The Death of Trade Publications Has been Greatly Exaggerated
When it comes to industry trade publications, the past twenty years have been a rocky road, to say the least. In one industry after another, major trade publications have ceased publication. However, as we shall discuss later, many have found new ways not only to survive but thrive.
This means that for those who long ago concluded trade publications have lost their value, it’s time to think again. Many publications have adjusted to their changing role and changes in information delivery allowing them to continue to play a significant and vital role in the industries they serve, now and in the future.
But first, what happened?
Those who say it was the Internet that caused the decline of print media, for the most part, are correct. Print magazines for both consumers and the trades started declining in the 1950s with the advent of television. But it was the introduction of the Internet in the mid-1990s that significantly accelerated the decline.
While many publications certainly have had banner years since then with regard to subscription rates and advertising revenue, few, if any, have escaped this gradual decline. So, it appears the introduction of the Internet made the fall more rapid but did not necessarily cause the decline in print media.
Interestingly, in some ways, traditional print media brought about their own decline. According to Peter Kann, the publisher of the Wall Street Journal in the 1990s, too many of the major print publications were giving away their content for free by placing it online. This is because they were in a rush to take advantage of this new online medium. As a result, paid subscribers concluded there was no longer a reason to pay and be a subscriber, they could get all the information they wanted for free online.
Kann believed this “gifting of online content was a fool’s errand.” 2 So did Rupert Murdoch, who took over the paper in 2009. One of the first changes he made, which was gradually followed by such respected news publications as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Financial Times of England, was the addition of online “paywalls.” Site visitors could view a certain number of articles for free, but after that, a subscription was required.
While ending free online content was one way to generate more income for these and other print publications, it did not stop the hemorrhaging. “The industry’s financial fortunes and subscriber base have been in decline since the mid-2000s,” according to a report by Pew Research. 3 The organization reports that since 2008, print media revenues in the United States have declined about ten percent per year, even more since 2015. Print media readership has followed a similar downward spiral.
It was during this same period that Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and other online channels saw their advertising revenues jump dramatically. Advertisers in trade publications saw the writing on the screen, so to speak. They pulled back on print media advertising, then the bread and butter of trade publications, and moved it online.
Fortunately for many publications, including trade publications, as revenue and print circulation declined, “digital circulation” and digital revenues went up. According to the Pew study mentioned earlier, while it is difficult to gauge precisely how much, they report that in two years specifically, 2017 and 2018, “weekday digital circulation [has] risen by 17 percent.” Further, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have “experienced substantial gains in digital circulation in the past year: 27 percent for the Times and 23 percent for the Journal, on top of large gains in 2017.”
Publications have also learned new ways to make money in this new digital environment. For instance, the paywalls we mentioned earlier are increasingly common with most all news publications. Instead of the banner ads of yesteryear, more inviting and exciting online advertising has been developed that is proving engaging for visitors and successful for both the advertiser and the publication.
Further, all types of publications are now offering sponsored or branded content. For example, readers can open a print edition or online version of an article and see what appears to be editorial content.
While there are mixed opinions about this type of advertising, “developing new kinds of content and promotion is one of the things publications can do to help them increase their revenues,” said Robert Barrows of R.M. Barrows, Inc. Advertising and Public Relations. In fact, leading publications such as the New York Times have even created their own branded marketing divisions to help advertisers produce this content.
So, it appears many publications, including trade publications, are finding new ways to generate revenue and be profitable in the Internet age. But what is giving them the staying power? Why do people still find them necessary, especially those in B2B industries?
According to Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator, a British political magazine that dates back to 1828,
“There’s now too much writing online, and in an era of fake news, where you get your analysis from has never been more important. [Furthermore,] newspapers and magazines are finding out [that] if you can publish writing that is consistently and significantly better than what can be found online, people will pay.” 4
Further, their staying power is the result of the following:
Credibility. In the B2B sectors, when businesspeople are seeking information, especially if they are making a purchasing decision, they want to find a credible source they can trust. For most readers that source is trade publications that serve their industry.
Targetability. B2B trade publications target an industry. Readership is clustered within specific industries, and these publications cater to those readers, their challenges, and needs.
Depth. These articles can go into depth about the issues facing an industry, providing information and useful insights for those in that sector.
Thought leadership. Some of the most potent articles are those written by “thought leaders” in an industry. A recognized thought leader is viewed as an influencer and often is someone whose words are valued and whose thoughts are moving an industry forward.
Advertisements. Trade publications, whether online or in print, are one of the few places industry players can view products, tools, and equipment specific to their industry. This alone is one of the most compelling reasons trade publications have staying power.
Everything is changing so quickly today that it is tough to predict where things will be even a year from now. Readers, including most of us in business, continue to want credible content, focused on topics of interest to their work, that can help them stay current in their industries and make business decisions. What that means for content and publishing is that trade publications, however they may evolve, continue to serve a need for business and should remain a viable resource.
Robert Kravitz is president of AlturaSolutions Communications and is a frequent writer for trade publications in scores of different industries.
- Rich DiPaolo, former editor of Maintenance Supplies.
- May Kissel, “The Decline of Print Doesn’t Mean the End of Journalism,“by Mary Kissel, Wall Street Journal,Oct. 29, 2013.
- “Newspapers Fact Sheet: State of the News Media,” Pew Research, July 9, 2019.
- “How Magazine Printing Found Its Place in the Digital World,” by Kevin Rabida, PrintPlace.com September 2017
AlturaSolutions publishes articles in the trade publications your end-customer read and trust, turning words into sales. For a free consultation, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org