I’ve been pondering this question since another media site for sustainability pointed its feet at the sky and said “I’m out”.
This one being JustMeans, the site that ran for a couple of years until recently, when economic reality appears to have kicked in.
If you look at the site now you can clearly see the firm is no longer really in meaningful business.
It’s not the first site of its kind to be launched with some degree of fanfare, and fall by the wayside within two years.
Of course, most of these sites and media entities I have seen come and go in the last decade have all suffered from the same problem: A business model that drives cashflow.
Right now it’s still old school products like subscriptions, conferences and reports that keep us in the black, and give me time to write this blog, plus a bit of ancillary revenue like our live debates, editorial sponsorship and so forth.
The future is online, as every social media pundit pretending to be worth their salt will tell you.
But what does that mean? So far, in classic sustainability sense, ie economic, no-one has worked out how to do it. Lots of people try, but the cashflow escapes them, even if they then delve into face-to-face products, like events, because usually they don’t know that business well enough to make it work.
The attitude often seems to be: “build it and they will come”, but they, particularly in this field, often don’t have much money, and if you don’t have a good product to sell them you’ve really got a problem.
Sustainability, if you can call it a business sector (arguably more a trade!) is not alone of course. All sorts of B2B and B2C websites have come and gone in the last 15 years.
Who might deliver online only and win/survive then?
These guys, the 2 degrees network, seem to think they have a chance.
Their PR firm just called me to ask us to write about them, but lacked any kind of compelling hook, or story to do so.
I know they have a reasonable database already (12,000) but what will make them sustainable?
Recurring subscriptions and corporate deals to drive online networking seems to be the business model.
The plan seems to be to create a kind of LinkedIn for sustainability, with active moderation and ‘working groups’.
These seem to be webinars and hosting corporate content and reports etc, in PDF format.
Of any of the new media businesses I have seen come and go in the space since 2001 (anyone remember Business Ethics magazine, or Tomorrow magazine? Halcyon days..) 2 degrees network may have the best chance of any of them.
The question will be: What do you need to do online that continues to drive in corporate individual cash and business licenses/deals in a sustainable way?
Webinars are known to bore people, and as a stand-alone product don’t really work financially unless sponsored. Alone, they are clearly not enough to sustain a business. Many have tried.
I suppose we’ll find out in the next couple of years. LinkedIn is apparently set soon for an IPO valued at $3.3 billion. But then they have 100 million members.
2 degrees seem to have a huge team, presumably all being paid wages, so cashflow must be a pressing concern.
I hear Tesco has asked suppliers to use it, and no doubt pay to do so. I imagine other large corporates are being given the same pitch.
If it works, it could be very interesting. But busy executives need a reason to engage online, even in a private forum.
The question is, can a website log-in compete with a conference call or phyical meeting? I have my doubts at the moment.
Good luck to them if they can make it work. Not sure I would put my money into such a firm right now, but we’ll see what happens.