September 22, 2003

E&P R.I.P.

News technology consultant Vin Crosbie unspins the fable spun by Editor & Publisher that switching from a weekly to monthly publication will actually improve the news industry trade magazine. Writes Crosbie on his site, Digital Deliverance:

"If publishing less frequently enhances a publication, why not go all the way? E&P's announcement is fatuous and it underscores the magazine's decline under ownership by VNU Media. The magazine's print circulation and advertising page counts have plummeted since VNU purchase E&P a few years ago. VNU might try to hide behind the excuse of the worst media advertising recession in a half century. But what debunks is a comparison of E&P and its partial competitor, Newspapers & Technology."

Crosbie points out that E&P's ad rates ($3,000 for a quarter page) were "way too high" for a fuzzy editorial mix that failed to attract publishers or journalists. "E&P let itself become editorially stuck somewhere between the journalism reviews (such as Columbia Journalism Review and American Journalism Review) and technology journals (such as Newspaper & Technology)," says Crosbie. "Those publications cover their niches far better than E&P does, leaving E&P without a viable niche of its own."

When Steve Outing, who writes an online column for E&P, commented on the publication change last week, he attributed the cutback to the growth of online readership. Said Outing:

"I view this as a logical and inevitable move that more and more trade publications will make in the near future. As growing numbers of people get industry news via the Internet, print publications will decline. I don't expect most trade magazine print editions to die anytime soon, but I do believe that the power of the Internet as an information medium makes weekly trade magazines an endangered species. For any trade publisher to continue to dominate its industry, it must have a very strong presence online."

(E&P's own story on the announcement said its "redesigned Web site has enjoyed a tremendous surge in traffic in the past year," although it didn't provide any numbers.)

Crosbie thinks Outing's outlook for E&P online is overly sanguine, at least as a business model. As he points out:

"E&P's own articles have failed to report any trade journals that are profitably publishing online, except for perhaps Variety, a publication that dominates coverage of its own industry in a way that E&P no longer dominates coverage of the newspaper industry (perhaps not so ironically, VNU Media owns Variety's archrival, The Hollywood Reporter)."

I agree with Crosbie. E&P suffered more from a content problem than an "Internet" problem. In fact, the success of online trade journals such as paidContent.org and the increasingly presence of industry-specific (in this case journalism) blogs such as Romenesko, Prints the Chaff and PressThink intensifies the identity issue for any publication - trade mag, newspaper or Web site - that doesn't have a clear, definable focus that separates it from the pack.

Of course, if a publication is charging, readers want more than focus. They want good writing, exclusive reporting and insightful commentary. And if a magazine charges $99 a year for a subscription, as E&P does, it better deliver a lot more each than E&P has.

[ Thanks to MediaSavvy for the pointer to Crosbie's comments. ]

Posted by Tim Porter at September 22, 2003 09:46 AM