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Newt Barrett

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Can B2B Print Media Avoid the Fate of the Dinosaurs?

No. Their ever shrinking content reduces them from ‘must read’ to ‘why bother?’

No. Their ever shrinking content reduces them from ‘must read’ to ‘why bother?’

For centuries, print magazines and newspapers had a publishing information monopoly.

Even when the consumer universe began to rely more on radio and TV, the business to business media was the only route to the industrial buyer. This was true for both public relations and advertising campaigns. If you wanted to get to the folks who bought business products and services, you had to use print media to reach them.

dinosaur skeletonThis virtual monopoly persisted unchallenged until the late 1990s when the internet intervened in a very big way. Unfortunately, most business-to-business publishers first ignored and then mishandled the online opportunity.  Too many of them thought like the railroad companies who mistakenly defined themselves as the railroads rather than as transportation providers.  In the same way, print publishing companies, run by smart people who knew how to build powerful print properties, failed to think of themselves as being in the information business. The print mentality was tattooed on their psyche

But, while they hung back, the buying behavior of their print readers changed dramatically. Their customers were moving to the Internet in search of solutions. This change in behavior will not reverse itself no matter what the print attempt.

Eventually, even those media companies late to the game figured out that a strong Internet presence was vital to their survival. And, for while, there was still plenty of print advertising revenue to support the critical mass of print content that made business publications relevant to their readers. For a brief shining moment, they could have the best of both worlds–print and online.  In the spring of 2009 that is no longer true.

Sadly, once proud giants like Penton Media, are making financially driven decisions to shrink content to save money.  Folio Magazine online recently printed a memo from Penton’s CEO, Sharon Rowlands, to employees that attempted to justify the content destruction:

"So we have to balance short and long term decisions in times like these. Some of these are really the right decisions for the businesses - like resizing audiences and identifying more efficient ways of doing things. Others may seem counter to what we want to accomplish long-term - like dramatically reducing the sizes of magazines or the amount of content. After all, if our content is so valuable, wouldn’t our readers need MORE of it right now? Sure, but remember that one of our Achilles heels is that we are mostly supported by advertising which has collapsed."

Unfortunately, Rowlands shows that she is impossibly far behind the curve.  Their print publications have already reduced the amount of content dramatically.  In fact, if you compare the number of editorial pages in the typical Penton publication from 1999 to 2009,  you would see a dramatic reduction that paralleled a dramatic reduction in the size of editorial staffs.  This phenomenon is replicated throughout the business-to-business media industry.

It seems as though she is expecting some kind of an advertising turnaround which would then enable an increase in the amount of print content. I believe that the business-to-business media industry has changed forever.  Print as we knew and loved it across a host of niche publications will never return to the way it was.  In fact, smart media companies like IDG set out more than five years ago to generate the vast majority of their revenues from their online information products.  They knew then what too many of their other business-to-business peers refuse to acknowledge about the print business press: “It has fallen and it can’t get up."  

I hesitate to write a premature obituary for an industry in which I spent almost 30 years.  I know that smart media companies will survive, but I believe that they will survive primarily, if not exclusively, based on their online success.  Those media companies which cannot make that wrenching online transformation will go the way of the dinosaurs.

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Newt is a leading thinker on the new discipline of content marketing. He urges marketers to think like publishers by delivering essential, relevant, and timely information that makes customers smarter and wiser–and much more likely to become buyers. Newt is a successful publishing executive with more than 25 years of experience as both a manager and business owner. He has launched profitable publications in the high tech arena for both CMP and Ziff-Davis. He was an early player on the web in 1996 as Publishing Director of an early Yahoo competitor, NetGuideLive. As an entrepreneur, he launched Southwest Florida Business and BusinessNewsNow.com in the late nineties, later selling them to Gulfshore Media. His publication still thrives under its new name, Gulfshore Business. In addition to his sales and marketing skills, Newt is a published writer for Business Currents and Gulfshore Business magazines. He writes on topics as diverse as healthcare, education, public policy, growth, business best practices, and technology. He knows how to build great brands that serve client marketing needs. He is comfortable driving dramatic market-driven changes. Newt is recognized as a leader with the ability to move teams in new, unexplored directions. He is effective in high level sales and marketing conversations with senior executives in client organizations of all sizes. He delivers successful consulting engagements to improve products, people, and processes.