Monday, January 02, 2006

Meeting recap: State of the Industry: Flat but growing

SBPE's Kansas City chapter holds “State of the Industry” panel discussion to find ways to improve sales, connect with readers and prepare for the future.
By Tarre Beach, secretary

“Flat growth is the new growth,” Ron Wall, executive vice president of sales & marketing and a founder of Ascend Media told the Kansas City chapter of the Association of Business Publishers and Editors. According to him, advertising revenues and page counts have yet to see a strong rebound, but the fact that they have not decreased further is a good sign. Speaking as part of a three-person panel at the ASBPE's recent “State of the Industry” discussion in Overland Park, Kan., Wall addressed the issue of B2B publishing's future with a hopeful attitude. “Print B2B magazines aren't going away,” he said.

Fellow panelist Bob MacArthur, vice president of Primedia Business Magazines & Media, said B2B editors and publishers must embrace e-newsletters, virtual trade shows, Internet news blasts and webinars to strengthen and renew ad sales and increase circulation.

MacArthur reminded the approximately 30 attendees to be prudent and not repeat the B2B Internet mistakes that occurred in the late ’90s. “You've got to have advertisers on board. That was the problem a few years ago. We put the cart before the horse.”

MacArthur took a quick poll to see how many at the meeting were already creating some original content for websites. More than two-thirds of attendees raised their hands. “Now what about webinars and virtual trade shows?” When only a few indicated their publications were producing these, MacArthur recommended both of these options were where the B2B industry would find real growth.

Staff Size
In addition to slow sales and smaller books, business publishing professionals have also seen a reduction in staff sizes, making many editors take on multiple roles at their magazines.

One attendee asked when staff sizes would return to normal. Fellow panelist Jack Cashill, executive editor of Ingram's, a business magazine for the Kansas City Metro area, suggested that with the growing accuracy of the Internet, editors are better equipped then they were 10 years ago. “I can write a 2,000 word story with good information now in a few hours what used to take me a few days.”

During a short discussion, some attendees agreed that not withstanding the aid of the Internet, staff sizes could not remain small for much longer if content was to remain high quality. Wall said part-time staff positions would herald the upswing for the industry and that some publishing companies were already employing part-timers to do some research. Freelancers also were mentioned as a positive step toward the reduction of workloads. Part of the issue for most editors is that they are being asked to more with less. Wall suggested implementing an incentive plan for editors. “Incentives tied to content brings excitement to the magazine and invests editors in their publication's marketability. It's great for readers. It's great for staff.”

Electric Success
MacArthur shared that as much as 50% of Primedia's print subscribers are getting e-newsletters e-mailed to them weekly or even daily. Primedia has approximately 150 e-newsletters sent out for its B2B magazines. Providing a successful example of that is Telephony, Primedia's telecommunications and broadband industry publication. MacArthur said Telephony alone has 15 different categories of news updates available to subscribers.

Important to the success of all electronic products, however, is print support, he said. “E-newsletters are never going to take over for your magazine. This is not a matter of canabalizing readers or content. Electronic media should be seen as an ancillary product for print, not a replacement,” MacArthur said.

Part of what makes electronic products so attractive is that costs are so low. But MacArthur warns that electronic products' take advantage of so much of print's resources that it must share in print's total budget costs. In several cases this is not being done. With more experience electronic budgets may break away, but for now staff salaries, overhead and other resources are paid by the print side.

Wall added that B2B publication's should have a 65% print and 35% electronic balance to succeed today.

Connecting With Readers
Representing a more consumer-business readership, Cashill discussed how to connect with readers and advertisers in down times.

Using the acronym SAP (Survive, Attract, Pacify), Cashill said editors must attract readers and pacify advertisers to survive. He then outlined three things that can help a business publication do this:
  1. Readers want to see themselves in your publication. Ingram's does that by profiling the most successful 40 people under 40. This encourages advertisements from the people profiled as well as those that administer to the company/persons profiled.
  2. Readers want to see others in their industry. Ingram's also has a forum every month on a different industry where leaders in that industry are invited to discuss the issues driving them. Making this forum attractive has been essential to its success. Letting people know their competition will be there helps get people in seats. Ingram's own “State of the Industry” forums are nearly always sold out.
  3. You must be practical. Give your readers information that's useful to them. Showing by example, Cashill also said lists are a very popular way of getting your reader's attention quickly and giving them fast facts.
The Right Research
You've got to know your readers to be able to serve them properly. Wall said research is a sure-fire way to do that. In a time when most B2B publications are cutting research, Wall recommends that budgets make room for research again.

“You should want to know more about your readers. If you cut your research budget recently that was a mistake, put it back. This helps you have a strong voice,” Wall said.
Wall also suggested that special-themed issues, which can come out of extensive research, should be used sparingly. They are nice, but can be over done. “[Special themed issues] take readers away from your uniqueness, which is why they are subscribing to your magazine. If you aren't unique then readers will migrate to your competition,” Wall said.

Board introduced
The first ASPBE Kansas City chapter event of 2005 also introduced the chapter's new board:
  • president Amy Fischbach, staff writer, EC&M magazine, Primedia Business Magazines & Media;
  • vice president Bill King, chief editor, Expansion Management, Penton Media;
  • secretary Tarre Beach, editor, Baking Buyer, Sosland Publishing;
  • board members Jessica Harper, managing editor, Veterinary Economics, Advanstar Veterinary Healthcare Communications; Jody Shee, editor, Produce Concepts, Vance Publishing Corp.; and Spring Suptic, assistant editor, Veterinary Economics, Advanstar Veterinary Healthcare Communications.
Unable to attend were treasurer Danica Tormohlen, editor in chief, Expo Magazine and ProAV, Ascend Media; and board member Jim Lucy, chief editor, Electrical Wholesaling, Primedia Business Magazines & Media.

Photo: From left: Panelists Ron Wall, Bob MacArthur and Jack Cashill.

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