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Recession’s Winter

Over-leveraged publishers really have no idea where they’ll be next year.

Ted Bahr By Ted Bahr
10/06/2009 -14:52 PM

It’s very quiet now, as the snow falls across the recessionary landscape. Though it’s only Fall outside, the inside of the b-to-b media business feels like winter. The private-equity players that got caught when the music ended with no chairs left to sit on or Greater Fools around to buy their roll-ups, are sitting in workout meeting after workout meeting with the banks and other lenders trying to scale back their debt and cut their losses.

The CEOs and top managers of these companies are gamely pulling in the remaining revenues for 2009. The cuts they made probably won’t be the last, but the Fall usually brings a few pleasant surprises, a few surplus budgets willing to spend.  But they know what’s coming. We all know what’s coming: The turn of the year. Contract time. We all have No Idea What Will Happen.

Customers are being coy, playing their hands close, bravely saying they’ll be in next year but…we just don’t know. They see the media businesses are weak, reeling and ready to be taken advantage of. Next year’s business is the very quiet elephant in the room.

Gone is the talk of Second Life, podcasts, video and vertical search and all of the Next Digital Upsides. Yes we may all be doing some of these things and indeed online revenues are becoming a growing percentage of our businesses—but they’re smaller businesses. It’s quiet, cold and quiet, across the snowfields. We’re hunkered down. We’re waiting.

My hope is that the next 12 months will be the winter of our recession and that Spring begins to emerge for the survivors. But right now, looking to the November and December contract season for 2010, it’s very uncertain. And it gives me shivers to think about.

Ted Bahr By Ted Bahr -- Ted Bahr founded BZ Media, a technology-focused media company, with Alan Zeichick in 1999. Before that, Ted held numerous positions at Miller Freeman, finally as a Group President and member of the Board of Directors. At Miller Freeman, Ted launched 8 magazines, plus many conferences and ancillary products. He has managed magazines in many markets including computers, electronics, music, video, travel, real estate, interior design and manufacturing.

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