Bloodied tech publishing on new course for future

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WHILE THE PUBLISHING recession has been uncomfortable for many, it has been downright devastating for magazines that rely heavily on telecommunications and computer advertising.

According to the latest 2001versus 2002 year-to-date figures from the Business Information Network (BIN), telecommunications ad pages were off a whopping 58.6% and revenues fell 55.6%; computer ad pages dropped 34.1% and revenue declined 33.2%. This compares to an industrywide drop, year to date, of 23.6% in ad pages and 29.1% in revenues. On the bright side, ad spending in February increased for the first time in 15 months, according to Nelson Sofres’ CRM, which looked at 10 traditional media.

Technology publishers and editors, who’ve revised their once-bullish visions of the “new economy” amid rounds of layoffs and closures, are now beginning to talk candidly about what’s feasible—and not—in the future.

*No more mega launches. “I don’t think you’ll see, for a very long time, the launch of a [title] with a 300,000-plus circulation,” said Mike Friedenberg, VP-publisher of CMP’s InformationWeek, which has a circulation of 440,000.

*A dot-com focus is old-think. “Such a publication would be five years out of step, at least,” said Jim Daly, editor of Business 2.0 from late 1997 to last July. “The big story today is how large, established organizations are taking what [Internet start-ups] learned to increase their efficiency and profits.” This is a natural evolution, he said, much the way so-called “race” music became mainstream a decade later as rock ‘n’ roll.

*Emphasis on electronic products and events. “I’m seeing publications attacking online and events with equal fervor,” said Sam Whitmore, editor of In the wake of the dot-com blowout, publishers are looking to “execute on the rhetoric” that they have multiple and synchronized distribution: print, online, events. Those that succeed in diversifying their portfolios will also be less vulnerable to market volatility, he said.

*Moving from broad to targeted. A corollary to the above is that advertisers, eager to obtain leads and generate sales, have less patience today for broad publishing vehicles. Some, such as TechTarget CEO Greg Strakosch, think it is a permanent shift. “I call it ROI media—targeted, efficient and measurable. And it’s taken a permanent piece of the IT media market from the broad media guys.”

*Consolidation of ad spending. Brian Fetherstonhaugh, senior partner of global brands at Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, who is in charge of the IBM account, calls this a “flight to quality.” (See story, Page 1). He said his agency’s major tech clients are being much more selective about which publications to advertise in, from a few blue-chip business publications to targeted IT pubs.

*Packaging and programming to dominate. According to Whitmore, the new environment will have fewer swashbuckling editors who decide an editorial mission from a gut instinct. They will be replaced by editors who lead by readership surveys and demographic research.

*Returning to bits and bytes coverage. “You’re going to see a return to technology coverage, not business reporting,” predicts one long-time computer journalist. Business titles, he said, may have ramped up their technology coverage in the past decade but will never match the depth of trade publications on this front.

Will dot-com era spending levels return? Publishers and editors are vaguely optimistic about something new that will galvanize advertisers and readers—although they agree it will not be the Internet per se, and it won’t be for four or five years.

“In the U.S., our memories are short,” said InformationWeek’s Friedenberg.

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