A Decade of Evaporating Ad Pages for BusinessWeek, Forbes, Fortune

Three Top Business-News Books Now Split a Much Smaller Pie

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- BusinessWeek survived the Great Depression, so you might think this current downturn wouldn't give it too much trouble. Heck, business news may have never been more important.

But McGraw-Hill this week confirmed a Bloomberg report that the company was "exploring strategic options" for the title. And the current meltdown is definitely a terrible time to explore selling anything. Conditions were already bad enough last fall that TV Guide, another money-losing former profit machine, fetched just $1 -- less than copies of the magazine actually cost on newsstands. That's a scenario already being floated as one possible fate of Business Week.

The big question now, really, is what happens beyond the recession. That's true for fellow Depression survivors Forbes and Fortune as well. A look at each title's first-half ad pages over the last 10 years shows the affect of the prior boom and bust, along with this year's sharp declines, but also suggests a long-term trend that's more worrisome.

Since 1999, the number of ad pages the three major business titles booked for the first half of the year has fallen by 64%. In 1999, BusinessWeek, Forbes and Fortune carried 6,193 ad pages in the first six months of the year. In 2009, that number shrank to 2,204. That means it's likely the final year tally for the three won't crack 4,500, a benchmark that all three managed to surpass on their own in 1999.

Why the persistent drop for the business bibles? Business-to-business advertisers have found many more efficient, targeted ways to reach their customers. Brand campaigns remain an important component of their marketing, but they've also gotten much better at maintaining databases of the crucial decision makers who buy their products or services, focusing on preserving their loyalty and contacting them more or less directly than through a major magazine ad buy.

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