Thursday, March 11, 2010

The State of Trade Publishing: print can still be profitable, but only expect the leaders to survive

Yesterday's news that Stagnito Media had acquired Nielsen's food group was as good a time as any to look deep into my stack of B2Bs to see how some of the leading magazines were doing. For some of the leaders in their industries, the issues looked healthy, with some seemingly on the way back from the brink. For others, especially those magazines that rank third or fourth (or worse) in their industries, not much have changed since last year's debt declines in ad pages.

This is usually the lesson with media fragmentation: new products generally don't kill off other mediums completely, they simply make it harder for those struggling to continue -- the industry gets a hair cut, if you will.
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☜  Grocery Headquarters: a strong March issue, up from 2009.

Several issues of a leading magazines surprised me. Last year one wondered why they even bothered printing some of the issues. This year hasn't looked much different except that several special issues looked very healthy indeed.

Many people have underestimated the effect the recession has had on B2B publishing. Across the board whole categories of books dropped 15 to 25 percent. The Internet was not responsible for that, it was the recession. Now that some money is slowly being released into the market, the leading trade pubs are experiencing a bit of a recovery. I expect that when first quarter numbers are released there will be a sprinkling of good news mixed in with the bad.

When reading some of the dire headlines proclaiming the end of print newspapers or magazines it is always good to understand that things are magnified in a recession. Trends that effect everyone are often interpreted to mean that the entire industry is without hope, when it sometimes just means that the economy is tanking.

For publishers the question today to consider is this: can my print publication survive in an environment where only the leading publications will get ad schedules, where the rest the budget will get increasingly sliced and diced to sprinkle schedules to web, mobile and other mediums? In a B2B world where only print magazines could promise an advertiser serious penetration of their markets, a specific industry could have a stack of magazines serving it. In the future, a crowded B2B field may look like a city with two competing dailies -- rare.