A trade publication is a narrowly targeted magazine or newspaper that serves a business or business-related audience. Readers of trade publications share a common work function, are affiliated with a specific industry or are deeply engaged in a specialized segment of a particular industry. For example, the broader construction industry is served by Construction Equipment, while Masonry Repair Digest, a niche publication, mainly serves masons. Some trade publications focus on geographical areas, ranging in scope from city coverage (e.g., the Chicago Purchasor) to global reach (such as International Business Magazine).
The advertising industry is served by a host of trade publications. Advertising Age, according to the Standard Periodicals Directory, is the industry leader for advertising news and information. Among the other publications that now cover or have covered various areas of marketing are Promo, Marketing News, Ad Agency Insider, Radio & Media, Advertising Age's BtoB, Ad Age Global, Adweek, Brandweek, Hispanic Media & Market Source, Database Marketer, Exhibit Review, MC, Mediaweek and Printers' Ink.
As a special class of print media, trade publications perform at least two major functions: First, they carry advertisements to audiences comprising the business-to-business segment of the economy. Second, readers consult trade publications for editorial information they need to develop business or technology strategies or to further their careers.
Trade publications earn revenue from several streams of income. Revenue is earned by providing advertisers access to markets (i.e., income from advertising and other promotional programs offered to businesses), intelligence (e.g., marketing research, data base information, etc.) and future employees (e.g., recruitment advertising and other special recruiting services). Trade publications also earn money through subscriptions and sales.
There are several taxonomies used to classify business-to-business print media, of which trade publications are a subsegment. Beginning around 1915, business publications were divided into three general categories: retail, industrial and class. Retail publications were aimed at retailers, which sell goods directly to consumers. Industrial publications were aimed at specific industries, such as railroads, construction and steel. Class publications were aimed at specific segments sharing the same general function regardless of their businesses or occupations.
A more recent classification system uses four categories: industrial, trade, professional and agricultural publications. However, this system restricts trade publications to those that serve only wholesalers, distributors and retailers.
Another, more inclusive approach divides general business and trade publications into horizontal and vertical categories while recognizing special cases that target more narrowly defined audiences. Horizontal publications target people who hold similar jobs or perform a specific set of related functions in different companies across various industries, a select set of related business tasks or a particular class of technology. Purchasing Magazine, for example, is a specialized trade publication that targets purchasing agents.
Conversely, vertical publications are aimed at people who hold different jobs within a specifically defined industry. For example, Folio and Store Age Magazine are understood by almost anyone familiar with the industries that they serve, regardless of their occupations or titles.
Spending and revenue
Business-to-business communication spending estimates, while controversial, provide important insights into trade publications. An estimated $73 billion was spent on business marketing communications in 1997. Nearly one in four of those dollars was spent on advertising, making it the most popular promotional tool in business-to-business marketing, according to the Outfront II study published in 1999 by Advertising Age's Business Marketing and the latest data available.
Spending in business publications by the top 100 business-to-business advertisers dropped 7.3% in 2001, from $5.8 billion in 2000 to $5.4 billion a year later, according to BtoB.
The fit between an audience and its editorial content is described in the publisher's "editorial profile," which profiles prime readers, identifies the type of trade publication and provides a written overview of the magazine, its key contents and special sections. A media planner uses the publisher's editorial profile to evaluate a publication, determining how close it comes to matching a target audience and enhancing the image of the advertiser or its brand. Editorial profiles are found in advertising directories, such as Standard Rate & Data Service's SRDS Business Publication Advertising Source.
Publishers use the publisher's editorial profile to verify circulations and calculate advertising rates. Once each target reader segment is profiled, the descriptions are used to quantify the trade publication's "qualified circulation." This is the circulation-paid or nonpaid-sent to the markets served, along with recipient qualification and the correct business or occupational classifications verified by auditable, documentary evidence that is dated within 36 months. Qualified recipients must receive each issue of the trade publication, subject to normal removals and edition variations.
Audits of circulations are used to verify and adjust a trade publication's circulation. An audit is a formal, third-party check of a publication's circulation. An "audit unit" is an audited report attesting to the validity of the number of units, plants or establishments a publication serves. A "breakdown," a customary component of an audit, is the division of circulation as to the types of businesses or industries that a trade publication reaches, the functions or titles of recipients and their geographic locations.
The Audit Bureau of Circulations is an independent, nonprofit organization of advertisers, advertising agencies and publishers that provides verified audits of the circulation of newspapers and magazines, including trade publications. Audits also can be obtained from other companies, such as BPA International and Verified Audit Circulation. Some trade publications, given their small, specialized circulation, are not audited but instead offer "non-qualified distribution" circulation figures. Often publishers of nonaudited trade publications provide circulation data as a "statement," which alerts media planners and advertisers to the fact that the data have not been verified.
In 2003, Veronis Suhler Stevenson, a media investment banking company, released an industry forecast that suggested business-to-business media would continue to grow through 2007, although the estimated compound growth rate of 4.7% would be less than the 6% seen from 1996 to 2000. Spending in trade publications in 2005 was expected to reach $12.3 billion.