Over a three-year period from 2001 to 2003, b-to-b media lost about 35 percent of its revenue, according to the Business Information Network.

During that period, it was common around the industry for conference speakers and writers to describe it as the “worst media-industry downturn since the Great Depression.”

After awhile, we all took that as a given, though no one I know ever went back and actually analyzed the extent of that downturn compared with earlier ones.

I also remember the 1991 downturn. That was tough, even for someone who was a junior editor at the time. There were the usual rounds of painful layoffs. I remember one day when at least six editors I worked with made the terrible walk to the corner office one by one, undoubtedly knowing their certain fate. And that ‘90s recession lasted a long time. It wasn’t until 1995 when things were really humming again in the magazine world.

I was talking to a CEO this morning and we touched on the stunning twin news flashes from today: VSS is predicting the first two-year decline in ad spending in 75 years, and fourth quarter 2008 BIN numbers were off by more than 13 percent. He predicted that the first quarter numbers will certainly be worse.

(By the way, why the heck can’t those BIN numbers be more up-to-date? The Publishers Information Bureau gets its numbers out much faster, and most b-to-b publishers have already closed our final numbers for Q1 by now. Reporting Q4 on February 24 seems just a tad late.)

We both acknowledged how bad it is for the industry right now. I said it feels like the worst I’ve been through, and he agreed, but then he said: “We always say that.”

So my question is this: Is this recession worse? And if it is, why?