BUSINESS PRESS REPORT: DIVERSIFY TO MULTIPLY - As the market climbs to the heights of the 80s, publishers are looking to create new titles and extend existing brands. By Anna Griffiths

The business press is booming, climbing back to the dizzy heights of the 80s.

The business press is booming, climbing back to the dizzy heights

of the 80s.



Advertising is flourishing and magazine titles are crowding into the

market to get a slice of the action.



The sector chalked up an estimated pounds 1.1 billion in advertising

revenue last year, according to the Advertising Association,

representing a substantial 10.5 per cent increase on the previous year

and lifting its overall share of adspend to just under 12 per cent,

compared with just 6.8 per cent for consumer magazines.



In 1997 there were 5,261 business and professional magazines, according

to the latest figures from BRAD, up 7 per cent from 1996.



After the sharp shock of the last recession, when the fast money of the

80s created a false sense of security, magazine publishers are more

acutely aware than ever before that to maintain their market position

they need to diversify and build on their existing brand heritage.



The business press market is extremely sensitive to any economic

downturn in the economy since 72 per cent of its revenue is derived from

advertising, compared with just 38 per cent for consumer magazines. The

single biggest advertising sector is recruitment and, if the economy

contracts, jobs go and publishers are left battling for a shrinking pot

of money.



To survive, publishers need to anticipate market change and be at the

forefront of driving customer demand. Derek Carter, chief executive of

Emap Business Communications, explains: ’If the recruitment market is

suddenly subject to a major downturn because of recession, we can’t

simply prevent that by being clever - it’s a supply-and-demand

situation. Our ambition as a company is to say that wherever there is

recruitment demand, we have the best publication for it. We have to be

the best vehicle in each of the market sectors we’re in.’



To reduce their dependance on the vagaries of recruitment revenue,

business publishers are extending their appeal by broadening their

product offerings from the traditional heartland of directories and

magazines. Andrew Shanks, European development director at United News &

Media’s business publishing arm, Miller Freeman, says: ’Whereas most

magazines probably saw themselves before as an advertising medium with

the emphasis on selling space, there is now a much better understanding

that a magazine is only part of the integrated marketing effort. A lot

of spend has migrated to direct marketing, trade shows and data

products.’



Slamming out a business title at a low cost and distributing it

indiscriminately is no longer a viable option. The top business

publishers point to increasing demands put on their publications by

consumers who have less time to read, while having more magazines to

choose from, and advertisers who want better quality products to

advertise in with a more focused target audience.



Greater accountability in terms of information about their audience is a

key issue for publishers and for some time there has been talk of the

concurrent release of ABC figures for the industry. Paul Richards, a

media analyst at Pamure Gordon, believes it would be an important step

forward.



’As we have seen with Rajar, there are benefits to producing better

audience data. Audience data for business magazines is difficult to

measure. For example, the number of readers and the number of copies of

a title distributed could differ. You could have a market where you have

multiple readers for each copy of the magazine, while with others they

get binned automatically.’



Carter is part of the ABC Business Press Working Party, which is looking

at how magazines can be better represented in terms of circulation

data.



’What we might end up doing is releasing ABC Profiles which are a

high-value certification in terms of greater demographics and depth of

information for titles.’



There is a trend among the bigger players to rationalise their

portfolios and build on their strengths in particular markets, rather

than churn out new titles in every single market. Recent moves include

Emap’s decision to sell 15 of its titles to Quantum Publishing, and Reed

Elsevier’s sale of its consumer magazine arm, IPC, in order to focus on

its merger with the European business press specialist, Wolters Kluwer.

’It’s probably not appropriate to compete everywhere,’ says Carter.

’Increasingly we will want to operate in markets where we can provide a

complete range of services. The magazine establishes our position in the

market - that’s critical. We would be unlikely to run an exhibition

which wasn’t part of a wider portfolio. The magazine comes first and

then out of that we build very strong brand positioning.



A lot of people are learning they need to operate in markets with a

wider range of offerings.’



The three biggest sectors in the business and professional publishing

market are medicine and health (576 titles in 1997), retailing and

wholesaling (399 titles) and architecture and building (397 titles),

according to BRAD.



And the IT sector, which has 249 titles, is growing fast. This

proliferation of publications has prompted many people to ask whether

the markets are becoming overcrowded. Keith Jones, chief executive of

Reed Business Information, says not. ’If a market is buoyant, the

prospect of a publisher maintaining single title status for a long

period of time is slim. If we see an opportunity in a market where we’re

not present, and we can see an angle that differentiates us from the

rest, we would certainly consider launching into it.’



An important factor in ensuring the health of the business press is

maintaining a high profile among advertisers. The sector may have a

dedicated following of specialist advertisers, but in broadening its

appeal it can often find that its efforts are outshone by the sex appeal

of the consumer publishing sector. Peter Dear, deputy chief executive of

the Periodical Publishers Association, agrees: ’We sometimes feel we’re

the Cinderella of the media world, and are sometimes forgotten. The

dynamism of the business market is not apparent to a lot of people.’ The

PPA has teamed up with major publishers to produce generic advertising

campaigns in the media and the marketing press to promote and raise the

profile of business titles. The PPA has also help set up the Business

Information Forum to drive co-operation among the specialists

business-to-business sectors and bolster their lobbying capabilities.

Business publishers agree more has to be done in terms of promoting

themselves. Jones says: ’There’s more innovative work taking place in

business-to-business publishing than in the consumer sector and we

should excite the market by that.’



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