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Keeping the faith

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Despite the ongoing push into all things digital, many business publishers remain bullish on print as an effective way to reach readers and serve advertisers.

As evidence of this, consider these notable launches of the past 12 months:

  • Last October construction publisher Hanley Wood introduced Architect (60,000 circ.) as a launching pad into the commercial construction market. The magazine, which appeared twice last year before going monthly this year, has already spawned Architect Product Spec Guide, which is running twice this year and up to six times in 2008.
  • In April, Conde Nast Publications entered the business media market with the launch of Conde Nast Portfolio. The monthly started with a circulation of 350,000 and is expected to grow to 650,000 in the next five years.
  • In July, Advanstar Communications launched Styling & Performance (50,000 circ.) to capitalize on the burgeoning specialty automotive aftermarket, which is growing about 9% annually, according to Allison Lombardo, the magazine's publisher.
  • Bobit Business Media this year has introduced three magazines: Marine Interiors & Accessories (10,000 circ.), Police Recruit (30,000 circ.) and Work Truck (75,000 circ.).

There are other print products in the pipeline. ForbesLife Executive Woman is on track to be rolled out in October and be polybagged with Forbes. BusinessWeek Chicago is scheduled to debut in November in what could be the first of several regional BusinessWeek magazines.

Print still generates a large share of business publishers' overall revenue, though the percentage is declining in the face of stepped-up online investment. And while it may be folly for business publishers to write off print altogether, the medium continues to see declining ad pages and revenue.

Ad revenue for b-to-b publications dropped 1.9% through May compared with the same period last year, according to the latest Business Information Network report from American Business Media. Ad pages declined 3.3% in the same period.

Several b-to-b print magazines, many of them in the IT space, have folded this year or shifted completely online, while others have reduced their frequency or shrunk their size. Yet even in this environment, several publishers are still pushing ahead with print launches.

"You might think they have a screw loose," said Tom Kemp, a managing director at media investment bank Veronis Suhler. However, he quickly added: "We shouldn't come to any conclusions that print is dead. It's been bloodied and battered, but we're still not out of it, and there are still a lot of people making money off print."

Hanley Wood, for example, expects Architect to be profitable next year. "It's already added $5 million in top-line revenue," said Peter Goldstone, president of Hanley Wood Business Media. "Regardless of the category, b-to-b consumers of information care a lot about magazines. The migration to the Web has been overstated."

Styling & Performance's Lombardo said design and presentation are now paramount when launching print products. "You're truly reigniting a sleepy medium," she said. "You have to adapt the content experience in print to what your readers want."

Lombardo added: "There's always going to be a need for b-to-b print titles. It's a different experience—the touch and feel."

Print also allows publishers to reach decision-makers in a different mind-set than during business hours, when they generally rely on the Internet for news and information.

Through May, some of the stronger performing ad categories in print included architecture, design, lighting (up 11.3% in ad pages and 21.7% in ad revenue) and resources, environment, utilities (up 4.1% in ad pages, 10.1% in ad revenue), according to ABM.

"If you're producing a product for a highly educated and highly affluent audience, and delivering useful information, print will hold its own and will do quite well, thank you," said John Byrne, executive editor of BusinessWeek and editor in chief of BusinessWeek Online.

But as Byrne and others pointed out, before committing resources to a new print product, publishers have to be convinced—through extensive research—that they're filling a void in the market.

"One thing that has ailed the [business media] category is failure to diversify," said David Carey, group president-publishing director of Conde Nast Business Media. "We've taken a mutual fund approach to advertising. So in one issue we can carry Microsoft, and Hugo Boss, and CIT and Mandarin Hotels."

Carey added: "The big bet is that we can provide a business magazine that comfortably lives in a digital world. A CNP feature is not what you'll see on the Web. The idea is that the content experience is totally different in print than what you get online, and the gravitational pull of the Web will cue up the print product."

When launching print products, publishers must take pains to target advertisers outside the given ad base "so if the category has problems it doesn't implode your operation," Carey said.

Forbes has been able to expand its ad base through ForbesLife Executive Woman. Moira Forbes, publisher of the new title, which debuts next month, said advertisers have responded favorably to the magazine's editorial mix focusing on the life-work balance for women.

"The category has opened up doors for Forbes," she said. "We've opened a dialogue with advertisers we didn't necessarily have before."

Launching a print product in the current environment calls for caution in funding and boldness in timing, according to Ty Bobit, president-CEO of Bobit Business Media.

"The biggest mistake would be to overinvest," Bobit said. "You can't be shy, but you're not necessarily spending a lot of money developing the print product."

Bobit said speed is of the essence when launching a magazine. "You have to get in fast and be prepared to kill it if it doesn't work," he said. "But it's the potential for new revenue, and you can't just think about digital."

Start-up costs related to launching a print magazine do not have to be prohibitive because, in most cases, publishers are simply leveraging existing assets.

But Mark Edmiston, a managing director at media investment bank AdMedia Partners, amplified comments from others that before embarking on a new print product, publishers have to make sure there will be a receptive audience. "Leveraging existing assets is one thing," he said. "More important is identifying a market first and then seeing how you best service it through whatever media," he said.

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