The Incredible Shrinking Print Media

by Britton Manasco | Feb 11, 2007 | B2B Marketing

When I received my most recent copy of Information Week I realized something was terribly amiss. The economy has been steadily growing for several years now. And yet, the size of this tech media stalwart continues to shrink.

It would be reasonable to expect -- what George Costanza calls -- shrinkage in a down economy. But this isn't one. So why are print media shrinking? It's not just the tech pubs like IW and eWeek -- though they are vanishingly thin these days. More widely recognized print media like Time and the New York Times have announced big layoffs. On the newsstands, Fortune and Forbes are a ghost of their former selves. (Wedding magazines seem to be the only exception to the rule.)

I asked some colleagues in the media what the deal was.

One argued that CMP (publisher of Information Week) is losing ad pages due to an "aggressive refocusing as a marketing/lead generation company. They don’t consider themselves a publisher, but a 'marketing solutions company serving the technology industry.'” CMP, in fact, has recently shuttered the print version of the fine publication Intelligent Enterprise, but intends to continue promoting the pub online.

Meanwhile, CMP's rival, Ziff Davis, apparently is on the block. Folio, a trade publication that covers trade pubs (talk about going meta), recently wrote a piece suggesting it isn't worth nearly as much as it thinks it is.

Then again, Tech Target, which offers a rival business model that concentrates more "purely" on lead generation, is prepping itself to go public. I thought you had to go to Hong Kong these days to launch an IPO, considering all the unintended consequences associated with Sarbanes-Oxley. The thing is, Tech Target kills no trees. It uses the Internet and targeted events to generate leads that it can then sell to tech vendors.

So ask yourself, How measurable is a printed ad page? That's what -- I think -- a lot of marketers are asking themselves these days. They would prefer to invest in white papers, white paper syndication and AdWords on Google than seek the elusive goal of awareness in print-based ad pages.

It seems like the only folks that continue to buy ad pages in recognized print-based tech publications are the market gorillas -- companies like Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, Dell, Hewlett Packard and Oracle.
These are guys who buy television advertising, too. Buying an ad in a trade pub is peanuts for them. Besides, they are thinking about their stock valuations, not just leads. They also can afford to pay for luxurious "package deals" that include not only the ads, but  sponsorship of email blasts, webinars and other stuff.

It would be foolish for the chimps -- smaller tech companies -- to
challenge the gorillas on this ground. Better to invest one's limited marketing
dollars with more care and diligence. It's certainly better to invest
in measurable campaigns that generate leads than elusive branding
campaigns that generate, well, who knows what.

If video killed the radio star, then Google is about to kill print media.

"While print ad revenues go down, online ad revenues are going up,"
argues Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, Editor, Linux & Open Source.
"It's really that simple."

I wonder if it's really that simple though. At least the print-based media had the virtue of having their subscriber-bases audited. I'm not
sure who is reading stuff online. Intriguingly, Evan Schuman, retail editor of eWeek and publisher of his own retail technology blog, recounts a recent conversation with a group of top CIOs at a trade show about their reading behavior with respect to pubs like eWeek and Information Week.

"The CIOs said they ONLY read the print version and never look at the online version," he notes. "I would have expected that answer a few years ago, but I was startled to still hear it in 2007. Asked for why, one CIO said that he is in meetings all day so he grabs the weeklies and brings them home and reads them over the weekend, by the pool. Others gave variations of that (read it on the train, keep it in my bag and read it while waiting for meetings to start, etc.). For what it's worth, not ALL readers have moved quietly into the online world."

So if CIOs aren't even reading the online pubs, is it worth buying ads to reach everyone else?
Well, maybe, if you are guaranteed a certain number of leads that meet a
certain threshold of qualification (below the level of CIO, apparently). Seems like tech media is
increasingly coming to the conclusion that they are not selling ads at
all, but rather, leads.

So what do you think about all this?  Will the business and trade media have to sell its soul to survive? Or is this the first stage in the emergence of a dynamic and results-based new media?