BUSINESS PRESS REPORT: IT PRESS - 30 YEARS OF PERMANENT CHANGE There has been a revolution in computer technology in the past 30 years, and the dedicated press has kept pace. Belinda Archer reports.

Those of you who think computers are complicated ain’t seen nothing yet. The IT business press boasts the sort of mystifying vocabulary that must leave even the initiated, technologically sophisticated crying into their keyboards.

Those of you who think computers are complicated ain’t seen nothing

yet. The IT business press boasts the sort of mystifying vocabulary that

must leave even the initiated, technologically sophisticated crying into

their keyboards.



There are SMEs, the SoHo market (and I don’t mean Dean Street), ’thud’

factors, PDMs, MIS managers and a further retinue of baffling phrases

guaranteed to scare off completely the humble technophobe who’s just

about getting to grips with the on/off button on his home PC. The IT

business press, in short, is a world of its own, bustling with

jargon-filled titles for just about every type of computer usage

imaginable. At the highly knowledgeable, professional end of the sector

are the weekly publications, such as VNU’s Computing and Reed’s Computer

Weekly, serving the computer specialists, IT managers and employees

whose time is spent dealing with computers and computer technology.



Below that come publications such as Ziff-Davis’s PC Magazine, stuffed

with comparative, in-depth lab tests of every range of computer model,

and Information Week, both catering for large corporations which have IT

departments but decentralise some computer responsibility to employees

who are not complete, full-time experts.



Then there are the middle-brow titles such as Computer Shopper, PC

Direct and PC Advisor, aimed at the small-to-medium enterprises (as in

SMEs - see above) and people who use IT to give their companies a

business edge.



At the bottom end of the market are the titles for small office/home

office users (hence SoHo), such as What PC and Computer Buyer, with

magazines like PC Format catering specifically for the home user.



Neil Stiles, publishing director of Reed Computer Group, comments: ’The

UK IT press is ludicrously competitive. It produces almost the same

number of titles as the US market, which is around six times larger. We

are just publishing crazy here, and everyone has tried everything, from

licensing, to issuing licenses, to publishing magazines themselves.

Every niche gets filled within a second, and there are more launches and

closures within five years than in any other sector.’



Before Computer Weekly launched 30 years ago, becoming the world’s first

weekly IT newspaper, the market was relatively quiet. Since then,

however, the sector has taken off, fuelled by the associated advances in

computer technology. As the technology has developed, so the number of

people involved in it has increased, with more and more individuals

having IT responsibilities added to their job remits. According to

Banner & Co, the IT research specialist, there are now around 1.3

million IT decision-makers in the UK, compared with the handful of

managers in major corporations who used to constitute the sector’s total

target audience.



Kate Price Thomas, marketing manager for IDG’s PC Advisor, notes: ’In

the past the IT department would deal with IT for the company but, as

technology has become a part of everyone’s lives, lots of different

people who are not experts have become responsible, and they need

support and magazines that can help them.’



Today the IT press is the biggest business publishing sector in the UK,

with more than 70 titles generating over pounds 70.5 million in display

ad revenue alone - over twice the display revenue of any other sector,

industry sources claim. Computer titles account for five of the top ten

UK business publications by display ad revenue - VNU’s Personal Computer

World and Dennis Publishing’s Computer Shopper taking the number one and

two slots respectively, according to MMS.



Tony Westbrook, editorial director of Ziff-Davis, the US giant which

entered the UK market six years ago, points out: ’The IT press is

probably the liveliest business press sector in terms of activity. The

reason is that it is an area that needs information because the industry

is changing so fast. There are new products coming out every day which

people want to know about.’



Erik Hoekstra, acting magazine director of VNU Business Publications,

adds: ’The IT industry has really taken off over the past five to six

years and it is an industry that drives other industries.



Issues such as the millennium bug and EMU, for example, will both cause

companies to review their computer systems or even buy new systems.’



The level of resources behind the spectrum of computing titles - from

mainstream weeklies to truly niche publications covering everything from

the PC games market to Apple Macs - is almost as wide as the variety of

titles on offer. Some are created by a single person operating from his

front room, while several are produced by the might of a VNU or

Ziff-Davis and can boast circulations of more than 110,000.



IT Week is the latest mainstream recruit to the sector. The publication,

from Ziff-Davis, is set for launch in the second quarter of1998 and will

be aimed at the most senior end of the market, namely the

top-of-the-tree MIS managers who represent 20 per cent of the whole IT

profession but make 80 per cent of the strategic and purchasing

decisions, according to Westbrook, who is editor-in-chief of the new

title.



’There is no other publication covering that market. Computing and

Computer Weekly address the whole IT community and carry a lot of

recruitment advertising, while we will be going for the senior

professionals,’ he claims.



But while there are always new titles emerging, there have also been

many casualties in this vigorous publishing sector. Industry observers

suggest that, despite the frenzied number of launches, there are no more

publications today than there were ten years ago because of the rate of

closure.



Last April, for example, Ziff-Davis was forced to fold Computer Life

after two years, indicating the difficulties of catering for the home

computing market, whose dedicated press has to compete against

mainstream media.



Stiles points out: ’As the technology has changed, so titles have

died.



When Windows launched, three dedicated magazines arrived, but now they

have been subsumed into other titles.’



In an incredibly buoyant market that notched up a 17 per cent growth in

display advertising revenue from 1996 to 1997 in the UK, it is not

surprising that the publishing giants are seeking new ways to

expand.



Last month alone, CMP Media, the US IT publisher, signalled its

intentions to move into Europe when it acquired Emap Computing’s

networking titles, Network Week and Network World, for an undisclosed

sum. VNU, the Dutch publisher, is also looking at options for expanding

into non-VNU territories, notably Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, either

through acquisition, joint venture or licensing.



The Internet is the next big step for the IT publishers. The big players

are looking at whether it is worth launching separate dedicated titles

for the Net or whether the area can be covered thoroughly enough within

existing publications. Either way, it seems that as long as the computer

age flourishes, the associated business press is destined for yet

further, vigorous growth.



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