Businessmen have always been elusive beasts. But the frustrating thing for the publishers who depend on them is that they're getting ever more slippery.
The European Business Readership Survey (EBRS), released by Ipsos-RSL last month, is a study of the media habits of the top 0.2 per cent biggest hitters in European business. It is the most exclusive of its kind, with a universe of just 431,216 senior executives who earn, on average, more than 100,000 euros a year.
Its findings chime with those of similar surveys of Europe's big cheeses (such as Europe 2004 and EMS): the business community is spending less of its precious time reading international newspapers and magazines.
In the two years since the last EBRS survey, the proportion of the "C Suite" who read an international title has fallen from 47.3 to 43.1 per cent. That's a loss of more than 14,000 chairmen, presidents and chief executive readers who make business purchases worth around 2.5 million euros a year.
This is all the more irritating for publishers, as these people, despite being hard to reach, are supposedly creatures of habit who could think of nothing worse than making changes to their meticulously planned routines.
It is a cliche that your typical international businessman (sorry ladies, but 85 per cent of the EBRS universe are men) wakes up in his hotel room, watches a bit of CNN, flicks through the Financial Times over breakfast, then reads The Economist on his way to work. But is this story of their lives now out of date? And are advertisers looking for these highly prized people in the wrong places?
The FT, by far the survey's dominant title, is its biggest casualty. In 2002, more than 16 per cent of Europe's business elite said they read the FT. This has dropped to just over 13 per cent - a loss of 12,000 very valuable readers.
And the FT is not the only daily to have suffered. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, The Wall Street Journal Europe and USA Today were down too. The International Herald Tribune was the only daily to grow, by some 3,000 readers.
"The big losers are the dailies," Bob Crozier, the publisher and managing director of the international edition of Forbes, says. "It highlights their endemic problem: the shorter the frequency, the more they are in competition with the internet and local rivals.
"It boils down to how much time a busy executive has in a day. I'm fairly typical and I don't have as much time as I used to. I can't wait for them (newspapers) to come to me. I have to go to them."
Forbes is arguably the success story of the survey, attracting 5,300 new readers. Crozier argues that as Forbes, a fortnightly, takes a longer view of what's happening in the business world, its readers find the time to read it.
"We haven't raised our circulation. Nor have we changed our editorial formula in the six years since we began publishing internationally, so our growth can be explained purely by the fact that the format and topics are closer to what a guy sitting in the corner office wants to read than our competitors," he says.
Crozier's "longer view" reasoning rings true. The weeklies weren't hit as hard as the dailies, the fortnightlies fared slightly better than the weeklies (with BusinessWeek the only weekly to gain readers) and the monthlies escaped relatively unscathed.
In central Europe, a market growing quickly in size and stature, the picture is equally as worrying. Only three titles -Fortune, BusinessWeek and the FT -gained readers, and the international print sector lost more than 2,200 readers in EBRS's sister survey, CEBRS (Central European Readership Survey).
Most accept that the sector is slipping, but is this because the business world has fallen out of love with printed information, or just because there are less businessmen around to read it?
"The financial sector has shrunk," Alan Dunachie, the European advertising director for The Economist, says. "They're a very important group of readers, who do a lot of international travel. But they will come back. The big banks have put on half of the jobs they lost in 2000 and 2001, so we're already halfway to recovery. I'm certainly not panicking."
Of those surveyed, the proportion from the UK - Europe's biggest financial centre - has dropped significantly (from 25 to 23 per cent). Another reason, Dunachie believes, why the FT's readership has fallen so dramatically - 60 per cent of its EBRS readers are UK-based.
At the FT, Ben Hughes, the global advertising director, is philosophical. "It's very much a reflection of how people are accessing information these days," he says. "Yes, the dailies have dropped, but the FT still enjoys the biggest penetration of the business audience by far."
Most of the readers leaving the FT have migrated online, Hughes argues.
Indeed, FT.com is the most visited of the news paper websites, where 8 per cent of Europe's high-flyers go for their financial news. But combine the daily reach of the website and the newspaper, and you're still left with fewer readers than in 2002.
The truth is they are probably watching TV instead. Ipsos included TV on EBRS for the first time this year, and found that 41 per cent of businessmen watch an international TV channel every week, most likely CNN or Sky News.
And while TV clearly isn't the turn-on for the really big cheeses that it is for the slightly-less-affluent Europe 2004 and EMS audiences, publishers now have a pretty good idea of where their readers are going.
So what can be done to stop the rot? For a start, the survey could be updated. "We know how many people read us, but we want to know more about why they read us," Paul Maraviglia, BusinessWeek's international managing director, says.
To be fair to Ipsos, EBRS does ask some questions that dig a bit deeper.
For instance, we know that the FT, despite its decline, is rated as "the most important publication for work", followed by The Economist and The Wall Street Journal. Interestingly, Forbes, our success story, scores the lowest in this category.
But such questions are clearly not enough. "Pan-Euro media will never win the numbers game, so we need to battle it out on quality," Maraviglia insists. "What is the motivation for someone to spend £3.50 on an international magazine on top of a local paper? That's the real question. If we don't address this issue, we're failing as a medium."
AVERAGE ISSUE READERSHIP OF INTERNATIONAL PUBLICATIONS
Title Readership Readership Reach Reach
2004 2002 04 (%) 02 (%)
All international titles 185,854 200,095 43.1 47.3
Financial Times 56,517 68,568 13.1 16.2
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 46,571 54,994 10.8 13.0
International Herald Tribune 14,605 11,348 3.4 2.7
The Wall Street Journal Europe 11,571 14,204 2.7 3.4
USA Today 6,037 7,615 1.4 4.8
The Economist 33,200 35,659 7.7 8.4
Time 20,722 21,826 4.8 5.2
BusinessWeek 20,072 18,908 4.7 4.5
Newsweek 14,231 18,184 3.3 4.3
Forbes 23,554 18,193 5.5 4.3
Fortune 16,498 16,579 3.8 3.9
National Geographic 24,569 30,881 5.7 7.3
Harvard Business Review 24,148 24,536 5.6 5.8
CFO Europe 13,971 10,671 3.2 2.5
Euromoney 6,815 9,215 1.6 1.8
Scientific American 6,037 7,615 1.4 1.7
Institutional Investor 6,143 7,169 1.4 1.7
EuroBusiness 4,312 5,922 1.0 1.4
Bloomberg Markets 5,175 - 1.2 -
Reuters 10,780 - 2.5 -
Source: EBRS 2004 (universe is 431,216 senior business executives; EBRS
2002 universe was 423,034).
INTERNATIONAL TV CHANNELS
International channels 41.0
CNN International 19.5
Sky News 13.6
Discovery Channel 10.5
BBC World 9.5
National Geographic 7.6
Source: EBRS 2004.
BBC News 13
Financial Times 8
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 6
Sky News 4
The Economist 3
Harvard Business Review 2
Source: EBRS 2004.