Challenging Times for (Some) Business Magazines

(Finally) Getting around to posting some info I compiled on tough times for business magazines. Late last month, for a panel on magazines at the Future of Business Media conference, I prepared some figures and charts about business magazines, based on the Publishers Information Bureau (PIB) data for the first three quarters of this year compared to the same period in '06. Looking at the visuals, they show some trends. (Click on the pictures to see them more clearly.)

For one thing, in dollar terms, most of the "majors" are down in ad dollars, save Forbes, which went up in ad dollars. (See below for a note on PIB's methodology that casts some doubt on these figures.) Forbes, interestingly, has for years had the "free Web" philosophy, and now puts material dating back years up for free, and makes the (disputed) claim that it's the number one destination for business news.

It's also worth noting for business mags that while dollars in aggregate are down 2.7 percent, ad pages were down 6.8 percent, which means page rates were increased. For how long can ad rates continue to go up in the category as competition for ad dollars increases. Also, while Inc. and Fast Company are up, that's against years of previous losses. So it's a relative thing.

Conde Nast Portfolio isn't on the chart I prepared because it's new, and therefore the $13 million-plus it's gotten this year is compared to zero for last. Nevertheless, that’s quite a feat that, if annualized, would put Portfolio in the top four. But while those dollars would seem to be coming from the other business magazines – taking a significant slice of a shrinking pie – executives at the mag point out that it has also gotten a lot of its revenue from luxury brands very familiar to the Conde sales force but not so used to many of the other business magazines. So, they're reaching into a different pie for a significant chunk of their wealth.

Finally, I came across some figures that showed that business magazines, until a few years ago the unparalleled leaders in ad pages and for a while in ad dollars, too, have declined heavily next to celebrity mags.

Business magazines faced similar issues before. In the 1980s, when certain kinds of business-to-business advertising declined, business mags rejuvenated themselves by pitching to new classes of advertising, such as cars and liquor. This time, they may want to do the same thing, but it's harder to think of a major ad category that’s both underserved and appropriate. Pharmaceuticals? Everyone's going after those dollars; and would they be the right fit? Tech? That territory's well-trodden and going aggressively to the Web. Speaking of the Web, that didn't exist in the '80s, nor were there cable business channels competing for the dollars. Not to mention financial portals like Yahoo and Google finance and CNNMoney, which is relaunching with more video this winter.

A few caveats: PIB figures are based on rate cards, which are notoriously inaccurate and always subject to discounts of 20 percent or more, especially for the best clients. Over here is a spreadsheet with business magazines sifted from the PIB figures, on which the above two charts were based, along with an aggregated chart of all the biz mags.

Kindle, Days Later

I've been carrying the Amazon Kindle around with me for a couple of days. I really want to love it – I really do.

It's a great start that I hope is quickly improved on. I admire what's been achieved. The attempt to make a device that's as pleasurable as the book and also allows reading of newspapers and magazines is a great idea and effort. I commend Jeff Bezos and his team for getting phenomenal press, and – according to Bezos – selling out in the first five hours it was available on I hope the launch of the Kindle – after hints and alleged delays -- will spur others to get going on even better devices, and finally create that holy grail, the placemat size and strength machine that is touch screen, foldable, has all the wireless connectivity, a screen that's completely flexible to include a keyboard, or a writing template or a flat reading surface … even can be a TV-screen size video viewer.

Right now, the Kindle is light years away from any of that. Bezos, the Amazon founder and CEO and other exalted titles, told Charlie Rose and those of us attending his news conference that the purpose of the Kindle is to be a great way to read books. It's a bit better than most PCs, but it's still not quite there. For one, the screen size is a little to small and fits a bit less text at a legible text size than the normal book. It's not backlit, to save power, but this also means you need a fair amount of light to view it – so reading in bed with a sleeping partner next to you requires a book light. The "next" and "previous page" tabs on the sides drive me nuts, as it's impossible to hold the device and not accidentally hit those buttons, accidentally going a page forward or back on occasion. The back screen that comes off to insert an SD card is difficult to remove and replace. The non-standard keyboard is hard to use and understand, and there's a delay upon entering letters.

I know it's held back by e-ink technology that's not very advanced, yet. I understand that, as do many who know a little of the technology. But most people, simple users, probably don't care why something doesn't work just right. They just want it to work better.

Carrying the Kindle does beat carrying around a big, heavy, text book or any large hardcover, and can hold a couple hundred of those. So, I'm going to keep trying, throwing it in my bag, seeing how well it can sync (so far, not so well), etc. I'll let you know.

More coverage and links below, that will send you to yet more coverage.

Kindle Strengths and Challenges

(Above: Jeff Bezos shows off the technology of the print book.)

I've followed up on the Kindle over here at Congoo.

Simply put: It's a nice start, but I have some questions about whether this version of the device, which has a walled-garden approach, can be an explosive success.

Kindle Me Some Coverage

Like PaidContent, I was under NDA for business reasons in talking about the new Kindle reader and a little surprised to see a Newsweek cover story on it. And like them, I'm heading to the news conference at 9:30. And while Silicon Alley Insider has one detail wrong -- it is possible to get e-books from the library -- they have a readable critique of why it won't light up publishing the way the iPod did for music. Remember: the iPod was very far from the first digital music device. It just executed brilliantly in usability across the board -- easy downloads, portability, readabilty, intuitive look and feel, usable through Apple or Windows and no need for an Internet connection to download stuff. Whether the Kindle has all that -- well, maybe we'll see at 9:30.

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The Changing Media Landscape

Maybe I'm not looking in the right places, but for a room full of journalists ("new media" students scribbling on pads, in many instances --- interesting image there), I don't see much coverage of the "Changing Media Landscape" that took place last night at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism.

I've posted on Rebuilding Media, asking about if there are government bloggers, and on Congoo on New York Times "futurist" Michael Rogers saying there will be dozens of NY Times Web sites in the future and trying to find business models. "There's no such thing as a mass audience anymore, but there is a general consumer audience," was one of his quotes I liked. "There's a lot of people who just want information aggregated for them." Not everyone wants their own feed reader they've customized and personalized.

Iranian blogger 'Hoder' talked about needing help with a lawsuit the Iranian government is bringing against him. Josh Cohen, who does bizdev for Google News, peeled back the curtain a little, telling us that Google News is a closed index, that they have specific criteria for inclusion, and implying that those criteria would (or at least should) be more revealed soon. He later talked about Google not getting into the editorial production game because of its need to remain agnostic in information choices.

Andrew Lih, formerly of Columbia J-school's new media program and then of Hong Kong University and now author of a book about Wikipedia, talked about how the Web fills "the knowledge gap" – information that's too new to be in the history books, but too old to be in the daily newspapers. And Rogers peeled back his curtain to tell us there were a dozen engineers and techies on his futurist team, about half of whom do daily work, but half of whom are looking to build what'll be in use – and to figure what business models there'll be, up to five years in the future. He noted, too that venture capitalists are now talking about "the second billion," meaning that a billion people on earth now have computers and Internet access, and there's a new market waiting to be tapped.

Video Ad Disruptions

Just posted over at Congoo about being invited yesterday morning by the Magazine Publishers of America to moderate a discussion about "monetizing video" on the Web. The advertising solutions companies talked a lot about performance and about helping companies go direct to consumer. Both spell disruption for TV in similar ways to what we've seen in print.

When To Moderate Comments

Jim Brady, executive editor of the, today made an excellent case for not moderating comments before they go live on your site. Speaking at the Media & Money Conference, which I'm attending for Jack Myers Media Business Report, he said it's both a legal and business issue, that letting the comments go up first decreases your liability and increases your users' engagement.

More details here, on

Leopard's Spots

While Mossberg seems to love Leopard, and Apple today is saying in marketing email how easy it is to install, here's a cautionary blow-by-blow account from Shelly Palmer and another from Matthew Marshall, a featured blogger on his site (I'm one, too) who got the blue screen of death.

(And why did I have to write this post twice? Eh, Blogger? Eh, Verizon?)