The World: International business magazines bite the dust

Does the closure of Forbes' and BusinessWeek's international editions sound the death knell for paper, Lucy Aitken asks.

BusinessWeek's tongue-in-cheek media predictions for 2006 include a hostile take-over of David Bowie by U2 and a Google brain search programme.

The sober issue of any further international editions of big US print brands biting the dust receives no speculation.

Yet the casualties of 2005 suggest that further closures are possible.

Last year, both Forbes and BusinessWeek shut down their international editions.

As part of a new strategy, Forbes Inc introduced an Asian edition in September, and both Forbes and BusinessWeek have been pushing their websites.As well as more dedicated online content, subscribers to the international editions have been offered the US version.

Some experts claim these closures make sense because producing a magazine is such an expensive affair. But others have damned the moves as short-termist.

The Spartan atmosphere around US-based international business titles is undeniable. Forbes and BusinessWeek weren't the only ones to feel the pinch last year. In November, Newsweek scaled back the circulation of its international edition by 30 per cent - 95,000 copies - and cut ad rates by a quarter. And in October, Dow Jones' The Wall Street Journal Europe and its sister Asian title resized as compact papers.

The international editions of Forbes and BusinessWeek closed not because they were underperforming; rather, the harsh economic realities in the US necessitated some ruthless business decisions. US publishers are anxious to protect their domestic titles and have had to make the balance sheet a little more, well, balanced. As a result, many believe international editions became sacrificial lambs.

Paul Maraviglia, the former international sales director for BusinessWeek and now the managing director at McGraw-Hill Education in Europe, comments: "BusinessWeek finished in Europe $1.5 million above last year - I've never seen the business in Europe and Asia so strong. But frankly, the past year in the US has been brutal."

Others agree. Andy Bush, Fortune's publishing director for Europe, says: "Anyone who said it was easy in the US right now would be lying. Although there are some bright spots - such as the energy sector spending more - automotive and technology are still struggling. We're in for a tough year."

The figures back this up. In 2005, the US editions of Time and Fortune saw their ad pages decline by more than 10 per cent. What's more, Time Inc laid off 105 staff in New York in mid-December 2005, including a clutch of senior veterans such as Richard Atkinson, the executive vice-president of the news and information group, and Eileen Naughton, the president of Time magazine.

Cost-cutting was clearly one reason behind the job losses. But Time Inc also reorganised its management to help streamline its products. The US's largest magazine publisher is re-establishing itself as a multiplatform content provider.

With this in mind, could the Forbes and BusinessWeek print closures herald the dawning of a new era in which paper becomes an anachronism? After all, what self-respecting, high-earning international business traveller doesn't attend networking opportunities, own a PDA or use the internet? Certainly, Forbes Inc, which is investing more in its events, also has a clear vision for its digital future, claiming that forbes.com already gets 2.9 million unique European visitors a month.

Yet certain media experts are sceptical as to whether websites spun off from established business magazine brands make solid stand-alone products; a print product, many believe, must be at the heart of the empire. Adrian Smith, MediaCom's account director for Shell, says: "Certain studies suggest that print is still very important to opinion-leaders because they don't necessarily have the time or inclination to look online."

He adds: "When the internet first started, there was a lot of discussion about it replacing print. Unfortunately, it now looks like it is happening because the costs attached to producing a magazine are too high."

As the business models of old start to change, print brands are starting to explore partnership models. Not only do many titles - including Forbes and BusinessWeek - produce local-language editions with partner publishers; they are also linking up with other media brands. Fortune can be bundled with other Time Warner media properties, such as CNN and Time, while MSNBC.com carries content from Newsweek. Yet, following Time Warner's merger with AOL, print publishers often get jittery about becoming too cosy with virtual brands.

Regardless of how the digital futures for international media brands evolve, the more immediate concern is over how these closures affect the bigger picture. Peter Colvin, the senior account director, global solutions, at Mediaedge:cia in London, sums it up: "Advertisers and agencies will need more convincing than ever about the benefits of using pan-regional print to reach business audiences.

"Psychologically, these closures have put a huge dent into print's stature and confidence."

DEMISE OF THE US-BASED PAN-REGIONAL EDITIONS FORBES GLOBAL Publisher: Forbes Inc Launched: 1998 Circulation (Europe): 75,818 Circulation (Asia): 67,558 Closed July 2005 Job losses: Two redundancies, but others redeployed Existing local-language editions include: Russia, China, Korea, Japan and Poland New strategy: Launch of Forbes Asia (print run: 80,000) and playing on strengths of forbes.com BUSINESSWEEK EUROPE/ASIA Publisher: McGraw-Hill Launched: 1979 Circulation (Europe): 109,076 Circulation (Asia): 80,244 Closed: December 2005 Job losses: 60 Existing local-language editions include: Russia, China, Poland and Indonesia New strategy: Dedicated European and Asian content on businessweek.com