The obvious child

The decline of some trade weeklies, coupled with the recent reports of ad pages falling off the proverbial cliff in the first quarter, had me thinking of some Paul Simon lyrics:

We had a lot of fun/we had a lot of money

It’s somewhat axiomatic that weekly magazines, like newspapers, are unlikely to survive this advertising ice age. That gave last week’s announcement that PRWeek was shifting to a monthly print frequency (and maintaining a weekly digital publishing schedule) the feeling of inevitability. In this case, however, I think the magazine is doing the right thing for the right reasons.

Disclosure first: I have worked for PRWeek in the past. And, everything in this post is in the public domain.

Sonny sits by his window and thinks to himself
How it’s strange that some rooms are like cages

Too often, we equate print with vitality and web distribution as an add-on. Many B2B publishers have stuck with that mental model and seen ad pages decline and profitability vanish. The trade publishers who have succeeded in the last decade have focused around audience, surrounding niche markets with a variety of products and services that are much broader than print alone.

Well I’m accustomed to a smoother ride
Maybe I’m a dog that’s lost its bite
I don’t expect to be treated like a fool no more
I don’t expect to sleep through the night

This makes for a lot more work, but rather than lament the loss of print, I’d argue that PRWeek has invested to build a digital brand, and it can use print now on a less-frequent basis for other purposes that are best served in that medium.

It has a backbone of regular editorial features that lend themselves to a monthly calendar in print, and its print subscription has been bundled with a digital offering for several years. In a small community (perhaps 7,000 PR professionals), PRWeek has over 300,000 page views a month. In addition, they offer subscription and sponsored content on the topics that interest its audience the most.

Publications like Reed’s Publishers Weekly and Nielsen’s Adweek Group struggle because they have too often failed to take the audience into account. An over-reliance on an ad-supported model can blind publishers to the reasons an audience buys what was once just a trade magazine: to learn and grow, to connect with their profession, and to share their own perspectives. PRWeek built those services on the back of its print business and is trading up at a time when doing so appears to make sense.

Fighting to save print is costing publishers some rich and storied franchises. Investing to serve an audience as they wish to be served is the answer. That’s the obvious child.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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