Small publishers respond quickly to market challenges

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While the McGraw-Hills, VNUs and Reed-Elseviers are the most visible of b-to-b media companies, publicly traded behemoths are in the minority in the sector. Most b-to-b trade publishers, as a recent article in the Jordan, Edmiston Group’s "Client Briefing" newsletter made clear, are small- to medium-sized entrepreneurial companies, or SMEs.

Using data from SRDS, Richard Mead, a managing director at Jordan, Edmiston and author of the article, calculated that 55% of the 2,043 b-to-b publishers in the U.S. are smaller publishers—those with less than $50 million in annual revenue.

. Like most b-to-b media companies, these smaller publishers have suffered in the protracted downturn. Facing reduced ad pages and the rise of the Internet, particularly search advertising, trade publishers have significant challenges in front of them.

"Are they up to the task?" Mead asks.

The appropriate response, he contends, is just what smaller publishers have always done: Launch new titles and develop other innovative ways to connect buyers and sellers. He says smaller publishers have been the "lifeblood" of the b-to-b publishing industry.

Smaller publishers have long enjoyed the advantage of having a flatter management structure and being able to respond to market conditions more quickly than their larger compatriots. "We’ve got a considerable advantage, because we can make decisions a lot faster than a big company can," said Norm Kamikow, president of MediaTec Publishing.

In 2003 and 2004, for instance, smaller publishers accounted for 283 of the 423 new magazines launched, according to data supplied to Jordan, Edmiston from "The Business Publisher."

Kamikow’s MediaTec contributed a launch in 2002 with Chief Learning Officer magazine. A measure of the magazine’s success is that two competitors have left the market in the last two years.

But smaller publishers are living up to their reputation in ways beyond launching new trade publications. At Hoyt Publications, for instance, company President Peter Hoyt spearheaded an effort to launch an association, the In-Store Marketing Institute, to take on an existing trade group.

Another smaller publisher, Watt Publishing Co., is pioneering vertical search. On its Web site, the company has installed SearchChannel’s technology, which enables visitors to search meat processing-oriented Web sites—not the entire Web.

And Zweig White Information Services, a small company formed by the merger of construction industry publisher Mercor Media and construction industry consulting firm ZweigWhite, is attempting to combine the publishing model with the consulting model in an effort to sell more information to readers and depend less on cyclical advertising revenues. Whether the model works or not, it seems that a number of small publishers are upholding the tradition of innovation.

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