Monday, April 25, 2011

Morning Brief: Guardian asks about the future of B2B publishing (but provides no answer); Condé Nast app slowdown due as much to failed strategy as tiny market

It may be only April but the media world already looks to be in a summer funk. News is light, magazines are thin, and we are not even near those August vacations. Last week I picked up a couple of B2Bs that contained so few ad pages that according to my figures were down 80 percent in ad pages when compared to two years ago.

Speaking of B2B: The Guardian this morning asks Have trade magazines got a shelf life?

Any headline that ends in a question mark is a sure sign that the author has failed to come up with an answer themselves and is forced to conclude that they don't know. But the article is worth a look, nonetheless, if only to get a little perspective on the health of the B2B media market from across the pond. Things are not going so well over there either, if the article is any indication.

Unfortunately, other than stating that the total number of B2B titles in the UK has declined, the author fails to give many other details that a publisher would like to have – like ad pages, for instance.

In the US, the sector is still on life support. After seeing ad pages fall nearly 30 percent in 2009, ad page declines moderated a bit, falling only 3.1 percent last year. The first report from the ABM is probably due within the next month and expectations are that there should be some growth recorded. But for many B2Bs it is way too late: decreased ad sales staffs, combined with dropped BPAs has condemned a number of titles to the inevitable. For others, however, 2011 may indeed be a turnaround year – we'll see.

Over on the consumer side, things are looking up for some of the larger titles. The first quarter was a blow out for Vogue, for instance, with its ad pages totally 621 in the first quarter, up ten percent or so.

Condé Nast's mens titles struggled, however, with Details and GQ down, though Esquire did manage to report a small gain.

All this is mentioned to put into perspective the recent talk about Condé Nast slowing down its magazine app development. I would bet you a bundle that the publisher would not be saying they are slowing down launching apps if the company were blowing out its numbers . . . of it consumers were enthusiastic about what Condé Nast is offering iPad owners.

Face it, by pricing their magazines at single issue prices, Condé Nast was never going to succeed on a massive scale with its tablet publishing efforts. A quick look inside the App Store shows that that the following magazines have mostly negative reviews: GQ, Allure, Brides, Self, Vogue, Golf Digest, The New Yorker, and Wired. Across the board, the reviews are similar: readers don't like having to pay newsstand prices for their digital editions.

So who will still buy these titles? Well, the same loyal readers that have been buying the print titles one at a time. The problem is that this represents a very small portion of the reading public – an iPad owner and a single copy buyer.

So you could say that Condé Nast is indeed smart for slowing down its iPad app development, the market is just too small at this point to make going after this segment a good business proposition. But conversely, you could also say that the strategy was faulty to begin with, and instead it would have been smart to have used the launch of the iPad to try and attract new readers by pricing their products more in line with reader expectations.