Filling the advertising vacuum

We seem to have a bit of a theme going on this week. Following my article on Monday about the problems being faced by trade magazines, I got into some interesting correspondence with my former colleague Mark Simms, Editor of Industrial Technology magazine, one of the few titles which is refusing to panic in the current market conditions. Mark has some fascinating theories about the trend away from brand advertising towards measurable response advertising, which I’ll mention tomorrow. This sort of thoughtful analysis is why I’m sure that independent publishers such as the team at Industrial Technology will outlast most of the juggernauts of the trade publishing business.

However, in a week when we’ve brought up the question of how trade magazines can survive, there’s been much discussion on the wider question of “free vs paid-for” media and where it’s taking us, thanks to a critical analysis by “thinker” and author Malcolm Gladwell of a new book by another widely-read writer, Chris Anderson. There are powerful arguments about where things are heading, which is why Seth Godin points out in “Malcolm is wrong” that “For a long time, all the markets for attention-based goods are going to be messy”. But as he says, “This means that there are going to be huge opportunities”.

What’s rarely mentioned is that trade magazines might have been ahead of the game on all this. While online publishers and media creators of all types run around wondering how they’re going to make a living now that everyone expects everything to be free, trade magazines have been free for years. If anyone ought to have ideas on how to generate revenue from non-traditional sources, it ought to be the people who long ago took monetising their products from advertising to the limit.

Discussion

  1. Eoin Ó Riain

    Chris, you are talking about “Trade” magazines. I was talking to somebody the other day and he pointed out that there is a particular type of magazine – especially those published by professional bodies – which he called “Technical” magazines. These publications exist primarily to serve their discipline or science or members but are supported (or not) by advertisers. examples in England would be those published by Inst MC or the IOP say.

    These also are suffering at this time. Would you have any comments on these types of publication?

  2. Chris Post author

    I’ve written on a number of occasions that I’ve always felt the Institute journals will be the last ones standing, because they have three major advantages. Firstly, effectively they have a cover price (as part of the membership fee). However, they’re every bit as commercial when it comes to getting advertising, so they ought to be a lot better off financially than journals from publishing houses. Secondly, the Institutions need them to exist, as they’re an important part of the membership package. Thirdly, their publishers don’t have to spend a lot of money maintaining the circulation.

    On the other hand, many of the professional Institutions have been very unprofessionally run, and their journals have been equally badly operated, and seen as just one more drain on dwindling resources. If their owners see the function of these journals simply to be member communication, then they must have considered cheaper methods, such as email.

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