Monday, February 28, 2005

Outsider at Crain's didn't fit in

When Jeff Bailey resigned as editor of Crain's Chicago Business last week, I didn't think it was relevant to this blog. Although Crain owns a ton of B2B properties, the publication Bailey helmed was part of a different, although related world -- business magazines for consumers.
But an article in the Chicago Tribune made me rethink my position. According to the Tribune, part of Bailey's problem appears to be that he alienated his staff. Editorial employees were working "longer hours" to keep up with Bailey, a former Wall Street Journal staffer who was at his desk early, late and on weekends.
Bailey was a departure for Crain -- an outsider, rather than someone who rose through the ranks of the company. And it seems that Bailey brought with him the sort of obsessive, striving, money-oriented, worker-loathing style of big media.
I've done my time in big media. I've worked at CNN, Primedia and the mother of all unpleasant newsrooms -- Bloomberg. And I learned to dislike the people who do well in those environments -- sycophants, weaklings, manipulators and ego-crazed moguls. One of the things I love about B2B publishing -- one of the things that has brought me back to this world time and time again -- is that the smaller, often family-owned companies that dominate the field don't see a conflict between success and their workers' happiness.
And so I'm pleased to see that a B2B company has seemingly turned its back on the win-at- all-costs style of big media.

Primedia earnings rise, but not for B2B

Primedia says its net earnings rose to $13.5 million in the fourth quarter from $9 million a year earlier. The company gives the credit to its "enthusiast" unit, which includes magazines such as "Snowboarder" and "In-Fisherman."
But if you exclude earnings from the company's About unit, which it has agreed to sell to the N.Y. Times, then things look a little different -- revenue for all of 2004 is essentially flat, showing a climb of only 0.2%.
Things certainly don't look good in the B2B unit, where I once worked.
In the fourth quarter, total B2B revenue rose 5.2% compared with a year earlier. But despite years of layoffs and cost-cutting moves, expenses rose 8.4%. That leaves segment EBITDA -- the measure by which Primedia prefers to be judged -- down 2.9% in the quarter. Across the entire company, excluding About revenue, then segment EBITDA is down 2.6% for the year.
So what's next? If past is prologue, then expect another round of layoffs, more ill-conceived initiatives to "drive revenue", and another management shakeup.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Wicks buys magazine for corporate lawyers

Wicks Business Information has purchased a monthly magazine that serves corporate lawyers. Corporate Legal Times, based in Chicago, was founded in 1991 -- one of dozens of law-focused B2B publications that hoped to duplicate the success of The American Lawyer.
Only a handful of administrative jobs are heading to Wicks' headquarters in Fairfield, Conn. The rest of the staff, including the five-person editorial team, will remain in the Windy City.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Location, location, location

I spent much of the long weekend in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts, perhaps the prettiest place on earth. It's home to much of what I treasure: the music of Tanglewood, the yoga retreat known as Kripalu, and the mountains themselves. And, as I was reminded early on Sunday morning as I passed through downtown Pittsfield, the Berkshires are also home to Laurin Publishing. Laurin, owner of B2B titles such as Photonics Spectra, has offices on the second floor of a building overlooking the town square.
Laurin recognizes that perhaps the greatest draw it has for B2B journalists is its location. When the company runs ads seeking reporters, it always plays up the beauty of its Berkshires home.
Location is the advantage that many trade-journalism companies have in the recruiting battle. And I'm always surprised how few of them seem to understand that.
Here in New York, where I live, B2B publishers must often choose from the bottom of the barrel of available journalists. The mainstream press offers more money and more prestige. As a result, the great unspoken truth is that B2B journalism in New York and other media centers is often the domain of second-rate practitioners.
The luckiest B2B publishers are based in places where the locale can lure top-tier recruits.
Think of Laurin in the Berkshires, Wicks in Fairfield, Conn., and NTP in Latham, N.Y.
And I've always said the best location for a B2B publisher is the suburbs of Kansas City, where Vance, Primedia Business and Ascend all operate. The area has cheap housing, good schools and offers a low-stress lifestyle. Most importantly, the University of Missouri and the University of Kansas -- both among the top five journalism schools in the country -- are just two hours away. Hundreds of talented kids are available for recruiting every year. And many of them are locals who don't want to leave the area. As a result, local B2B publishers can pick and choose among talented and well-trained journalism students. My friends in New York hate to hear it, but the truth is that much of the best B2B journalism is being practiced in Kansas City, not Manhattan.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Post Office B2B magazine

The U.S. Postal Service is becoming a B2B publisher. "Deliver" is a bimonthly magazine aimed at executives in the direct-marketing industry. Some 350,000 copies were mailed this week, the post office says. That seems to be an extraordinarlily high number. PrimediaBusiness' "Direct" magazine, which serves the same market, has a circulation of only 46,527. So I'm left wondering if the postal service understands the "controlled" part of controlled circulation.
Addendum: Rex Hammock at Rexblog wrote to tell me about another, more detailed article about "Deliver." In this piece, the reporter says the magazine will send those 350,000 copies to "CEOs, corporate marketers and their creative agencies." That may be a broad enough pool of people to account for those circulation numbers.

Friday, February 18, 2005

N.Y. Times buys About

Well I was right about this one. When word came a few weeks ago that was for sale, I predicted the New York Times would buy it. That's exactly what has happened. But before I start patting myself on the back, I'll admit to being shocked by the price the Times will pay -- some $410 million.
For extensive coverage, take a look at paidcontent's take on the sale. Rafat shares my view that part of the reason the Times is interested is that the newspaper giant has been slow to respond to the blog movement. About is the grandfather of "citizen journalism." So the purchase pushes the Times to the forefront of the phenomenon. The other obvious justification for the deal is the growing importance of online advertising.
The lessons here for trade journalists are two-fold. First, if your publisher isn't focused on generating revenue from online ads, then you need to find a new publisher. Second, if you haven't established an ongoing, digital "conversation" with your readers, then your publisher needs to find a new you.
ADDENDUM: I'm flattered that my prediction about the N.Y. Times deal won me some praise on David Shaw's B2B blog.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Editorial integrity award

Given my recent complaints about journalists who also sell advertising, I want to offer some praise to a journalist who performs his job with honor. Whitney Sielaff, publisher and editorial director of VNU's National Jeweler magazine, has won the Timothy White Award for editorial integrity among B2B journalists.
I've mentioned National Jeweler here before, taking note of the crisp writing style at the publication. But the Timothy White Award is for ethics, not for prose. Sielaff is a worthy recipient. According to American Business Media, which oversees the award program, Sielaff's "history of active campaigning for objective reporting and a firm separation of church and state dates back to 1989" when he exposed a program by diamond supplier De Beers to manipulate supply and prices. Sielaff has also developed a code of ethics to uphold journalism ethics at VNU.
Congratulations Whitney!

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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

More on old-time journalism

David Shaw has some interesting comments about my recent post on old-time trade journalism, in which I said I was furious to find that reporters at the Waterways Journal were selling advertisements. David agrees, but reminds me there are vital business functions at a magazine that editorial staff should be engaged in. Check it out.

New magazines

Magazines -- there may not be another industry in the U.S. where so many new products launch every year. Magazine Publishers of America has listed some of the debuts from 2004 on its website. As you'd expect, most of the launches are consumer mags, and most are aimed at "affluent" audiences. But take a look through the list. There are a few interesting titles in B2B, including 'Revenue" and "CMO Magazine."
For further details on magazine launches, check out the site of Mr. Magazine, who was recently named chairman of the University of Mississippi's journalism program.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Competing against former employers

Here's a story that should gladden the heart of any journalist who ever thought he was smarter than his bosses. The former editor and managing editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education have gone into competition against their ex bosses. The journalists have launched, a free, Web-only publication to rival the paid-subscription Chronicle, a specialized publication serving academics and university administrators. In addition to being less "stodgy" than the Chronicle, insidehighered promises to reach a broader audience by targeting grad students and smaller institutions.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Old-time trade journalism

I'll admit to having a soft spot for "The Waterways Journal." I've been reading it for decades now, starting when I was a young transportation reporter for the "Journal of Commerce." The WJ has its flaws -- it runs ads on the front page, tends to be such a cheerleader for the industry it covers (inland barges) that it reads more like a press release than a magazine, and it has the ugliest layout of any publication in my mailbox. But WJ has a relationship with its readers -- and with the rivers on which those readers make their living -- that any trade publisher should envy. The WJ has been publishing since 1887, writing about the folks who move freight along the waterways. And in the process, WJ has turned trade journalism into something akin to folk art. Each issue features a look at days long gone through photos of paddlewheelers and early steamers. There's a section each week on what WJ wrote about in the past (100 years ago this week the magazine reported on what was believed to be the first collision in history between a boat and a train! The train hit an elevated stage plank of the Reese Lee as it moved through a canal.)
But soft spot or not, I was furious when I read this week's edition of WJ. In an article on page 4, the WJ announced the retirement of William Evans Jr. who has been WJ's reporter on the Gulf Coast for more than 25 years. I have vague memories of meeting Bill at an event or two, and I remember him as a likeable man. But in the article about his retirement it says "While covering river news, Evans also actively represented the business side of The Waterways Journal, selling advertising..."
Selling advertising! While covering the news!
Now there may not be much I can do to convince folks at WJ that such activity is simply and utterly unethical. I'd guess that they aren't embarrassed by what they have done. But I did want to take a moment to tell people at WJ that I and other B2B journalists around the country are embarrased for you.
Full disclosure: Many of WJ's journalists have been covering transportation for most of their lives. Carlo Salzano, who writes about federal regulation of the rivers, was one of my first bosses in the business. He was an editor at Traffic World magazine, which also covered the freight industry, when I was a reporter there in the early 1980s. I haven't spoken to him in more than 15 years, but I'd be willing to bet good money that Carlo has never sold an ad in his life.

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Lebhar-Friedman to buy Dowden

Lebhar-Friedman, the privately held parent of such B2B magazines for the retail industry as "Drug Store News" and "Chain Store Age," plans to buy Dowden Health Media. Dowden serves the medical world with newsletters and magazines such as "Contemporary Surgery." Dowden's journalists won't have to relocate to L-F's offices in New York City. According to a story in Folio magazine, Dowden will operate as a standalone subsidiary and will keep its offices in Montvale, N.J.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Wal-Mart news service

I just love this idea! VNU has launched a news service dedicated entirely to developments at the world's largest retailer. will cater to those thousands and thousands of businesses that sell to Wal-Mart. The site will offer original content on marketing, logistics and similar issues. Editors have also archived articles from such retail-focused magazines in the VNU family as Progressive Grocer and Convenience Store News.
Check here for details, but be advised. The site wasn't up yet when I published this post.

Advanstar veteran on B2B hunt

Robert Krakoff, the former chief executive officer of Advanstar, is looking to buy B2B media properties. And he has plenty of cash. Krakoff has formed a partnership with multibillion-dollar investment fund Blackstone Group to look for acquisition opportunities. (Click here for details on my least favorite Web site.)
There's been speculation in the B2B world that Mediapost is ripe for a takeover.
Other possible targets include almost anything owned by debt-burdened Primedia Business.
For a look at how Advanstar was run when it had debt problems, look to this insider view.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Mediaweek site redesign

Mediaweek has redesigned its Web site. And I couldn't be happier. The new version is crisp, professional and demonstrates an understanding of Web design. The old site of the blandest, ugliest properties in B2B publishing.
I'll take some credit for the changes, since I've been pushing for improvements for awhile now.
Click here to see the new look. Note that the site is loading slowly and will give you a glimpse of the unattractive old version before the new property appears. for sale

Primedia is selling Potential bidders include AOL, Google and the New York Times. Before I say another word, it's time for some disclosures. I was a producer at CNN's online division when parent company Time Warner merged with AOL. It was a disaster. I fled in the ensuing bloodbath of fiefdom feuds. I landed a job as an executive producer at, a compendium of Web sites with a citizen journalism bent. I was still at About when it was purchased by Primedia. I moved up the ladder at the new company, eventually winding up a vice president.
But the merger didn't work. The culture clash between magazine "professionals" and online "entrepreneurs" was intense. Civility was rare. My tiny corner of the Primedia world was even stranger. Primedia had earlier purchased the Intertec collection of B2B magazines. And those properties were being overseen by Industryclick, an online venture powered by arrogance that mimicked the early business model of Verticalnet. My position required that I deal with everyone -- Primedia big-wigs, guides, trade-publication reporters, Industryclick codewriters and more mid-level executives than I could count. And everyone seemed to strongly dislike everyone else.
The About/Primedia merger was a disaster. And I'm glad to see the deal is at last unraveling. At this point, the sale will have little to no effect on B2B. Kelly Conlin put an end to the attempts to integrate magazine and web operations. And Primedia separated its trade-publishing business from its consumer properties. The online wings of the B2B unit are gone -- Industryclick, ABZ, Digibid, etc. Web sites, email newsletters, etc. are now run from within Primedia Business by the exceedingly talented Prescott Shibles, who worked for me back in the old days.
I'm going to bet that the N.Y. Times winds up buying About. The Times has been late in adopting the ethos of citizen journalism. Buying About would give them a leap forward. More importantly, About is the king of the targeted ad. And newspapers need new advertising revenue sources now that Craigslist is taking over the classified business.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Redundant names

National Trade Publications, a family-owned company based in upstate New York in the town of Latham, is changing its name. Henceforth the company, which publishes titles such as "Professional Carwashing & Detailing" and "Cleaning and Maintenance Management," will be called NTP Media. The new moniker is meant to convey that the company has moved beyond print into Web properties, e-mail newsletters and research services.
The new name seems redundant to me. Publications are media, and until folks forget what NTP stands for, the company is likely to be known as National Trade Publications Media.
That's still considerably better than when some genius at Primedia decided to change the title of that company's B2B unit to the hilariously redundant -- Primedia Business Magazines and Media.
I worked there at the time. And to add to the redundancy silliness, my title was changed to vice president for online content and editorial.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Best of the Web

I was happy to find that had won the Best of the Web award for premium sites from min magazine. The revamp of the Wards properties a few years ago nearly killed some of the most talented people on my team at Primedia Business. It's good to know the work paid off. (Disclaimer: I still hate the look of the public version of WardsAuto with its strange spacing, unnecessary time coding and bland colors -- all the result of the in-house content management system I've complained about before.)
And I'm thrilled that WardsAuto beat out Regular readers of this blog know I can't stand that property.
One of the winners of min's Editorial Excellence award is VNU's Please take a look at the writing on this site. It's clean, crisp, news-oriented and free of cliches. It's simply lovely.
For the full list of min's winners, click here.
And while you're at it, bookmark this B2B site from one of min's creators.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Pass the tissue

Paperloop has sold Tissue World magazine and three related tradeshows to United Business Media. Tissue World, which covers the toilet-tissue manufacturing industry, will become part of UBM's CMP Asia division, a move that highlights UBM's belief that there's growth to be found in B2B industries in Asia. One of the shows that UBM bought is an annual event held in China.
Paperloop will retain the Pulp&Paper family of publications.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Deals and errors

Folio: has a special feature this month on the top magazine deals of 2004, including the sale of Thomson Media, parent of the Bond Buyer and American Banker; a purchase by a group of displaced Primedia Business executives; and the sale of Hart Publications.
Check out the series. There's a lot to be learned there.
There's also something to be learned from seeing the absolute mess of errors that these articles contain. Take a look. Note the run-on words throughout. The very first sentence of the piece about Hart contains such errors as "fundmanaged," "investmentteam" and "variouslyreported."
That's a result of the shovelware that Primedia uses to move magazine copy on to the Web site. Back when I was a vice president at Primedia, I had many an argument with other executives about the absolute uselessness of our in-house software system. I also had a slew of disappointing conversations with editorial staff who didn't think they should have to clean up the copy once it arrived on the Web page.
Here's some advice. Never use shovelware. And always take responsibility for the final product.
Let's hope that Folio's new owners get this problem solved.