Fairchild revamps b-to-b print portfolio

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Last month, Fairchild Publications, a unit of Advance Publications, announced it was closing Executive Technology. But jumping to the conclusion that Fairchild's b-to-b publications are suffering would be premature.

"2004 will be another [revenue] growth year, somewhere in the 6% to 8% range," said Michael DeBartolo, Fairchild exec VP-group publisher. He was referring to his division, which includes all Fairchild's b-to-b publications except the Women's Wear Daily group.

DeBartolo's group, which includes Supermarket News and Footwear News has posted three straight years of growth, including 2003, in which it posted revenue growth of 14%.

Not surprising, given the state of tech publishing, Executive Technology had become a drag on revenues for Fairchild. The publication, which debuted as a stand-alone magazine in 1999, saw its ads pages plunge 36% from 248 in the first eight months of 2003 to 159.1 during the same period this year, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. In closing the magazine, Fairchild created the Executive Technology group, which will produce technology features aimed at retail executives for other Fairchild publications, such as Women's Wear Daily and DNR.

Fairchild's b-to-b unit overall appears to be healthy, although it is producing its revenue growth in a contrarian manner. In an era in which the business media mantra is "diversify," Fairchild has proceeded cautiously. While other b-to-b media companies aggressively move toward creating a presence "in print, in person and online," Fairchild has remained content, more than most, with staying "in print."

DeBartolo makes no apologies for the approach. "We've focused on the core," he said.

One reason why the strategy has worked so far for Fairchild is that most of its b-to-b titles are No. 1 in their niches. Also, most are weekly and paid publications. "There's something very simple and very on the mark with paid newsweeklies," said Dan Bagan, publisher director of Supermarket News. "That's a trade format that works."

The magazines have fared reasonably well in 2004. Supermarket News, for instance, saw its ad pages increase from 1,049.8 in the first eight months of 2003 to 1,160 in the same period this year, a gain of 10%, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. In addition to boosting ad pages, DeBartolo said the company has been able to raise subscription rates.

While it is closing Executive Technology, Fairchild announced at the same time that it is launching another print title, a supplement to Supermarket News. The quarterly supplement, SN Whole Health, will examine trends in health, organic and natural foods.

Beyond the magazine revenue, Fairchild does a modest business in conferences. A key conference is the CEO Apparel Summit. Fairchild will also continue to produce the Executive Technology CIO Leadership Summit.

Curiously, Fairchild, as a matter of corporate philosophy, has been slow to bolster its Web sites. The Footwear News site is typical; it focuses on daily news and doesn't dabble in much beyond that. "The thing we knew we needed to deliver was daily news content. That's what the market says they want," DeBartolo said.

Additionally, Bagan points out that in his niche, supermarket executives spend most of their day on the store floor, not in front of a computer, so the Internet isn't as important in his market as it might be in others.

"The Internet is meaningful only if it fits into your business model, and every market is different," said Robert Crosland, managing director at media investment bank AdMedia Partners. "Every market has different requirements of online versus print."

The net result is Fairchild-unlike many companies that have seen investments in their Web sites pursue dead-end paths-has developed profitable, if straightforward and unambitious, Web sites. "We haven't overinvested," DeBartolo said.

At the same time, Fairchild is not ignoring the opportunities on the Web. Women's Wear Daily plans to relaunch its Web site within the next several weeks, according to Dorian Benkoil, general manager of Fairchild Internet. The site already generates significant revenue from archived content and from digital editions, which make the daily available to overseas subscribers. M

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