'Business Week' redesigns as B-books battle big slump

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McGraw-Hill Cos.' Business Week will roll out a redesign with its Oct. 6 issue, as the triumvirate of the capital-B Business books continue to struggle amid a category downturn that's lasted nearly three years.

To put the category in perspective, consider this: Both Business Week's 3,333.1 ad pages for 2002 and Forbes' 3,504.6 are below any levels recorded in the 1990s. (Time Inc.'s Fortune, before it was revived by its parent company's current Editorial Director John Huey, severely lagged both its rivals for much of the `90s.) In other words, `02's results trail the lows recorded in the depths of the previous recession. And no executive at any of the titles expects to beat `02s results this year.

factors at play

There's any number of reasons for this. The wholesale disappearance of the New Economy whacked ad pages. The stock market downturn did the same for its base of financial advertisers. The drumbeat of downbeat news, as well as the tarnishing of players ranging from corporate CEOs to Wall Street analysts to big-name accounting firms, hasn't helped much either. And the run-up and immediate aftermath to the Iraq War didn't exactly inspire already-wary advertisers.

And there's a 24-hour business news cycle, thanks to CNBC and a raft of online players that weren't around during the last recession. "We have to be a lot more analytical and interpretive than the daily news," said Stephen Shepard, Business Week's editor-in-chief. "That hasn't changed. It's just much harder."

Business Week's President-Publisher William Kupper, though, said "signs of normalcy" were returning to the market, and that consumer demand remained strong. "The readership is all there-we could [increase rate base] to a million if we wanted to," he said, but added "the ad market hasn't been there to support that increase." Business Week's rate base is 970,000. Forbes is 900,000 and Fortune's is 830,000.

To combat ad-page declines, Mike Federle, group publisher, Fortune, pointed to efforts such as its tie-in with PBS's "Wall Street Week" and ramped-up efforts to package with CNN coverage of magazine franchises like the Fortune 500. "You want to create as many new revenue streams as possible" in a downturn, he said, calling his magazine's efforts "manageable integration. It's not the massive $50 million packages that are very long in development."


Redesigned Business Week pages feature more "white space"-a change for the prototypical text-dense and tightly formatted magazine, as well as a broader photographic palette. Cover treatments and the logo were tweaked as well. Mr. Shepard said that design changes would result in "modest" tightening of article lengths.

One other change is that the lifestyle section "Investor" will revert to its original title "Personal Business"-echoing the new section that Dow Jones & Co.'s Wall Street Journal began during this downturn to attract a broader ad base. Mr. Shepard said that the new cover will sometimes do away with the left-hand column of coverlines in order to use "more width" for images and headlines.

This likely won't come as a surprise to media buyers, who've noted the big-three business titles have sought to capitalize on their well-heeled audience with non-endemic advertisers as the tech and financial strongholds have dried up. "They're more and more trying to adjust to the lifestyle of being a business professional," said George Janson, director of print at Mediaedge:cia, New York.

Through August of this year, both Business Week's and Fortune's ad pages were down double-digits, while Forbes was down 6.7%.

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