- six years, in fact -- since I left Light Reading after selling it to its current owners, UBM. Since then I've been on a bit of a B2B publishing adventure. It started with me taking six months off to contemplate my navel and try to work out exactly what it was that made Light Reading such a darn tootin' success. It certainly wasn't our sense of sartorial elegance or, for that matter, our sense of timing (Light Reading was founded just after the dotcom implosion of the late 90s and just before the great telecom collapse of 2000 -- in the middle of a giant economic sh*t sandwich, basically).

In spite of this, the site generated an average of 8 million monthly page views and 1 million monthly unique visitors within six months of launching, became the first true B2B technology community, and experienced seven straight years of highly profitable growth before I decamped with my big pot o' money in '07.

What I worked out, eventually, was that the secret to Light Reading's success wasn't a secret at all. It was just (still is) really good content -- lots and lots of it.

And that gave me the germ of a cunning plan. Why not see if it was possible to replicate the success of Light Reading in other industries outside of telecom, all over the world?

Long story short: David Levin, the CEO of UBM, thought it was a cunning plan, too -- and he gave me the backing to start a new division of UBM, called UBM DeusM (an abbreviation of Deus Ex Machina, a term derived from classical drama that describes the moment that a god is introduced into a play to resolve the entanglements of the plot).

So did it work? Yes it did -- quite spectacularly. In the two-and-a-half years since we launched DeusM we've built more than 40 specialist online communities in industries as varied as pharmaceutical, analytics, oncology nursing, security, and digital signage for companies as diverse as IBM, Dell, DuPont, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, and AT&T.

Scaling the business this quickly required development of a replicable system of best-practices (we call it CiaB, for "Community in a Box"). But it also meant changing with the times. Back when we launched Light Reading, providing breaking news analysis in real-time (and with a sense of humor) was the key to our popularity and success.

That doesn't fly now. Over the past 10 years, the huge increase in the quantity of information available over the Internet has been matched by a proportionate decrease in the quality of that information. This trend, when combined with the widespread use of social media, has prompted a big change in the way business professionals look for and ingest the information they need to do their jobs. Rather than solely going to trade news sites for their intelligence, they increasingly want to exchange knowledge directly with colleagues, peers, and even competitors, over the Web.

That is what the Community in a Box publishing system delivers: a combination of the best B2B journalism, with a system that guarantees high levels of conversation among highly qualified business audiences.

So now I'm back working with Light Reading, and job one for me is to add the CiaB magic to the existing community. That's why in June we will be giving Light Reading its most dramatic overhaul in the past 10 years, adding multimedia content, community moderators, and a completely revised design (check out a sneaky peek here). All of this is being done with the goal of giving you, the Light Reading user, a voice in your own community, as well as ensuring that Light Reading continues in its role as the world's most authoritative, highly engaged, and highly qualified telecom site.

It's been a long circuitous journey back to Light Reading, which I still consider my finest hour in publishing. A lot has changed since I have been away (not all of it good... horrible site design, guys -- what's up with that?).

But some things haven't changed, like the incredible quality of work being put out by the Light Reading editors and Heavy Reading analysts. Another is the fierce loyalty of the Light Reader: Light Reading has the best audience engagement metrics (things like "time on site" and "page views per visit") of any UBM publication. I'm excited to see what happens when we apply our best-practices to this already highly engaged site.

In addition to my work with Light Reading I'll still be continuing as Managing Director of DeusM with the goal of bringing CiaB to more and more industries and geos around the world. This adventure has just begun: In terms of its global potential we're not just looking to boil the ocean, we want to melt the land mass as well.

But the genesis of the DeusM best-practices was here -- with Light Reading's fiercely independent approach to editorial. And now Light Reading becomes a part of the journey again. There's a nice synergy there, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Stephen Saunders, Founder, Light Reading; Managing Director, UBM DeusM
[email protected]

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