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Channel pubs jettison 'Reseller'

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The way it is being erased these days, "reseller" might as well be graffiti.

With its June 26 issue, CMP Media's Computer Reseller News will officially become CRN, which has long been industry shorthand for the magazine. The publication is also abandoning its tabloid format for a 10"-by-12" trim size, new design and new logo. The move is being supported by a $425,000 marketing campaign.

These changes follow Ziff Davis Media's renaming its Sm@rt Reseller as Sm@rt Partner with its June 5 issue. To trumpet the change, Sm@rt Partner has been running ads in marketing publications.

The elimination of the word "reseller" reflects the broad changes that are buffeting the channel and may indicate that CRN, the unquestioned leader of reseller publications for nearly two decades, may face its strongest competition yet in Sm@rt Partner. "It's not that CRN is getting weaker," said Ellen Freeman, president-CEO of Carat Freeman, a technology media buying shop. "It's that Sm@rt Partner is getting stronger."

Holding its own

Since it began publishing in 1982, CRN has been powerful enough to swat away most competition. International Data Group's Solutions Integrator is only the latest in a line of channel magazines to cease publication. With its VAR Business complementing CRN, CMP Media still has a strong hold on the channel, handling about 57% of channel ad pages, according to first-quarter figures from Adscope Inc., a tracking service.

But Sm@rt Partner seems to be cutting into CMP Media's ad pages. In the first quarter of 1999, Sm@rt Reseller controlled about 6% of channel ad pages, according to Adscope. In the same period this year, the magazine, which has increased its frequency from biweekly to weekly, had a 17% market share. Over the same period, thanks to a double-digit decline, CRN's ad page share declined from 46% to 39%, and CMP Media's overall share of channel ad pages fell from 62% to 57%.

Nonetheless, Sm@rt Partner remains in third place in ad pages. But Ken Beach, the magazine's publisher, is encouraged by the gains, which he attributed to Sm@rt Partner's Internet-oriented coverage of the channel. He said his magazine didn't need a redesign like CRN's, just a name change. "We've been right since we've launched the magazine [in January 1998]," he said.

Sm@rt Partner, Beach said, was launched with an understanding that the channel was in turmoil. Dell Computer Corp.'s direct model challenged traditional distribution models. Consolidation was creating massive resellers. And the Internet was creating new channel partners in the form of Web integrators and e-consultancies. All of these changes made succeeding in the channel less about selling hardware than helping companies understand e-business.

Changing the channel

As the channel has changed, advertising dollars have gone elsewhere--to television, to general business magazines, to new economy publications. Between 1998 and 1999, overall channel ad pages declined 28%, from 16,021.25 to 11,591.76, according to Adscope.

But despite the changes and ad page declines, CRN's editorial coverage has kept pace with the channel's evolution, said Amy Hoffman, the magazine's publisher. During focus groups conducted earlier this year, CRN found that Web integrators liked what was in the publication but had been put off by the word "reseller."

"We asked them, 'Would you read this?'" Hoffman said. "They said, 'No, I'm not a reseller. That's a guy making two-point profit margin pushing boxes.' They're selling services."

For Pam Watkins, group president of CMP's channel group, the proof of CRN's continued dominance among advertisers can be seen in comparing the sizes of its new-look issue with the first Sm@rt Partner. The June 26 CRN will have a folio of more than 250 pages, she said. Sm@rt Partner's June 5 folio was 68 pages.

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