June 27, 2014 Last Updated 8:08 am

For many advertisers, a page of ad space in the print magazine is no longer enough

The value of the ad page to many advertisers and agencies has decreased as the amount of value-adds included in ad proposals has increased

The value-add has been part of the advertising landscape of B2B publishing for so long now that many sales reps can not recall a day when it hasn’t been part of the annual proposal. Those add-ons that are included in the proposed ad schedule, or used to entice the next ad placement, has taken on a life of its own.

Like many B2B publishers at the time, I cringed whenever an ad agency asked “what else do we get?” and then started to list off the goodies they were getting from other publishers: list rentals, free web advertising, extra ads added to the schedule. But if you wanted to get that schedule you would need to play along.

At least for a while, playing the game was still not a burden. In the late nineties, and into the next decade, B2Bs were still profitable – even if the good times seemed to have stopped. The height of the B2B market was timed at the height of investment in the industry by PEs, with its decline beginning right around the time many PEs wanted to cash out. Many publishers were desperate to keep up their ad pages up and were more than willing to give away digital advertising in exchange for keeping those ad schedules.


B2B magazine from 1999, with a 60/40 ad to edit ratio

After more than a decade of this kind of behavior, however, advertisers became conditioned to see their ad pages as the least important part of their marketing programs with B2Bs. Many publishers have successfully transitioned from being mainly print publishers to being either event organizers or data sellers. The strategy has worked, in that they have kept up some of their profits, but their magazines have had to also transition from being the center of profits to merely marketing tools for the publisher’s events.

Yesterday, the latest batch of print B2B journals arrived in my mailbox (why so many came on one day was strange). At first it was hard to tell I had received magazines as the dozen titles that arrived were so anemic that one could easily mistake them for ad inserts.

One could see how each publisher was dealing with their lack of advertising: in one case, the same small group of clients were seen to advertise across several of the publisher’s magazines; in another, the only advertisers inside the latest issue were tied to the publisher in other ways such as being major sponsors at their events, or exchanging services of some other kind.

If this is what is necessary to keep the advertisers happy then it might be worth it, but this approach does tend to devalue the ad page after a few years.

Digital Editions

When Apple’s Newsstand was introduced in the fall of 2011, many publishers were excited about the possibility of beginning to see new, interactive ads begin to be pushed by agencies and ad networks. These new tablet ads never really appears, with each publisher having to work hard with their advertisers if they were to see any ads transformed for digital. Today, at best, what we have is print ads enhanced for digital editions, not new ads attracted to these new app editions.

One publisher told me that he thought the reason for this had to do with the way B2B advertising used to be created. In the past, this publisher remembered, an ad would get built for one trade magazine, and then that magazine often found themselves having to make a copy of the creative for another publisher. It used to drive the publisher crazy to have to send creative to another publisher, but it was standard practice, so refusing to do so would irritate the advertiser and lead to the publisher being a bit ostracized.

This same publisher said that he can not remember the last time he has received creative from another publisher (though he doesn’t doubt it happens) but is pretty sure he’s never received any interactive creative from another publisher.

“Without lots of new, interactive ads being created, there is simply no momentum being built up for our tablet editions,” he said. “I’d be happy trade digital creative with my biggest competitor, but they don’t have an interactive digital edition at all, so they really have nothing to share with me.”

Many brands have always valued the editorial coverage more than the ad space purchased, a trend encouraged by the soft editorial many B2Bs publish that center on product releases. For them, making the transition from brand to brand/publisher has been an easy decision.

Lucia Moses of Digiday (formerly with AdWeek) yesterday looked at five brands that have made to move to publisher.

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