Nicole Dickenson finds the dowdy reputation of the business press among
agencies is wide of the mark. When it comes to innovation and client
service, business titles leave consumer magazines way behind
The business-to-business press suffers from an image problem. Business
magazines aren’t perceived as particularly glamorous, sexy or effective
by advertisers and agencies. But the good news is that their readers
love them. A recent survey by Carat showed that the business press was
one of the most loyally read press sectors.
In an effort to correct what it sees as the ad community’s
misconceptions, the Periodical Publishers Association is currently
undertaking a survey into readers’ perceptions of the strengths and
values of the business press.
‘We’re not out to demonstrate the effectiveness of the business press as
an ad medium, but to show advertisers and agencies how much value is
attached to business magazines, so by inference, the ads will be
effective,’ Peter Dear, deputy chief executive of the PPA, says.
The survey comes at a time when the business-to-business press is facing
tough competition from other media - from direct marketing to the
nationals and new media. But one of the strengths of the leading
business publishers is their uncanny knack of spotting new opportunities
(look at magazines like Fundholding and Utility Week, which have taken
advantage of government-inspired upheavals in their marketplaces), and
companies such as VNU, Reed Business Publishing and Miller Freeman all
insist that the challenge from other media is an opportunity rather than
Most business publishers have, in the past few years, expanded into the
direct-mail rental business, information services and exhibitions. As
Alan Smith, marketing director of Miller Freeman, says: ‘We see
ourselves as broad-based providers of business information and media.
Magazines will continue to be an important part, but other areas, from
exhibitions to database marketing, are growing in importance.’
Reed Business Publishing is also exploiting its valuable subscriber
lists and set up an inserts service last year which sells across the
whole RBP portfolio. The service brought in new advertisers and helped
to push up revenue from inserts by 14 per cent to pounds 3 million last
year. ‘The dynamics of our industry - it’s very fragmented and there are
so many diverse niche markets - would seem to mitigate against offering
a uniform inserts service, but there is a common thread: the readers are
all business people. It suits advertisers wanting to target a horizontal
business audience,’ Denis Hart, director of corporate com munications at
Reed Business Publishing, says.
Business publishers have also responded to the extra competition by
becoming more consumer-oriented, which has meant a blurring of the
distinction between the business press and consumer press in sectors
like finance and computing. The Economist is the best example of a
business title with a distinctly consumer bent. Also, more computer
titles have gone on to the newsstand; most recently, VNU’s Computing
followed the lead of Reed’s Computer Weekly in January this year.
Erik Hoekstra, head of corporate marketing at VNU, says the reason for
chasing newsstand sales is to boost recruitment advertising by reaching
those professionals who don’t qualify for a free subscription to their
While Hoekstra dismissed the additional revenue from copy sales as
insignificant, Alistair Ramsay, managing director of Dennis Publishing
which, alongside VNU, dominates the computing press, says that the extra
revenue source is the reason why half of its computing titles are sold
‘The big growth recently has been in computer magazines on the newsstand
in terms of ad volume and profitability, while controlled-circulation
titles have been in decline. Only seven magazines make serious money and
I’ll wager a lot of IT publishers are suffering negative equity, but
they’ve invested huge sums to gain market share, so they’re not about to
pack it in,’ Ramsay says.
One of the most dramatic signs of business publishers’ increasing
consumer orientation was VNU’s January launch of Easy PC, its first
totally consumer product. Aimed at the home market and first-time users,
it sold more than 200,000 copies of the first issue.
Most recently, business publishers have fixed their sights on new-media
opportunities. Last year, VNU launched a MacNet site and Reed set up a
new unit, E.Media, to develop online products. It has already launched
an online market information service for the chemicals industry and an
auctions results database in a joint venture between its leading
property magazine, Estates Gazette, and information provider, Faxwise.
‘We are developing and have launched various new-media products. The
challenge is getting people to pay for them. Advertising is another
issue, but it’s not straightforward,’ Hart says.
The PPA’s Dear neatly sums up the incentive for going on the Internet.
‘More and more advertisers are using a range of media to address their
different marketing problems and the Internet is another way of offering
clients an integrated media solution.’
A lot of business publishers have also invested in Internet sites to
ensure their recruitment service is up-to-date and boost recruitment
advertising, which is particularly buoyant at the moment.
Increased revenues from recruitment advertising helped to push up total
business press ad revenues by 8.7 per cent to pounds 1 billion last
year, according to the Advertising Association. In spite of the
recession, business titles have enjoyed increases in ad revenue every
year bar one over the last decade and the number of titles has grown by
over 40 per cent.
The computer press, the largest business-to-business sector, continues
to welcome new arrivals. Recent launches include Network News and
Network Week by VNU and Emap Business Communications respectively. But
there have also been closures: Reed’s Windows User was the latest
casualty in that ephemeral niche sector.
Although computing is regarded as one of the best-performing business
press sectors, ad revenue growth slowed from a high of 29.5 per cent in
1992 to 3 per cent last year. Electronics is also doing well, while the
medical, retail and construction sectors continue to suffer.
Despite the difficulties in some sectors, business publishers are
generally in bullish mood. ‘We have been accused of not being as
glamorous as consumer titles, but there’s a revolution going on. We’re
much more innovative. We were ahead of the consumer side in knowing the
value of brands and we provide tailor-made solutions,’ Reed’s Hart says.
Dear agrees: ‘The business press is very well placed to exploit
opportunities provided by new media and brand franchising. Our biggest
task is to convince advertisers and agencies of our ability.’