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Retire 'new economy' tag

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When it launched in July 1998, Business 2.0 branded itself as the publication that would provide "perspective on the ideas, people and new rules driving today's business economy."

It was a gutsy statement. Still, it wasn't just attitude but solid editorial that helped the magazine attract advertisers and rack up triple-digit growth in both ad pages and ad revenue. Then the Internet bubble burst. Many of the businesses that had fueled Business 2.0's phenomenal success went belly-up; the ones that have survived are too busy developing legitimate business plans to spend precious coin on ad pages.

Now that the economy's "new rules" have shown an eerie resemblance to the old ones—rather quaint notions about profitability and long-term growth that are suddenly in vogue again—one wonders if the folks at Business 2.0 might have chosen their words a bit more carefully. Being journalists, they should have lent a more critical eye to the Internet frenzy, rather than being seduced by it, and realized that the pure-play Internet companies would ultimately be defined by the general economy, and not the other way around.

Indeed, the magazine was put on the auction block late last month by its corporate parent, Future Network plc. Future is reportedly asking $200 million for the title. But this is way too expensive in the current bear market. If it doesn't lower the bar, Future, which has already shut down six of its U.S.-based magazines, may decide to leave the U.S. altogether. More likely, however, is that the biweekly will be picked up by a deep-pocketed media company.

Regardless of what happens to Business 2.0, it's clearly time to retire the term "new economy" which has, for better or worse, defined Business 2.0 and a handful of its competitors. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein's quip about Oakland, Calif.: there's no there there anymore when it comes to covering the "new economy." Business 2.0 and its brethren are going to have to change their tune, if not their frequencies, if they want to survive.

The latest figures from the Publishers Information Bureau are not encouraging. Ad pages for Business 2.0 were down 30% compared with February 2000; International Data Group's Industry Standard was down 64%; and Red Herring's ad pages dropped 48%. Ad pages for Advance Magazine Publishers Inc.'s Wired, meanwhile, were down 11%. Figures weren't available for the other two Web-related titles, Gruner+Jahr USA Publishing's Fast Company and privately held Upside, which reportedly is now hunting for a buyer.

The lesson these magazines are now learning all too painfully is this: Traditional companies, including the media companies that cover them, must tackle the Internet based on rooted, economic principles, and not some pie in the sky.

Matthew Schwartz is a reporter for BtoB. He can be reached at mpschwartz@crain.com.

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