B2B print ad revenue continues to fall, as publishers depend on events, digital for growth
While the B2B industry as a whole now sees events as their major source of revenue, many B2B publishers are not in the events business in any serious way, creating two distinct groups of media companies serving B2B marketers
Like other publishing segments, US trade publishers have seen their fortunes sink dramatically since the financial crisis of 2007–09. For many B2Bs, 2007 was not such a bad year, and 2008, because budgets were usually set the year before, also was a pretty decent year. But then 2009… and, well, that was a year to forget.
When the Bureau of Labor Statistics put out its report on employment in the newspaper industry most media observers concluded that the Internet had been killing off newspaper jobs for a while now. But what struck me was how the financial crisis, and the recession caused by it, had made a bad situation far worse. That event triggered today’s situation.
With B2B, things are a bit more complicated. The mid-to-late nineties were a fantastic time to be in B2B publishing, especially if you played your cards right. Things picked up dramatically near the end of Bill Clinton’s first term, and really took off in his second. But the tech bubble bursting hurt the industry more than some others. But it was the entrance of the private equity companies that really did in the industry.
B2B recovered somewhat after 9/11, but the financial crisis may have been the final nail in the coffin. In 2009, ad pages fell by a quarter – and while ad pages ticked up slightly the next two years, by 2015 they were 17 percent below those terrible 2009 numbers (40 percent below 2008).
Ad page gains and losses used to tell the whole story in B2B publishing a decade or two ago, but no longer. Publishers are today reporting that revenue from events is nearly double what is earned from print ad pages. Even digital is getting close to surpassing print ad pages, if the numbers from Connectiv’s BIN Report are to be believed. This year ad page revenue amounted to $6.4 billion, while digital was just a tick below that.
I am a skeptic when it comes to reporting a publishing industry’s health based on revenue. Give me something an outside source can count, like ad pages. Yes, we know there are such things as house ads, trade ads, and make-goods, but at least they can be counted. How does one report on revenue? You ask the publisher, right? And they always tell the truth, right?
It is hard to judge an industry by grouping together all sources of revenue. Some publishers have moved big into events, and really don’t even consider themselves B2B publishers any longer, but events companies that sometimes use print magazines as a way to market their shows. Others are digital-only, and often don’t associated themselves with the other B2B companies. Does the publisher of a B2B magazine covering the plumbing industry see themselves in the same industry as LinkedIn or Google, though they know they now are competing with them?
Also, do the vendors in every industry still have the same connection to their trade magazines (or websites) as they once did? Take publishing, for instance, few bother to buy print ad pages inside any of the remaining trade magazines, and those involved in digital publishing rarely spend any marketing dollars in the trade journals. TNM depends far more on Google than it does the companies actually trying to sell to TNM readers. That would have never been the case two decades ago, when direct marketing took up a far smaller portion of a company’s budget, and trade press advertising a far larger portion.
That’s why events are so important today, though the market for events is itself oversaturated to the point of insanity. Many of the once vitally important trade shows are really down, and consolidation is the theme of the day.
I’m still a big believer in trade publishing, and in marketing through trade publishers. But so many advertising decision makers are young, more comfortable with social media, and less interested in designing print advertising. It’s a far tougher business to succeed in if you are reliant on print magazines and web publishing alone.