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Regional business publications remain upbeat

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Despite talk of a looming U.S. recession, city and regional business magazines aren’t panicking—at least not yet, according to several publishing executives who attended the annual Alliance of Area Business Publications meeting last week in Key Largo, Fla.

Unlike daily newspapers, which continue to struggle and downsize, these weekly business titles seem to be retaining their advertisers, and many are augmenting their revenue with new print and online products as well as events.

Although a number of the 60 or so attendees acknowledged slower-than-usual advertising commitments in December and January, none said they were planning cutbacks.

In fact, some publishing executives say that if a recession is in the near future, now may be the right time to expand.

“Your competitors aren’t thinking that way, and you can knock the hell out of them,” said Grady Johnson, CEO-publisher of the Charleston Regional Business Journal. He said that in hindsight the launch of the paper in 1995, two years after the Navy announced the closing of the naval base and shipyards along the banks of the Cooper River, was precisely the right time.

It may also be the right time to buy local business media properties. The parent of the Charleston Regional Business Journal, 13-year-old Setcom Media, was sold last week to Brown Publishing Co., a family-owned chain of daily, weekly, niche and business publications. As part of the sale, Johnson added the title of CEO of the newly created SC Biz News.

It was the third out-of-state acquisition for Cincinnati-based Brown in the last few months. In September it acquired Fort Worth Business Press; in October, it bought theDes Moines Business Record. Financial terms of the three deals were not disclosed.

“These were all good properties, in good markets,” said Brown Publishing President-CEO Roy Brown. “They have sustained themselves very well in the late 2007 fade that other people have felt.” He added that all had “an identifiable path to digitalization.”

Asked if he planned additional acquisitions this year, Brown said yes, although he declined to give details. In its home state of Ohio, Brown owns 15 dailies and more than 60 weekly general-interest titles.

“[The acquisitions] have sent a ripple through the industry, which has been pretty quiet,” said David Blake, publisher of Crain’s Chicago Business and this year’s president of the Alliance. (Crain’s Chicago Business is a sibling of BtoB’s Media Business; both are published by Crain Communications Inc.)

It may even be a good time for start-ups. That’s how Karen Moore, publisher of Southwest Florida Business Today, sees it. “This is the right time,” said Moore, who launched her paper at the end of October and now has three full-time staffers. She said that in times of change, business people are especially hungry for information to help them make business decisions. “Besides,” she quipped, “I have nowhere to go but up.”

For Jeff Hankins, president-publisher of Arkansas Business Publishing Group, entering the Web development business three years ago has provided a good source of new revenue and brought in incremental advertising to Arkansas Business’ portfolio of 15 titles. Hankins’ seven-person Web team has been hired by a handful of media companies, as well as advertisers of all shapes and sizes, from construction companies to medical clinics.

“Our online advertising and sponsorship business will be 7% of revenue this year, and our Web development work will be 7% of revenue,” Hankins said.

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