Business pubs welcome a rarity: Growth in ad pages

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The majority of consumer business magazines gained ad pages in the third quarter, according to Publishers Information Bureau figures released last month. It's a welcome sign of modest recovery for the business press, and there are indications that this growth is accelerating as most titles grew at a faster rate in the third quarter than earlier this year. For instance, Condé Nast's Wired was up 32.8% in ad pages in the third quarter compared with the same period last year. Through the first three quarters, Wired was up 24.7% from the year-earlier period. Howard Mittman, VP-publisher of Wired, acknowledged the obvious when discussing the double-digit gains. “Who's not up against low competitive numbers?” he asked. But Wired is not simply gaining pages based on the tough times the magazine and the rest of the economy faced last year. “We've been exceeding 2008 numbers for much of the year, which is great,” Mittman said. Advertisers are attracted by Wired's ability to deliver integrated marketing programs that reach its community, he said. In addition to the brand's well-publicized iPad launch, Wired also has a website and conferences to attract advertisers. Canon Inc., General Electric Co., Porsche Cars North America and Yahoo ran “big units”—insertions of four pages or more—in the print publication in the third quarter, Mittman said. These insertions were part of broader integrated marketing programs with Wired. Mittman said it's important to remember that Wired, like other magazine brands, is much more than a print publication. The brand overall was up about 33% in total revenue for the third quarter. “We're not trying to get back to where we were,” Mittman said. “We're honestly trying to get to where we've never been.” Wired isn't the only publication with a large business readership that saw sizable ad page gains in the third quarter, according to PIB. Technology Review, for example, posted a gain of almost 18.0%, and its year-to-date ad page performance was even stronger: up 32.8%. Barron's also gained in the third quarter (16.2%) and for the first three quarters (16.8%). Harvard Business Review was up 7.8% in the third quarter and 4.7% year-to-date. Two publications aimed at small businesses both posted double-digit gains in the third quarter: Inc. (11.7%) and Entrepreneur (11.6%). Inc. came close to sustaining that growth rate over the first three quarters (10.3%), but Entrepreneur was essentially flat (0.1%). Ed Fitzelle, managing director of Whitestone Communications, said the audiences of these two publications have grown stronger. “There are a lot of people who are no longer at corporations and are out on their own,” he said. The big three business magazines continued to lag their business publication counterparts as well as the broad consumer magazine sector, which posted a 3.6% gain in ad pages in the third quarter, according to PIB. Forbes posted a slight 0.7% gain in ad pages, but Fortune (-8.5%) and Bloomberg Businessweek (-9.3%) continued to bleed pages in the third quarter. The three titles were all down year-to-date: Bloomberg Businessweek (-4.7%), Forbes (-9.6%), and Fortune (-9.1%). Roland DeSilva, managing partner of DeSilva & Phillips, said ad pages remain sluggish in these publications for a variety of reasons. “First is surely the economic climate and uncertainty; however, each is also struggling to find their new identity as financial information sources in today's digital media world,” he said. “Financial information is readily available on a practically instantaneous basis via the Internet and broadcast, which makes it very difficult for these magazines to compete on a standalone basis.” DeSilva also pointed out that these brands have expanded to the Web and conferences. “You really can't judge the magazines' performance only on ad pages, but you must look at all the revenue streams and audience numbers from all sources to get a clearer picture,” he said.
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