1. The McGraw-Hill Cos.
Location: New York
Key properties: Standard & Poor's, BusinessWeek, F.W. Dodge
2001 revenue: $4.6 billion
Growth (1st half 2002 vs. 1st half 2001): 2%
2. Thomson Corp.
Key properties: Westlaw, FirstCall Analyst, ISI Web of Science
2001 revenue: $7.2 billion
Growth (1st half 2002 vs. 1st half 2001): 10%
3. Reuters plc
Key properties: Reuters Media, Factiva, Lipper Analytical Services
2001 revenue: $5.6 billion
Growth (1st half 2002 vs. 1st half 2001): -5%
5. Reed Elsevier plc
Location: London and Amsterdam
Key properties: Reed Business Information, Reed Exhibitions, LexisNexis
2001 revenue: $6.6 billion
Growth (1st half 2002 vs. 1st half 2001): 21%
6. Dow Jones & Co.
Location: New York
Key properties:The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, Dow Jones indexes
2001 revenue: $1.8 billion
Growth (1st half 2002 vs. 1st half 2001): -14%
7. Pearson plc
Key properties:Financial Times, Pearson Education, Penguin Books
2001 revenue: $6.2 billion
Growth (1st half 2002 vs. 1st half 2001): -3%
8. International Data Group
Key properties: International Data Corp., PCWorld, Computerworld, MacWorld
2001 revenue: $3.0 billion
Growth (1st half 2002 vs. 1st half 2001): N/A
9. Bloomberg L.P.
Location: New York
Key properties: Bloomberg Professional Service, Bloomberg Radio
2001 revenue: $2.6 billion
Growth (1st half 2002 vs. 1st half 2001): N/A
10. United Business Media
Key properties: CMP Media, PR Newswire, RoperASW
2001 revenue: $1.4 billion
Growth (1st half 2002 vs. 1st half 2001): -16%
The McGraw-Hill Cos. crowns our list of the Top 10 business information companies because it ranks at or near the top in each of the three major categories evaluated.
First, it has size-revenues totaling $4.6 billion in 2001. Second, even though it was founded in the 19th century, McGraw-Hill is still growing. Its 2002 revenues appear certain to top last year's. In the first half of this year, it posted a 2% revenue gain over the same period last year-an achievement in an economy where, as some wiseacres have remarked, flat is the new up.
Third-and perhaps most important of all-McGraw-Hill ranks at the top when it comes to influence. Many companies, including Reed Elsevier plc and VNU NV, are emulating the manner in which McGraw-Hill has transformed itself over the past several decades from a b-to-b publisher to a complete business information company.
The publisher's economic performance has been powerfully consistent. It has delivered a dividend every year since 1937, and its dividend has grown every year since 1974. "If you look at McGraw-Hill's history, they never have a down year," said Robert Crosland, managing director of AdMedia Partners Inc. "It's one of the steadiest performers there is."
McGraw-Hill's higher education, professional and interna-tional division and its financial services division, which is an-chored by Standard & Poor's, generate consistent and growing revenue. Neither unit is dependent on cyclical advertising revenues.
"If you go back into the early '70s, about 60% of our reve-nues were from advertising," said Harold McGraw III, chairman, president and CEO of McGraw Hill. "Today, it's about 10%."
McGraw-Hill's information and media services division isn't as dependent on advertising as it once was. Although the division does include BusinessWeek, AviationWeek and Space Technology and other magazines dependent on advertising revenues, McGraw-Hill has transformed the division into one dependent on fees and subscription revenues. At one time, McGraw-Hill was the king of the smokestack trade press, but since the 1970s it has largely exited the business. Currently, it maintains a presence in three industries: aviation, construction and energy. It serves each with key trade books and fee-based information products. In construction, for example, McGraw-Hill publishes Architectural Record and Engineering News-Record and also has Sweets, a fee-based product reference source, and F.W. Dodge, a fee-based source for project news, plans and other information. BusinessWeek has developed several line extensions, including BusinessWeek-branded books and BusinessWeek TV, which runs on ABC affiliates across the nation. In an industry where many companies grew through leveraged acquisitions in the 1990s, perhaps the most striking thing about McGraw-Hill's consistent performance is this: "They don't have much debt," Crosland said. "They have very little debt because they've owned most of their stuff forever."
For years, Thomson Corp. was a major newspaper publisher that also had holdings in oil wells and travel agencies. But, in the last decade, Thomson has exited those businesses to cultivate its information-based products.
The company sought to make the transformation complete in 2001 when it tried to unload its Thompson Media subsidiary, which includes ad-dependent American Banker and Bond Buyer, among other titles. But, as the economy started to struggle, Thomson was forced to take the subsidiary out of play. The odds are it will try again to sell the group once the sluggish mergers and acquisitions market improves.
Even before b-to-b advertising plunged, Thomson was focusing on its four major operating groups, which now account for 54% of its overall revenue. They are: Thomson Legal and Regulatory, Thomson Learning, Thomson Financial, and Thomson Scientific and Healthcare. Within those groups, the company has several well-known brands. Investors, for example, know the company through its FirstCall unit, which tracks analysts' earnings expectations. Thomson also runs the Westlaw legal database, the NewsEdge news distribution service and the Physicians' Desk Reference, the standard database of approved drugs.
Last year Thomson expanded its reach in the information markets with its $43 million acquisition of NewsEdge. Thomson combined NewsEdge with its Dialog unit, one of the most extensive databases of online business and legal information.
VNU NV today is totally unrecognizable from the company it was just five years ago. Back then it derived more than half its revenue from consumer magazines, broadcast television and other consumer-focused properties. Most of its revenue came from the Netherlands and Belgium, and a majority of the revenue was derived from advertising-based products.
Today, the company is a b-to-b information giant with business-focused properties that range from Adweek to market research concern ACNielsen. VNU now generates more than half its revenue in the U.S. And 70% of its revenue derives from subscription-based products, according to Maarten Schikker, VNU's VP-communications.
"When you forget our advertising revenues in our Yellow Pages, we are talking about only 10% of our revenues [that] are cyclical advertising revenues in trade magazines," Schikker said.
In the past five years, VNU has aggressively put into practice the model used by most leading business information companies. First, it has grown through acquisition, such as its purchase of Miller Freeman's U.S. trade shows.
Second, the company has focused on acquiring leading properties, such as Billboard Magazine and Nielsen Media Research, which holds a virtual monopoly on TV ratings in the U.S.
Finally, it has reduced its dependence on advertising, and is likely to reduce it even more.
"What's their biggest investment?" asked Robert Crosland, managing director of AdMedia Partners Inc. "It's Nielsen. Look for them to continue building out that part of the business."
To illustrate its growing diversification, Dow Jones & Co., publishers of The Wall Street Journal, created a diagram of a pebble dropping into a pond for its annual report. The pebble is a business news story, which first creates a ripple at the Dow Jones Newswires. The story then will likely appear on the Interactive Wall Street Journal at wsj.com. Depending upon its newsworthiness, the story may appear on CNBC, with which Dow Jones has a content relationship. The story might also appear on The Wall Street Journal radio network. The next day, of course, the most important stories will find themselves in Dow Jones's flagship, the print version of The Wall Street Journal. And finally, the story will end up in the Factiva.com archive, a joint venture Dow Jones co-owns with Reuters plc.
Dow Jones' diversification extends to its revenue streams, which include information services and subscription fees. But the company still generates the majority of its revenue from advertising.
"The Wall Street Journal was hurt by the advertising recession, like everyone else; but, from an editorial integrity standpoint, it's always been viewed as one of the examples of how to have a solid, reputable information franchise," said Scott Peters, managing director of Jordan Edmiston Group Inc.
"We'd like to have a check coming in like clockwork, but that's not the business we're in," said Rich Zannino, COO of Dow Jones. "We'd always like to see more recurring revenue from subscriptions, but we are in a business that's heavily reliant on advertising. That's our core business, and that's not going to change."
Reuters plc, which dates back to 1851, has always had a leg up on advertising-centric publishing companies by providing information from dozens of financial markets around the world, often in real-time.
While the soft economy has led to downward pressure on prices for some of Reuters' offerings, the markets have expanded for the suite of information-based products the company provides. These range from Reuters Health Information to Reuters Data-Foreign Exchanges and Money Markets to Reuters Bridge Internet Tool. Other products include Reuters Internet Finance Platform and Reuters News-International Securities.
"It provides incredible reach," said Jeffrey Dearth, a partner in media investment bank DeSilva & Phillips. "It doesn't really rely on journals and hard copy. Being subscription-based is a good port during the storm."
In the last few years, Reuters has deepened its bench considerably, even joining with rivals. In 1999 it joined with Dow Jones & Co. to create Factiva, a Web-based news service that targets For-tune 500 global companies, combining content from Reuters Newswires, Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. In 1998 Reuters acquired Lipper Analytical Services, which tracks more than 80,000 mutual funds.
Reuters acquired several other properties that have been combined with Lipper, including CAMRA, which supplies fund portfolio information and analysis, and BT Alex Brown Investment Trusts, a division of Bankers Trust International plc.
Reed Elsevier plc has transformed itself over the last decade. "They reinvented themselves," said Reed Phillips, managing partner of media investment bank DeSilva & Phillips Inc. "They sold their consumer properties, both in the U.S. and the U.K., and focused on b-to-b publishing, trade shows and the information business."
Reed Elsevier has four divisions: Science & Medical, Legal (which includes the LexisNexis Group), Education (which includes Harcourt Education) and Business to Business. The diversified company has diminished its reliance on advertising revenue, which has enabled it to weather the current b-to-b recession better than most.
Reed Elsevier derives only 12% of its revenue from advertising, according to Gerard van de Aast, CEO of the Reed Business Information unit, formerly Cahners Business Information.
While most of Reed Business Information's titles adhere to the traditional controlled circulation model, an effort is under way to rely more on subscription, rather than advertising, revenue. The company's Variety, for example, follows a paid circulation model.
Additionally, Reed Business Information now owns the CMD Group, a competitor to McGraw-Hill's Sweets unit that sells project and other data to the construction industry. Van de Aast said the addition of this kind of product is just the diversification his division needs. "There is a decent mix of subscription revenue, exhibition revenue and advertising revenue in there," he said.
Having built the circulation of the Financial Times in the U.S. to 130,000, from an initial 38,000 in 1997, Pearson plc is betting that the ad market will eventually turn around for the daily newspaper.
"Our assumption is the ad market will get better, and we're investing in circulation to bring in the right kind of reader, which will bring in the right kind of advertiser," said Steve Brennen, senior VP-marketing and circulation for Financial Times U.S.
He added that the newspaper is currently developing marketing programs to enable advertisers to more clearly define Financial Times' readers. "We'll be less aggressive on growth this year and focus on the [subscribers] who are most valuable to advertisers, which are higher-income, C-level executives."
Even if the ad recession is prolonged, Pearson's diverse portfolio should help the U.K.-based publisher weather any additional storms. Pearson Education, one of the world's largest educational publishers, currently accounts for 60% of the company's overall revenue. In addition to textbooks, it markets a variety of education and training courses delivered both in print and electronically. Revenues for the division are expected to increase 5% this year, said John Fallon, U.S. president of Pearson.
"The company's Prentice Hall division, which markets books on information technology, economics and finance, has also been performing well, Fallon said. Pearson also owns consumer book publisher Penguin Books.
While International Data Group titles such as CIO and InfoWorld have been hammered by the downturn in ad spending by technology companies, the publisher's ace in the hole has been International Data Corp. The international research firm was founded in 1964, along with its parent company. It provides a multitude of information-based products that focus on e-business and technology trends that major b-to-b companies can ill afford to ignore, particularly in the current business environment. The information is mined from more than 700 analysts in 43 countries.
"The information needs of an IBM or a Gateway are more important in bad times than good times," said Pat Kenealy, who recently was named IDG's CEO. In a severe downturn, "companies hit the research books really hard to find out 'how we get into this space,'" he said.
Although privately held IDC doesn't release specific figures, Kenealy said IDC had its best year financially in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2002. Clients access IDC's data through individual research documents; more than 300 continuous information services; custom consulting engagements; and conferences and events.
IDG also uses IDC as its own publishing lab, relying on the unit for its circulation strategy. "The idea for IDG is not something that flows with the tide," Kenealy said. "We try to catch the waves of new markets so ad dollars are not built on the ebb and flow of the markets."
The Bloomberg name covers all the media bases, delivering financial news and information via television, radio and the Web. Bloomberg L.P. also publishes four magazines: Bloomberg Personal Finance, Bloomberg Wealth Manager, Bloomberg Markets and On Investing, a personal investment magazine produced exclusively for Charles Schwab's top-tier clients.
Since its founding in 1990 as a financial news wire service, the company's primary business has been delivering hard business news to subscribers. Its wire services have grown to include 1,200 reporters in 85 bureaus worldwide.
One of the company's main products, Bloomberg Professional Service, combines data, analytics, electronic trading and other processing tools. The service is available 24/7 to more than 260,000 professionals in more than 100 countries. Clients can monitor risk and exposure, use pricing models and evaluate long- and short-term performance. Customers include central banks, investment institutions, commercial banks, government agencies, corporations and news organizations throughout the world.
Wall Street considers the more advertising-dependent products at the house that Michael Bloomberg built, such as magazines and radio, merely loss leaders. "Whether all of the businesses are profitable isn't the issue," said Reed Phillips, managing partner of media investment banking firm DeSilva & Phillips. "It has a commanding presence in financial markets and delivers the products effectively."
United Business Media isn't the company it planned to be. In 1999, it appeared to be on its way to merging with Carlton Communications plc and becoming a powerhouse in British commercial television. Regulators, however, asked that UBM divest a license that the company felt was a linchpin to the deal, and the merger was abandoned.
After the deal fell through, UBM sold its commercial TV property to Granada Media plc, exiting the business altogether. "We felt the industry was consolidating, and we didn't want to risk being the No. 3 player," said Nigel Main, chief of media relations for UBM.
After selling off other pieces of consumer-oriented businesses, UBM focused on its b-to-b division. Today, the company essentially consists of CMP Media, PR Newswire and NOP World.
While struggling in the tech downturn, CMP, with leading properties such as InformationWeek, CRN and EE Times, is gaining market share, according to the company. And, under CEO Gary Marshall, it has trimmed costs to be well positioned for a recovery.
In contrast with advertising-dependent CMP, PR Newswire, which posts corporate press releases on the Web and offers a tracking system for clients to gauge press coverage, provides a more consistent revenue stream. And NOP World is the No. 2 health care market research firm in the world, according to Main.
With the cash gained from the divestiture of its consumer businesses, UBM is essentially a debt-free company and should benefit greatly from an economic recovery, Main said.
Ask media bankers-the people who analyze business information companies for a living-if there are any up-and-coming businesses in this industry, and they laugh ruefully.
"There are not a lot of companies pursuing interesting growth initiatives these days," said Robert Crosland, managing director of AdMedia Partners Inc. "They're spending most of their time figuring out ways to hang on to what they've got."
A lonely exception is TechTarget. Despite an unprecedented falloff in tech ad spending, privately held TechTarget recorded a profitable third quarter. It has posted 12 consecutive quarters of revenue growth, and in the third quarter its revenue grew 41% from the same period a year earlier.
TechTarget has attracted more than 1,000 advertisers, including IBM and Microsoft, by amassing niche IT audiences on targeted sites such as searchstorage.com and searchCRM.com.
The company has recently expanded beyond the Web into conferences and magazines, all the while maintaining its focus on niche markets. "We get to a far more granular level than anyone else in this media space," said TechTarget CEO Greg Strakosch.
"We have been big on them since their inception, because there is no waste in their model," said Sarah Fay, president of media-buying agency Carat Interactive.
TechTarget, Strakosch said, is focused on providing a return on its advertisers' investment. "Every single program we put out has to have an ROI justification on it. That's what customers are demanding," he said. "If you perform, you get more business. If you don't perform, you're gone."
In determining the companies to be included among the Business Media Powerhouses, we first narrowed the list of potential candidates to those companies that derive more than half of their revenue from selling information-in formats ranging from controlled-circulation magazines to market research reports-to other businesses.
We then judged companies based on three major criteria.
The first was size. The biggest information providers in terms of revenue received heavy consideration for inclusion on the list.
The second was growth, in particular in the first half of this year. In the current climate, any company that grew its revenues-or was even flat-was considered for the list.
The third factor we considered was intangible: the company's influence on the industry.
Crain Communications Inc., publisher of BtoB, was excluded from consideration.