Last year the best since 2000 for business magazines

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Led by Time Inc.’s Business 2.0, business publications in 2004 turned in their best year since the high-water mark of 2000, according to Publishers Information Bureau figures released by the Magazine Publishers of America.

With the exception of Fast Company, every major business publication posted gains in ad pages in 2004 over 2003, according to PIB. Business 2.0 posted the highest percentage gain in ad pages, a jump of 23.8%. Other so-called "new economy" or technology-oriented publications turned in strong performances, with Wired up 15.5% in ad pages and PC Magazine growing 1.4%. Fast Company, however, saw its ad pages dwindle by 12.3%

The big three business books each posted gains: Fortune was up 11.5%, followed by Forbes (11.3%) and BusinessWeek (4.2%). Other business publications also increased their ad pages, with Inc. up 14.5%; Barron’s, 8.4%; and The Economist, 2.6%.

The PIB data showed that consumer publications overall posted a 3.8% gain in ad pages in 2004 compared with 2003. Business magazines benefited from the same macroeconomic trends that saw healthier and more profitable companies investing more money in marketing in 2004. "A lot of that money comes out of retained earnings," said Robert Crosland, managing director at media investment bank AdMedia Partners. "Corporate advertising is fueled by the surplus profits of corporations."

A pessimist could point to the ad-page growth in 2004 as being of questionable strength because it built on several down years. For instance, Forbes had 6,083 ad pages in 2000 but only 3,470 in 2004. Similarly, BusinessWeek had $573.3 million in revenue in 2000 but just $365.6 million in 2004. The category as a whole is a shadow of what it once was.

However, an optimist could argue that the ad page growth is just one indicator of a publishing brand’s overall health. Web advertising has skyrocketed for these publications, and it is an often hidden indicator of just how strong a publishing brand is. At Ziff Davis Media’s PC Magazine, for instance, online revenue leaped 86.2% in 2004 compared with 2003. "We look at the brand of PC Magazine holistically, as both a print and Web entity," said Tim Castelli, senior VP-group publisher.

With growth on the Web and in print, business media executives are optimistic for 2005. Barron’s Publisher Gary Holland is pleased that key categories for his publication, such as financial (up 7.6% in ad pages) and automotive (up 50% in pages), came back in 2004 and are showing signs of strength in 2005. "I’m pretty optimistic right now," he said. "The first quarter is starting off pretty well for us."

At Business 2.0, publisher Lisa Bentley is also bullish. She said financial and automotive remain strong for her magazine, as do consumer goods, tech and telecom. She believes that Business 2.0 is even stronger than average in the category and points to a rate base increase with the January-February issue to 600,000 from 550,000 as proof.

The optimism for 2005 appears to be muted, though, by the difficult period of the past several years. Asked about his outlook for this year, Castelli said, "So far, so good—knock on wood."

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