Strong 2nd half of 2010 can't offset overall ad page decline

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B-to-b print advertising pages declined 3.1% last year compared with 2009, according to Business Information Network figures released by American Business Media. (See Benchmarks, page 18.)

That drop was hardly a surprise. It marked the fourth straight year of declines for b-to-b print ad pages, which have been challenged since 2000 with the rise of digital options. The last year that print ad pages increased was 2006, when they eked out a 0.7% gain.

Print ad pages have only grown twice over a full calendar year since 2001. When print has grown, it has done so on a small scale; when it has declined, it has lost big. Over the past decade there have been three calendar years—2001, 2002 and 2009—that saw double-digit declines in ad pages.

Nonetheless, there are some bright spots to be found in a close reading of the BIN numbers for 2010. First, ad pages have stabilized, as the decline in 2010 came nowhere near to the freefall of 2009, when ad pages plunged 28.6%.

Another bright spot: Pages increased more often than not in the second half of the year. In July, the BIN numbers showed their first monthly gain in years, with extremely modest growth of 0.4%. The numbers were also up in September (2.0%), October (0.6%) and December (1.4%).

“I see b-to-b increasing slightly in 2011, a function of an economic recovery more than anything else,” said Mike Parker, managing director at AdMedia Partners.

Some advertiser categories proved brighter than others. Automotive was the strongest category last year, with ad pages increasing 9.3%. Agriculture followed with a 1.6% increase. Science research and development was the weakest category, with ad pages falling 17.4%. Computing, software and tele-communications followed, with a 15% decline.

The brightest spot of all is the simple fact that business media companies no longer rely almost completely on print ad pages for their revenue. “Regardless of whether there was growth, we are still inside a media revolution,” said Ed Fitzelle, managing director at Whitestone Communications. “With so many different options for marketers to test and evaluate, we will continue to see declines in print as companies try to get the right mix between print and digital advertising and promotion. We are still years away from the kind of settled media environment that we were accustomed to in years past.”

ABM has acknowledged this continuing revolution by occasionally releasing enhanced BIN reports that include data from trade shows and digital revenue. In 2009, the last full year for which a report is available, print accounted for just 33.3% of total b-to-b marketing revenue amassed by business media companies. Trade shows accounted for 41.8%; digital, 17.8%; and data, 7.1%.

These other media showed clear signs of growth last year. Trade show revenue increased 4.2% compared with 2009, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research. Similarly, U.S. Internet advertising revenue reached $6.4 billion in the third quarter of 2010, a 17% increase over the same period in 2009, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

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