January 13, 2015 Last Updated 12:44 pm

Trade magazine publishers struggle to keep titles alive in tough publishing environment

Randall-Reilly reportedly will kill off two print trade industry magazines, Better Roads and Total Landscape Care – one an acquisition, the other a start-up

The trade publishing industry is still searching for the end of a long decline in ad pages, many dramatically shifting away from publishing to events and data products. According to industry sources, ad page revenue by mid-year last year stood at less than one-third the level it recorded a decade earlier.

The result is that many publishers are finally throwing in the towel on some of their titles. Last week Folio: reported that Investcorp owned B2B Randall-Reilly would be shuttering both Better Roads magazine and Total Landscape Care. Both titles had resigned their BPA audits last year.

BR-TLCBetter Roads, which will be incorporated into its existing Equipment World title, was an acquisition for the publisher. The magazine was owned for many years by William O. Dannhausen who bought the magazine in 1964. Dannhausen retired in 2000 and sold the title to a group of former Cahners employees who formed James Informational Media. In 2007 the title was sold again, this time picked up by Randall-Reilly.

During much of its life, Better Roads competed with Roads & Bridges, a magazine that still exists and is owned by Scranton Gillette Communications (I was the publisher of Roads & Bridges from 1995 to early 2000). By the end of 1999, the magazine was in a sorry condition, publishing many issues with less than ten pages of advertising, despite the fact that the economy was booming, and transportation construction spending at hit record levels. (Things improved after the sale.)

Better Roads had traditionally served the government side of the transportation construction industry, but as much of the advertising is placed by major construction equipment manufacturers, efforts were frequently made to make the magazine into something that its readership could not support. Few of those that joined the magazine, or its new owners, understood that side of the business as well as they understood the contractor side. As a result, recent owners have downsized the government readership and built up the contractor readership.

According Randall-Reilly, a portion of the circulation of Better Roads will now be incorporated into its construction equipment magazine, Equipment World.

Total Landscape Care, which will go web-only, was a recent start-up. With a circulation of 72,100 according to its last BPA audit, the launch of the magazine followed a familiar pattern: launch a magazine in a related field to a sister magazine in order to attract more ad pages from your current customers. In this case, many companies that make construction equipment also make landscape equipment.

The problem with the approach is often that publisher needs to offer their advertisers attractive group rates to lure them to buy the two or more titles they are offering – resulting in lowering margins for both titles. Total Landscape Care entered a competitive market which includes GIE Media’s Lawn & Landscape, Moose River’s Turf and other titles (including Landscape & Irrigation, a title I was group publisher for from 2007 to 2009).

None of the titles mention above have a presence inside the Apple Newsstand or maintain industry websites that garner much web traffic – a situation all too common in the industry. While some B2B titles, especially paid magazines such as AdAge or AdWeek, have created vibrant websites, few titles have made much of a transition to digital publishing. Most U.S. B2B websites are nothing more than depositories for press releases, few publish blogs or reader forums, and even fewer have native tablet or smartphone digital editions.

ENR-iPad-coverOf the 15 different B2B magazines titles I have been associated with, only four currently exist and have digital editions inside the Apple Newsstand (and all four are PDF replica editions).

Part of the reason for this is the nature of B2B publishing today where so many of the properties are owned by private equity owners who will not invest in digital publishing. Some simply are biding their time in hopes of one day selling out. But many simply are not interested in digital editions, reasoning that too few readers will want to read their industry publications on digital devices – though how they expect to reach younger readers is hard to figure.

Recently, McGraw-Hill Financial sold off its construction division to Symphony Technology Group for $320 million. For the new private equity owner the attraction was most likely the data products McGraw-Hill had developed for the years rather than such legacy B2B titles as Engineering News-Record or Architectural Record. McGraw-Hill, too, had been late to creating digital editions, though both now have fine Newsstand apps. But both still appear in the App Store under the name of their former owner, even though the properties were sold off three months ago.

Note: I reached out to several of the companies mentioned in this story, but could not get a representative to pick up their phone.

  • Denis OMalley 3 years ago

    B2B trade magazines that have survived the ad page downturn and digital ad dollars shift are being read every bit as avidly as ever…That’s because they have a qualified circulation advertisers that cove and the editorial is filling their needs. Otherwise, the marketplace would have turfed them out long before. Trade magazines are still dynamite and should be part of an integrated plan.

  • damian mcglynn 3 years ago

    companies are not investing in digital editions because advertisers are not intertestewd in them. Print ads still work and digital ones don’t.