Trade Magazines Aren't Dead, But The Industry Is Changing

By Linda Forrest

One thing you can rely on in the media game is change. The media industry, as ever, has been aflutter recently as trade publications both in North America and Europe either swallowed whole their counterparts in a high-profile merging of brands, or print editions of long-standing B2B trade publications announced their intentions of moving strictly online. In reaction, many proclaimed, once again, the death of the trade magazine.

There are various perspectives on why these shifts in the magazine world are taking place, including this detailed piece, written in a funerary tone, from Adweek’s editorial director and longtime prominent media figure, Michael Wolff. Meanwhile, as quoted in a Guardian piece that questions whether trade magazines have a shelf life,

David Levin, United Business Media chief executive, draws a comparison between the situation the trade press finds itself in today and 1912, “when there were a lot of blacksmiths about and we were about to get the motor car.”

In my opinion, both gentlemen are correct, but wrong at the same time. The landscape is changing, has changed and will change evermore. It’s change in the media landscape that is constant and various media are taking alternative approaches to find the best ways to serve B2B audiences with the industry information they seek. No one method is a surefire success, nor a road to failure.

The fact remains that trade publications continue to be a favoured, trusted, and influential source of information to B2B companies during the evaluation and purchasing process, according to the SiriusDecisions B-to-B Buyer’s Survey 2010, which surveyed over 600 B2B marketers around this time last year. While industry analysts ranked highest on the list, trade publications ranked in each of those three categories listed above. A similar survey in Canada in 2010 also supported the usefulness of B2B publications. The role of trade media in the purchasing process, especially in the technology realm, is not to be written off just yet.

Whereas once content relegated to a “website” of a trade outlet was perceived as the doldrums where nobody would read it, and to many PR practitioners seemed like the ultimate brush-off from an editor, the fact is that by perusing any respectable circulation statement (for instance, this one from IndustryWeek), one can see that readership online is generally higher, if not much higher, than it is for the print edition. Online does not mean dead, far from it. As with other aspects of modern living – retailing, for example – the best approach is a multi-channel one that incorporates various elements – perhaps print combined with some measure of online, mobile, direct mail, broadcasting etc. No man is an island, nor are companies or their marketing activities.

These two stories made waves recently and highlight the very different approaches to adapting to the modern media world that two media institutions have taken:

The Adweek example

Citing that “the trade magazine model doesn’t work anymore” and then commenting, “While Adweek still continues to be remarkably profitable, it is less profitable now than it was five years ago, and five years before that,” Michael Wolff set the stage recently in New York Magazine for why Brandweek and Mediaweek were rolled into Adweek, where until recently they were standalone publications.

[The content that was in Brandweek and Mediaweek] will merge into this business. Over the last number of years that content has been more and more the same. These magazines really had no reason at all to exist separately. Except inertia. It makes more sense to cover them together than it does separately.

This integrated approach to covering the entire marketing spectrum – advertising, branding, media – does make sense, as the lines between the various disciplines blur. Then again, I’m “just a PR [person]” so what do I know?

So, the “death” of Brandweek and Mediaweek were made more scandalous than they were; a strategic realignment of the parent publication rolls in these publications to strengthen the brand and ultimately build the online audience:

So the question was: How do you take a trade magazine and how do you position it for growth? My answer was Politico. I thought that was especially congenial to Adweek because, number one, there was already a magazine in place that worked. If you took the magazine and made it more attractive, appealing, better reporting, then you would solidify that base, and then have the opportunity to build out the digital side.

Ultimately, this is a strategic consolidation play, not the death of two trade publications; it’s the strengthening of the lead publication that had the strongest brand and presence in the marketplace.

The Computer Weekly example

From the Computer Weekly site:

The first issue of Computer Weekly magazine in 1966 was the start of an era in the UK IT industry – the first ever weekly technology publication. When the final print edition of the magazine comes out on 19 April, it will be the start of another exciting era, where Computer Weekly goes fully digital, reflecting the dramatic changes that the internet has brought to not just our business but those of all our readers.

The aforementioned Guardian article used the word “casualties” when talking about this and Accountancy Age making the transition from print to digital, but the article itself is largely quite positive about the trade magazine business in the UK. Ironically, the article cites the UK title Media Week (no affiliation with the Mediaweek discussed above) as a successful model to emulate:

A move from print to online only is not necessarily a sign of defeat, according to Haymarket’s editorial director, Dominic Mills, who oversees 25-plus UK and international B2B titles including Campaign. Mills offers Media Week, the 26-year old weekly trade paper that Haymarket took online only in January 2010, as an example of how a brand can survive without what he calls the “comfort of a print title” in an online and event-led era. He says Media Week’s website has increased its unique users by 42% and is now more profitable.

The editor wrote an eloquent piece about these new beginnings for Computer Weekly, which outlines the back office dealings that resulted in this change, most notably the outlet’s severing of ties with publisher Reed Business Information and becoming a part of TechTarget, a well respected worldwide network of technology sites. This partnership will stand the outlet in good stead as it navigates this new delivery model.

An integrated approach to content delivery will succeed

The changes in the media landscape can present marketers with attractive opportunities to present their content. Some marketers suggest that the receding numbers of print publications eliminate the middle men, the media that acted as gatekeeper, and with intelligent content promoted through savvy SEO, vendors can fill the holes left by shuttered trade outlets. While that’s true, neither acts alone.

There was a time, not so very long ago, that the web was a nascent communications channel, one that our prospects and clients were eager (or hesitant) to exploit within their media relations programs. As content creators that place content where it will be seen by the right eyeballs, those that make and influence purchasing decisions, we effortlessly moved into developing content that suited our clients needs, while adhering to the editorial mandates of our target outlets. At the same time, we also created content for owned channels as they developed, carefully considering the differences in marketing messages on owned versus external channels. It’s this multifaceted approach to delivering relevant content that will continue to be successful, regardless of if the outlets are owned or not, appearing exclusively online or in dead tree format.

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