Business and trade publications always get hit disproportionately in recessions. Whether it was the bursting of the dotcom bubble back in 2001, the early nineties housing-led recession, or the unemployment and industrial strife of the early eighties, businesses have reacted in the same way every time: slashing their advertising in trade and business publications. Consumer titles also suffer, as do all media outlets, but trade and business titles tend to bear the brunt of it.
And this recession is no different. As we discover towards the back end of the noughties just how naughty we were with our unsecured loans, unrealistic mortgages and bloated credit card debts, as the global economy continues to contract, so trade and business titles have struggled. Advertisers have melted away, pagination has dropped, and a few have closed – CFO Europe and Training & Coaching Today to name just two.
As a freelance writer for these titles I’ve noticed it. In the summer of 2008 I was struggling keep up with all the commissions sent my way, but now I have to work hard to get the attention of editors and convince them to run with my ideas for articles. I’m lucky that Ive got the best part of a decade’s worth of work and contacts to fall back on, and that I know how to pitch to editors. Not every freelance writer does, and for many of us – as well as for our colleagues in the world of B2B PR – it’s really tough at the moment.
Our only comfort in these dark days of 2009 is the thought that economies always recover and the B2B media always bounces back.
However, I’m beginning to wonder if that really will happen. I really think that this might be the end of the road for much of our traditional B2B media.
For one thing this recession has come as the sting at the tail-end of a long period of sustained decline for these publications. We were already dealing with advertising budgets that were falling by between gfive and ten per cent a year. However, the real difference between this recession and those that went before it is that this time round we have the Internet. In 2001 the web was still in its infancy – only 8 years ago, but we’d never heard of Facebook, a large proportion of us were still on dial-up connections, and the concept of cost per click advertising was still alien to all but the most cutting-edge publishers. Now, advertisers are comfortable with online advertising. In fact they’re much more than comfortable – they recognise that online advertising can engage more people in a measurable and trackable way than print advertising ever could. And they’re moving their budgets online.
From my perspective I’ve seen clear evidence of this shift. As my income from offline publications has fallen, so I have been doing more and more work for online titles, most notably in my role as the editor of The Sales Professional. I fully expect this trend to continue, with an increasing number of my commissions coming from online titles. Many of them will be from publications like B2B Marketing, Personnel Today and Call Centre Focus, which have spotted this trend and spent the last few years moving more and more of their editorial and advertising online.
But I expect just as many commissions to come from online publications that have been set up to fill the gap left by the B2B titles that failed to spot or react to this trend. Many of them are suffering from this decline in advertising and are simply waiting for it all to pick up again. The danger is that it might not. The game might move on and leave them behind.
This isn’t necessarily bad news for me, as, whether it’s online of offline, publishers still need well-researched and sharply-written copy. It’s not necessarily bad news for PR professionals, as there will still be widely-read and influential publications where they can promote their clients – they’ll just be online. It might be bad news for magazine printers, but for the rest of us we simply need to recognise this change and adapt ourselves accordingly.