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Some publishers pursue SMB market, while others pull back

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Even as Fortune and Bloomberg BusinessWeek closed their print publications serving small- and midsized businesses in the past several weeks, another former business print brand—Portfolio—resurrected itself online this month as a Web site serving the SMB sector.

It remains to be seen whether another media property covering small- and midsized businesses can thrive when Inc. and Entrepreneur have lost ad pages so far this year. Inc.’s ad pages tumbled 29.5% in the first three quarters, compared with the same period in 2008, according to Publishers Information Bureau figures. Entrepreneur’s ad pages fell 20% in the same time frame.

Portfolio.com is betting that advertisers will want to reach SMB executives as the recovery gains steam. “Small and midsized businesses are widely expected to be the backbone of this recovery and represent one of the few current growth markets,” said Tim Bradbury, president of American City Business Journal’s new media department, which oversees the new Porfolio.com.

Bloomberg apparently didn’t care to make that same bet. The company announced in early December that it was shuttering BusinessWeek SmallBiz. The last issue on the controlled circulation, bimonthly publication was December/January. Bloomberg said it will fold its SMB coverage into BusinessWeek and its Web site.

A month earlier, Time Inc.’s Fortune said it was closing Fortune Small Business. The magazine was a custom publication for American Express Corp. The October issue was its last. Its ad pages fell 14.1% in the first three quarters of this year compared with the same period of 2008.

Portfolio.com’s relaunch comes after Condé Nast Portfolio suffered a 60.9% decline in its ad pages in the first quarter of this year before the plug was pulled on the magazine. It returns as a part of ACBJ, another Advance Publications unit.

J. Jennings Moss, who was the deputy editor of Condé Nast Portfolio, is the editor of the new Web site. The site will include local stories from about 700 journalists at 40 ACBJ newsweeklies, such as the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

“They produce some really terrific journalism in their markets, and we’re taking a number of different approaches in using that content,” Moss said.

Portfolio.com will share research conducted across the ACBJ audience to offer readers insight into the outlook for the SMB sector. Moss said that using ACBJ stories, Portfolio will be able to identify trends emerging across a variety of local markets. He offered the example of a story about SMBs using renewable energy, which was cobbled together from separate stories from various ACBJ newspapers.

Portfolio.com will also have access to business-oriented content from Wired and Vanity Fair, two Condé Nast properties.

Additionally, Portfolio.com offers bizWatch, which will eventually allow users of the site to track news and content about 200,000 companies and 500,000 executives. BizWatch features aggregation technology and offers the added element of human “curators,” who help select the content.

According to Compete.com’s November traffic numbers (which tabulate figures before Portfolio.com’s official re-launch), the site is starting from a disadvantage compared with its key competitors. Portfolio.com had 113,592 unique visitors, well behind Inc. (506,076) and Entrepreneur (881,548).

At the same time, Portfolio.com is running very lean and does not have to hit a grand slam to be profitable. The site has a staff of five editors, overseeing a handful of bloggers and a team of freelancers.

By comparison, Entrepreneur has a staff of 82 (down from a peak of 137) to publish its magazine, oversee its Web site and handle events, according to Ryan Shea, Entrepreneur Media’s VP-corporate publisher. Shea said that with job cuts, streamlining procedures and online margins, Entrepreneur will be profitable this year.

Shea said people underestimate the power of print’s physical presence in bolstering a Web site and media company’s overall viability.

“When I say Entrepreneur to media buyers and others, they don’t really say, ‘Oh, I visit that Web site.’ They say, ‘Oh, I know that magazine.’”

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