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Maybe they've finally gotten the message.

A few years ago at the annual American Business Press gathering a panel of agency media execs nearly begged the assembled trade paper publishers to quit cutting ad rates.

Endemic rate cutting, the media execs complained, was putting them in an embarrassing position. How could they assure their clients they were negotiating the lowest rates possible when the trade magazines might sell their wares at still lower rates to the next customer who came along?

And, the media execs added, many trade books were foisting rate-cut deals at them before they even asked.

At this year's ABP meeting in Palm Springs (where, by the way, it was colder than in New York) I'm hearing a different tune. Trade publishers I've chatted with have said they're getting away from the rampant rate cutting of the last 10 years or so. And they're discovering, in the process, that advertisers and agencies think they're worth the price they are charging for their ads.

I've long felt trade publishers were undervaluing themselves. I don't think they consider themselves as sexy or glamorous as their consumer brethren, but what they deliver makes them plenty appealing to their readers and advertisers.

Can you imagine any successful business executive not reading the leading trade paper in his field? They contain, month after month or week after week, information on products and strategies not found anywhere else. And for advertisers, what a deal! Whether the magazine is controlled circulation or paid, the publication is received by precisely the people who are in a position to buy their products.

That's why trade paper publishers charge a higher cost per thousand than consumer books. There is virtually no "waste" circulation with trade magazines ... every reader counts. Even the most zealous consumer magazine publisher will admit that every reader isn't in the market to buy a new car, say, or even a can of beans.

Time was when trade publishers would sell their ads with a cigar and a slap on the back, but looking around the ABP conference I don't see many old-timers who do business that way anymore.

Roger Friedman, president of Lebhar-Friedman and the new chairman of ABP, believes that in the new high-tech era editors and the editorial process are the key to enhanced profitability.

"I believe that advertising pages will never return to the level of the 1980s," Roger told the ABP gathering. "Our customers are finding new, efficient and more exciting ways of reaching their customers" whether online computer services, CD-ROMs, faxes or whatever. And it's editors who gather and process the information in whatever form. Roger, as a matter of fact, pays his editors commissions based on the performance of the business units they're involved in.

I'm encouraged that some trade paper publishers are finally beginning to believe that L'Oreal ad slogan, "We cost a little more because we're worth it."

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