SMEs proliferate the trade media sector. Over the past decade only the strongest have survived, operating with a tight grip on costs, a realistic approach to revenue generation and strong focus on editorial quality.
For over 20 years, Mike Leahy, founder and MD of Media Manager, has tracked trade publications.
“There has been a drop in the number of titles from a high of 775 in 2008 to 395 in 2020, and numbers continue to plummet. Covid-19 on its own did not change the landscape, it’s a case of compressing the events of the past five years into one,” he says.
Consistent increases in print costs, the collapse of the post office, declining ad spend, technology plus constantly shifting reader behaviour, all played their role.
He adds: “Probably many should not have survived in the first place. In some sectors there were five or more titles competing for ad spend, the single source of income for most of them. There was never enough money to go round, and when Covid-19 struck an evolution became a revolution – those publishers who could not change closed down, only the nimble continue to publish.”
Technology forced publishers to actively pursue diversification and many have done so with the introduction of websites, ezines, events, daily news sites, newsletters, blogs, podcasts, video and social media.
Cutting print runs while introducing new platforms remains a balancing act, for some it was too little too late and contributed in no small way to the alarming number of non-submissions and closures reflected in the Audit Bureau of Circulation’s latest report. However, publishing houses with strong reputations, who value credibility and work smart, are well known amongst direct advertisers who count.
A decline in advertising revenue across media types and over many years has suffered further with the Covid-19 pandemic, lockdowns and the recent strikes. Two survivors share how they adapted to tumultuous change and what sets them apart from the herd.
The power of positioning and content
In 1996 after researching the burgeoning technology market, Serbian Jovan Regasek launched ITWeb. From the start he visualised a fully on-line media house servicing a burgeoning IT sector. A gap for his online product and a growing pool of technology sellers keen to advertise, secured ITWeb’s future. His revenue model centered around an innovative virtual press office.
Developing firm relationships with readers and clients and securing long term advertising contracts ensured profitability from the start. Editorial director Ranka Jovanovoic says a major contributor to their success has been “absolute commitment to editorial content creating a wall between the editorial and sales teams, we deliver top class journalism while sustaining financial growth”.
Jason Aarons, director of Isikhova Media, concurs. “If a title cannot produce ongoing, on-point, engaging and relevant editorial to sustain its credibility, financial viability is likely to decrease.”
The business has forged media alliances and partnerships – examples include the Jewellery Council of SA, Department of Education and Master Builders SA. “We are recognised as brand leaders in the industries we serve by knowing our audiences first and foremost,” says Aarons.
Thinking on your feet
Trade publishers such as these embraced the concept of multi-platforms at an early stage, juggling print and digital while launching event divisions and further brand extensions is hard work. Embracing a rapidly evolving and niche industry has enabled ITWeb to maintain profitable print products such as Brainstorm magazine, The Margin, CIO and CISO directories. Today they reach over 300 000 targeted decision makers within the IT sector.
Isikhova has bravely forged ahead taking existing print titles into the digital domain for the first time, and in the last two years has launched three of its own independently published titles – JZA Your Jewellery Magazine, SA Homeschooling and Down to Earth and acquired the publishing rights to SA Builder.
While introducing new online only brands and establishing additional local and global partnerships, the company developed a client-centric and pragmatic approach to client budgets, particularly during Covid-19, lockdowns and the on-going uncertainty our country faces. Aarons details their approach:
“Let’s face it, the numbers game is the bottom line if our products do not get feet in store or eyes online, they are not working, the decline in advertising spend is real and not restricted to one genre or medium,” Aarons says. “We continue to engage with advertisers, real time or Zoom time to come up with solutions which are affordable. We package advertising across titles, emailers, and social media and work around payment plans where required.”
Remaining the number one choice of readers and advertisers of niched publishing remains a key indicator of sustainability. Tales abound of unscrupulous and aggressive publishers who fudge circulation figures and adopt a bullying approach to selling ad hoc advertising.
Leahy suggests advertisers weigh up their options, select the brand with a deep understanding of their readers, study and verify circulation statistics and select the one or two that come out tops.
Sandra Gordon is deeply schooled in marketing, with experience in media, advertising, branding, communication, public relations and publishing (print and online). Currently CEO of the Iconic Group, a savvy collection of entrepreneurial companies offering services across the marketing and communication spectrum, including Stone Soup PR. She is the former publisher of The Media Online and The Media, and founder of the MOST Awards.
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