Neil Thackray’s Business Media Blog

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The End of B2B in Print or the Beginnning?

Emaps decision to make a dramatic change to the editorial structureof Local Government Chronicle is very significant.  For some time I have been telling anyone who is prepared to listen that part of the problem with the b2b print model is that it has barely changed in twenty years.  This despite the impact of the Internet and the effect on media consumption habits.

Many publishers are worrying that ad yields and volumes are under presssure but have not yet tackled the likely cause.  It is too simplistic to blame the recession.  The facts of the matter are that advertisers have sensed that business magazines are not read in the way they once were.  We should not be surprised.  Before the days fof the web every piece of research I conducted on magazine readership showed that readers wanted to know about news, jobs and products.  The problem in the internet age is all of this is readily avaialable from numerous sources on the web.

What is the value of news pages in a print mag published weekly? Emap have made what I think is welcome decision to abandon the old News, bridge, features structure, replacing the old content with a series of long analytical articles.  I haven’t  managed to get hold of copy so I can’t express any view about the execution, but the priniple seems sound.

Let’s look at some of the evidence.  Almost every paid title in b2b has seen copy sales and subscriptions fall. As this effect is universal we must conclude that something important is happening.  Readers don’t need mags in the way they used to.  They have been subsituted for the Web.

Oddly most CC titles continue to pump out the same number of copies as they ever did.  For many, a good part of that distribution propped up recruitment advertising response.  But with recruitment now being almost entirley a web only play, what is the value of that circulation toda?  Worse, a key motive for picking up the magazine, a browse through the jobs, has vanished.

As revenues have fallen, costs have been cut, impacting on the quality of features journalism.

So, pick up a typical business mag, tear out the news pages, whats left of the jobs section and the “ad get” feature and what are you left with? Not much.  No wonder engagement with magazines is falling away and advertisers are voting with their feet.

The answer is not to give up on print, but rather to create a new print model which offers the kind of content not readily available or easily consumed in a digital format.  I don’t know whether Emap have come up with the right answer, but on this issue at least, it appears they may be asking themselves the right question.

My own view is that there is a future for print in b2b, and I have some thoughts on what that future might look like.  I might yet get to put it into practice!

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September 24, 2009 - Posted by | B2B Journalism, business media strategy

3 Comments »

  1. Last time I looked Local Government Chronicle still published weekly and my concern with replacing the traditional mix with a series of long analytical articles would be that a) the weekly frequency doesn’t really lend itself to that approach and b) would any or all of those features be a “must-read” for every reader.

    Because it’s paid-for Emap will be loathe to change the frequency. Even so, what is being proposed is far more suited to a monthly. One possibility would be for news on the website to be put behind a pay-wall, to which print subscribers would have free access, offering the opportunity to change the frequency and save on print and distribution costs, yet hopefully still maintain subs revenues. But I would not be too confident of success.

    Equally, I’m again not sure it overcomes the problem of ensuring the perceived value of the new printed editorial product continues to be seen as value for money, relative to what preceded it.

    Comment by Richard Howell | September 24, 2009

  2. Thanks Richard. It’s all in the execution isn’t it. My own view is that it is not as simple as bolting together a handful of articles. The is a long list of new editorial furniture to be deployed and the magazine needs to be part of a bundle of benefits secured by the user – some of which may be delivered online.

    There is an approach whereby the frequency could be dropped to fortnightly, additional benefits can be added both in print and with other services, the price increased and subs numbers will drop by only a little before rising again.

    If and when I return to the frontline….

    Comment by neilthackray | September 25, 2009

  3. Hi Neil,

    Agree completely that it’s not as simple as bolting together a few articles, no matter how authoritative. And I suspect the combined online/offline bundle is probably the best way forward. However I’m genuinely intrigued as to why you think fortnightly would be the optimum frequency. And I’m also very impressed that you think you can halve frequency yet still increase both the cost and, eventually, the number of subscribers.

    Could this be alchemy?

    I shall await your return to the frontline with interest when I trust all will be revealed!

    Comment by Richard Howell | September 25, 2009


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