Business publishers defend print, march toward digital

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During American Business Media's Top Management Meeting last week in Chicago several speakers echoed Mark Twain's phrase about reports of his demise, saying the death of print media continues to be greatly exaggerated. Some publishers even reported that their print revenue has grown in the high single-digits this year compared with 2006.

But as has been the case at ABM meetings the last few years, the bulk of the conversation revolved around the tremendous changes being wrought by the Internet and how publishers can better respond to marketers' shifting more of their ad dollars to digital media and trade shows.

"B-to-b media companies need to make technology investments to develop the kinds of products that can have a place in desktop or work flow," said Kerry Gumas, president-CEO of Questex Media, who spoke at a CEO roundtable during the three-day conference.

Gumas added that a corollary of the rise of the Internet has been an increased flow of marketing dollars to trade shows, which provide solid margins for business publishers. "The more the world goes digital, the more important face-to-face becomes," he said.

B-to-b media revenue projections for 2008 reflect the trend. Digital revenue for b-to-b media companies is expected to grow 18% to 22% in 2008, while face-to-face revenue is expected to grow 7% to 10%, said Gordon Hughes II, president-CEO of ABM. Custom media, which publishers often turn to in greater numbers when the economy grows sluggish, is expected to grow 18% to 21%, while magazine revenue is expected to drop 2% to 7%.

"We're looking at a good year, albeit a challenging one," Hughes told attendees.

Also at the meeting, ABM and media investment banker Jordan, Edmiston Group released a report that showed the average revenue for b-to-b publications grew 2.5% in 2006, resulting in an average annual compound growth rate of 2.3% from 2004 to 2006.

Ad pages per issue dropped a compound average of 6.7% from 2004 through 2006, and there was a 1.4% compound average drop in average edit pages per issue.

The ABM meeting drew about 300 senior-level business publishers, media vendors and media bankers.

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