Biz-mag group sets e-centric expansion

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After today, the American Business Press will be no more.

With a vote of its members at the organization's annual spring meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz., the trade association will change its name to American Business Media. The vote is a mere formality: The measure was approved by proxy votes last month.

"It's passed," said Gordon Hughes II, president of the association. At the meeting, he will unveil a $1 million advertising campaign to promote the name change. The ads, created by Avrett Free & Ginsberg, New York, depict the ABP logo morphing into the new ABM logo. The campaign features the tagline, "The association of business media companies," and debuts today in print publications, including Advertising Age, Adweek, Business Week and Folio.


The new name reflects a change in the composition of the organization, which voted in November to allow non-print publishing companies, such as Web publisher VerticalNet, to join as full members. The change also reflects the fact that more than 90% of the group's print publishing members have Web sites.

The machinations for the membership change were put in motion at last year's spring meeting when Ziff-Davis resigned its membership. That move, plus the loss of CMP Media (acquired by fellow ABP member Miller Freeman) cost the association $300,000 in annual dues. Since November, the organization has admitted more than 30 new members, Mr. Hughes said.


That count includes the two Baby Zs created by Softbank Corp.'s dismantling of Ziff-Davis, technology portal ZDNet and publisher Ziff Davis Media. Overall, the new members will account for at least $425,000 in annual dues, said ABM board member Alan Douglas, president of Douglas Publications.

The new membership, especially the dot-com publishers, are represented on the spring meeting's agenda. "It's safe to say that 80% of the program will be e-centric," Mr. Hughes said.

The membership change may have introduced a cultural split into the organization. While many traditional publishers fret about proposed postal rate hikes, for example, Web publishers such as ZDNet and VerticalNet care little about such issues.

Also, animosity still smolders between VerticalNet and traditional publishers such as Cahners Business Information and Penton Media. Cahners CEO Marc Teren has dismissed VerticalNet as takeover bait, while Penton CEO Thomas Kemp has questioned VerticalNet's ability to generate traffic on its sites.

Mark Walsh, VerticalNet's CEO, is only too happy to snipe back, complaining that vertical magazines continue to refuse VerticalNet ads. "These guys all keep talking about us like we're some sort of satanic being and how they're going to quash us," he said.

Mr. Hughes said tension is part of any trade group that brings competitors together. "The guys should keep their guns holstered when they're at [the association], take off their corporate hats and work for the good of the industry," he said.

Long term, the organization faces another problem. In addition to allowing Web publishers as members, the organization also embraces custom publishers, a group that eventually could include advertisers that produce their own custom magazines. For an organization that has long fought for the journalistic integrity of the business press, some observers fear that may pose a perception problem.

Mr. Callahan is a reporter for Advertising Age's BtoB.

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