October 15, 2013 Last Updated 11:08 am

B2B: Alad Limited releases replica for Highways; construction category slow to build for tablets and mobile

There are so few tablet editions being released into the Apple Newsstand that even a hard-to-read replica edition grabs your attention. The category, despite the presence of quite a number of heavyweight titles, is among the slowest to adapt to the new digital platforms.

British publisher Alad Limited has a released a universal Newsstand app for its road maintenance magazine Highways.

Highways-iPad-lgHighways Magazine is a replica edition that is pretty much impossible to read on an iPad without reading glasses on, but is comical on an iPhone. No matter, this still puts the publisher way ahead of its competition, as well as the other construction magazines serving the commercial construction market.

For those outside of the B2B media industry, sorting out the various titles may be difficult. Highways serves the road maintenance market – that means it is about road repair and cleaning (and other topics) where as other road titles would be about engineering and building roads. Because Highways serves a segment of a segment, it can have a lower total circulation than many other magazines – in this case, 7,367 in total circ, of which only 5,345 are in print.

UK B2B are luckier than their US counterparts in that they can maintain very small print runs. US magazines have always had to maintain artificially high print circulation in order to help their sales staffs. World Highways, another UK title, which services the transportation construction market, has a circ of only 17K, despite being World Highways.

The US B2B construction category is frozen in time, with very little different than what one would have seen a decade or longer ago. Back in 2000 the biggest titles were Construction Equipment, Equipment World and Equipment Today – all, as the names suggest, about construction equipment advertising. Editorially the magazines were, and remain, weak, dominated by press releases and equipment review articles.

Since 2000 Construction Equipment, which was published by Cahners Business Media (later Reed Business Information), went from the dominant title to a magazine looking for a home once RBI exited the US market. It was picked up by Scranton Gillette Communications as part of a partnership deal with the former publishing team.

Equipment World is published by Randall-Reilly Publishing, the company that emerged following the death of Pettus Randall. Since then the company has been owned by RE firms, first Wachovia Capital Partners. now Investcorp, as the PE musical chairs of B2B publishers continues.

Neither Scranton Gillette nor Randall-Reilly are experimenting with native tablet or mobile applications. The few apps that are in the Newsstand are replicas like that for Building Design+Construction which appears under the developer account name of the print RR Donnelley. Other titles, over on the home building side, as also replicas from the printer, though they do show up under the publisher’s name.

Randall-Reilly have no tablet editions and the few apps in the App Store are getting long in the tooth.

One might expect that Equipment Today, the title owned by Cygnus Business Media, would be in better represented in the App Store. Cygnus has 11 apps in the App Store, though no Newsstand apps. But B2B companies are divided into their divisions, and therefore the construction equipment magazine ends up in the wrong place.

61QWKG0W7CLI spent a decade in the construction publishing side of the business – first at the McGraw-Hill Companies in San Francisco, and later at Scranton Gillette publishing the transportation construction magazine Roads & Bridges. You can still see what R&B looked like when I published by visiting Amazon.com where the cover of the magazine dates back to 2002 (see left).

At McGraw-Hill, the big construction title was always Engineering News-Record (ENR). The weekly title dates back to 1874, and no doubt McGraw-Hill has mixed feelings about the title now that they have all but exited the magazine industry. (The sale of BusinessWeek in 2009 really ended the era of magazine publishing as a serious endeavor at the company. Aviation Week, another important title at the company was sold off to Penton Media just this year.)

But McGraw-Hill still owns construction data services – FW Dodge for construction information, Sweets on the architectural side. This probably is what is keeping ENR and ArchRecord.

But none of the construction titles, including the McGraw-Hill owned ones, have managed to connect data with publishing in any meaningful way via mobile or tablets. The ability to push messages to contractors would be a natural fit for this B2B segment, but instead the whole category seems frozen in time, as if the publishers involved were waiting for the return of print to be dominant again. It is also true, though, that when publishers are owned by PEs the real goal is a successful sale – usually to another PE – not building a publishing business for the future.

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