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Ted Bahr

BPA Doubles Down

Ted Bahr B2B - 06/04/2010-09:47 AM

The decision by the BPA Board of Directors to not loosen the requirements for reporting 1-year, 2-year and 3-year names separately was a bold move. As the pithy phrase goes, "Let me know how that works out for you."

I know more than a few circulation directors who were not expecting this outcome-to say nothing of their publishers and presidents who were betting on saving a few hundred thousand dollars-per publication-on telemarketing this Fall.

And if that bet was made this spring, well it's kinda too late (The "June cycle" for renewals ended May 31). Where would you rather spend $300,000? Supporting your shrinking print franchise's 1-year percentage, or maybe starting an event or investing in your online business?

The answer to this question is obvious and could be very dangerous for BPA. The organization, as I understand, had brought the provision for loosening the reporting requirements through the proper committees and made the recommendation in favor of the rule change to the Board. While I think the BPA executives and management understands the potential downside of maintaining the hard line, the BPA Board, made up of publishing companies, ad agencies and advertisers, struck down the change. Boy I'd love to see the roll-call vote on that provision!

Upholding this critical BPA reporting standard does allow those who have more recently refreshed circulations to hawk that fact to ad buyers-but ad buyers care less and less. That means that b-to-b publishers and their owners are stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Spend a huge sum on something the market doesn't care about anymore, or jump and invest that money elsewhere. Unfortunately, I think the recent flood of resignations from BPA has only just started, as business realities trump former white-shoe standards.

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Ted Bahr

Reedtown Massacre Reveals the Future of the Trade Media Business

Ted Bahr B2B - 04/20/2010-05:45 AM

The trade media business, such as it was, has been ripped apart and largely destroyed by Google. The musical chairs game that private equity players have been playing is finally out of seats and many household names have been left holding the bag, trying to hardball the banks into restructuring or just going bankrupt. The “strategic” multi-market players are shedding print assets like pounds in a sauna wearing a rubber suit.

And so, last week’s shocking closure of 23 titles by Reed merely underscores the evolution of our industry back into what it once was, and I will paraphrase Bill Ziff, who said, “It used to be that our business was run by enthusiastic eccentrics—people who worked and lived day in and day out in their markets and hardly even realized that they were running a ‘business,’ in the classical sense, at all.”

The key observation above is that most trade publishers in the Old Days were single market companies—smaller nimble companies dedicated to their niche industries. The trade conglomerates that grew in the 1980’s and 1990’s benefitted handsomely from ganging printing, fulfillment and the usual assortment of backroom operations to run  properties at a much lower cost, as well as the trend toward professionally managed trade shows which coined money for them back in  the day.

Over time, the best managers in their market were given additional responsibilities managing other markets or being switched to other divisions a-la Jack Welch’s GE. The best salespeople became publishers. Then group publishers and VPs. They were promoted away from their markets, from their customers, from their street-level expertise.

This happened again and again at Reed, Advanstar, Penton, VNU, Cygnus, Miller Freeman and at their various successor companies. Eventually, the “professional managers” of various market segments became less and less embedded in their industries, spending their days in budget and forecast meetings and battling other execs in different markets for investment and acquisition dollars.

I know the feeling. A lifelong computer and electronics industry publisher, for a time I found myself managing all sorts of alien market groups. I remember the acute embarrassment I felt at being paraded around as a high level executive at the key trade shows for these different markets when I barely had a clue what was going on in these customers’ businesses.

Of course, this alienation and lack of understanding of markets didn’t kill the business—Google and paid search killed it as identified by IDG’s Pat Kenealy six years ago. But now that b-to-b publishing is in tatters, a post-apocalyptic vision comes into view: small, nimble, single-market-focused companies, run by people who have labored in their markets for years, getting to know the vendors, the readers, the nuances and intricacies that can allow them to be successful, despite Google.

By shuttering 23 publications, Reed has left the door open for more than a few groups of dedicated market experts to re-colonize and emerge as the trade media companies of the future.

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Ted Bahr

Not ‘Giving an Inch’: Some Initial Results

Ted Bahr Sales and Marketing - 01/12/2010-12:13 PM

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about “not giving an inch,” in terms of selling print to my customers. My friend Tony Silber, among others privately, took issue with this [“The Last Samurai”] and questioned whether I was losing my mind or was becoming some sort of anachronism.

The jury may still be out on that, but I am going to expand on my reasoning and share the results of our efforts to “not give an inch,” this Fall at my company.

My proposition was that, as an industry, we have a responsibility to sell the benefits of print as a medium as opposed to the old days of just selling against competitive titles. As much of the industry seems to be afraid of this, I think there is also an opportunity here to take significant market share.
Awareness, interest, engagement—none of this has gone away. I don’t hear arguments that awareness building is better done on the Internet than in print in trade markets. The unique benefits of print have not changed—but they are not trumpeted.

Trade magazine readership is shrinking. Fewer people read magazines, and the time spent with them is less. Many people do not read any magazines or newspapers at all. But trade magazines never reached the entire market—in fact, rarely have they ever reached more than 10 percent. So that hasn’t changed. The remaining publications need to be more relevant, more engaging, more targeted at a reading audience like middle managers who don’t necessarily know what solutions they are looking for.

There will still be print advertisers. There will be surviving trade magazines. By not giving an inch, you may become one of those survivors, and there are benefits to this:

1. By being the only game in town you can reduce your costs appropriately to be in line with what is now expected for print advertising

2. By being the print survivor you probably have a stronger, more active and committed database to promote webinars and lead generation programs to.

3. As readers and advertisers scan the field, they see only us. We become a must-buy element simply by having survived.

4. Know that competitors will continue to shut down, leaving more opportunity—IF you sell print aggressively (“yes, Mr. Advertiser, they went out of business, but here’s why they did and why we are still relevant—in fact MORE relevant than before…”)

So these were the benefits we had in mind at our company, as we continued to sell print aggressively during the Fall, when we are selling the print contracts for the next year. The results are in and our print contract sales are up 32.6 percent over last year. Not bad for a recession. Some titles went out of business and we took market share from our remaining competitors (their January issues are down from last year). We convinced the remaining print advertisers that we were going to be the survivor and that there were still unique benefits from print advertising.

It’s not easy to zig while others zag. And to be sure, we’re zagging and selling our online offerings hard, too. But by not giving an inch on print, I think we made out pretty well.

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Ted Bahr

The Samurai Responds

Ted Bahr Sales and Marketing - 11/25/2009-12:53 PM

I understand and appreciate my friend and industry colleague Tony Silber’s confusion over my recent stand defending print’s value and my refusal to accept customers’ blithe dismissal of the medium in favor of an exclusive online or lead-gen marketing strategy.

So, I thought it was worth clarifying my thoughts, which admittedly might have been influenced by falling a bit too hard for a literary metaphor. Most publishers have many children. Print. Banners. Newsletters. Lead generation. Webinars. And more. No one—including Tony—is saying print is dead or will disappear entirely from the mix. But we all admit print is quite ill. That "child" needs help, not neglect.

I refuse to acquiesce like most salespeople (and many publishers) and simply sell whatever is hot right now. That’s why it’s so rare in the industry for publishers to use outside rep firms—we all know that reps simply sell whatever is moving easily and we get no dedicated sales effort. It’s human nature for salespeople to hawk whatever is easiest to sell, instead of what we may believe is important to sell. It would be easy to just agree with clients’ assertions that print is dead. That’s where the danger lies. If we, as an industry, stop trying to sell print, it’s death becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

We all know that our advertisers’ customers rely upon a huge variety of different influences (print, trade shows, word-of-mouth, online search, etc…) to understand a product and a brand and make a purchase. Everyone—publishers and marketers alike—talks about an integrated marketing plan being the most effective way to sell product. But marketers (and CFOs demanding accountability) would love to just live on “actionable leads” alone. Like children, they would love to just live on dessert. But in order to be healthy, they need to eat their vegetables too, and that’s where we come in.

We need to pitch integrated plans. We’re not samurais, limited to only one weapon and One Way. But one of those weapons is print and I am warning that if we do not sell it hard, if we just let it wither, it will do just that. So I don’t accept a marketer dismissing print out of hand. And to sell print in the modern environment my company has amassed a toolbox of data and measurements that get marketers very close to their desired accountability. (I will blog on that in the near future.)

As a media company serving the software development market, we are on the leading edge and have been selling lead generation actively for than four years and we run well over 125 individual programs per year. I have seen the future of that business and it’s not a happy conclusion I am drawing. It’s a downwardly spiraling commodity business where a lead is a lead is a lead and the source doesn’t matter.

Even on a very practical level, few marketers buy lead-gen or online programs on contract—they may buy a quarter at a time at best. Print is still bought annually (more than half in my case) in November and December of the year prior. I can go ahead and let my sales team  blandly agree with the customer and laugh at the funny antiquated notion of—imagine!—print advertising, and we might sell 400 pages that walk through our reluctantly held-open door. Or we can fight like hell and get 500 pages—extra business that my lazy competitors didn’t bother to go after hard enough. That translates into a lot of money and I’m going to fight for it. That’s why I’m getting my team fired up about print and I suggest that others do the same.

I agree with Tony: We need to deal with the radical, deep and permanent changes in our industry. We need to grasp and learn how to master the future—and for the record, BZ Media and Ted Bahr are actively involved in doing this. BUT I see an industry that is agreeing too readily with marketers in the trendy and complete dismissal of print and that is dangerous. And that’s why I’m not giving an inch.

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Ted Bahr

I’m Not Giving an Inch

Ted Bahr Sales and Marketing - 11/11/2009-15:32 PM

Did you ever read “Sometimes a Great Notion” by Ken Kesey? Yes, the Ken Kesey with the psychedelic bus. Before the Merry Pranksters and after his successful “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Kesey penned this novel, one of the great works of American fiction, a sprawling tale of the struggles of a northwest logging family, the conflict between brothers, the small independent logging company the family owns and their fights against larger timber interests.

The most recurring metaphor in the book is fighting progress, alluded to in the form of the Stamper family home, which is built on a bend of a great river that is constantly eroding away the property. Over the years the Stampers built a crude series of barriers, wired posts and piers to prevent this from happening, but the river is relentless, as rivers will be. Some of the most vivid passages in the book portray the father and older brothers’ attempts to keep the river from destroying the property, typically out in the night in vicious storms, lashing the piers back together, fighting the river of progress, the river of change. The book was made into a film starring Henry Fonda and Paul Newman, with the tagline embodying the philosophy of Henry Stamper, “Never Give an Inch.”

So, what does all this have to do with magazine publishing? Out west last week, I was pitching print (along with our online properties) to marketers who thought I had landed there from another planet. To one, print was so alien that he took a genuine interest in it. It was a novelty. More and more marketers start conversations by letting you know that they’re not doing print as a matter of fact. Many of my competitors and fellow high-tech publishers have given up, letting the river flow, and you can see the results in the steadily eroding group of high-tech titles still in print. I can’t quite explain why, but like Henry Stamper, I refuse to yield. I refuse to bend to the times, to just accept the advertiser’s misguided notions that print is dead and not even worth talking about. While I’m happy to sell a few white papers at the end of the call, most of the time I’m taking them out to the woodshed to disabuse them of their anti-print bias—whether they buy it today or not.

It’s up to those of us in the industry to stand up passionately for what we believe in and what we know to be true. The easy days of print as an accepted medium are over. Washed well downstream. But we know people are still reading our publications, and becoming aware of and interested in companies through the print ads. It’s up to us to lash together the arguments and fight.

We’re deep into contract season and I’m getting on planes to visit customers. And I'm not giving an inch.

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Ted Bahr

Does Anyone Play Newsstand Shuffle Anymore?

Ted Bahr Audience Development - 10/26/2009-15:45 PM

The games we play change over time. I wonder if my favorite magazine game has gone the way of stickball and “kick the can.”

When I worked at Ziff-Davis in the 1980’s I was fortunate enough to be placed in a “loop course” type of specialized circulation class taught by the VP of Circulation and one of the industry’s most outrageous old school characters, Larry Sporn. Larry taught us a simple little game called “newsstand shuffle.” Basically, all you had to do was go to a newsstand, browse the magazines, and accidentally place your companies’ titles on top of your competitors’ magazines. The trick was to make sure you didn’t get caught by the newsstand manager but this wasn’t very difficult. It was a cheap thrill.

Where the game really got going, though, was the classic Mother of All Newsstands, that being the one at the edge of Grand Central Station, in the PanAm building (now MetLife). Here was a newsstand in the hub of The Great Commute—108,000 people were estimated to be streaming through the building each day, according to an article in the NY Times on June 18, 1984. At that point in time, the newsstand stocked more than 2,000 titles and sold 10,000 copies of magazines per week.

But volume was just half the story. This newsstand was smack in the middle of the magazine publishing AND ad agency capital of the world. Beyond just selling copies, it was critical that the hundreds of media buyers streaming by each day saw your title prominently displayed.

Since so many magazine professionals walked through the station daily, Newsstand Shuffle became a very lively game. If you stood and watched closely you could see people picking up an issue (or four), casually glance over their shoulder at the counter and then quickly shuffle the magazines to their favor. Sometimes competitors would be in the PanAm at the same time seeing who was willing to take a later train and get the last laugh.

Of course the next day, someone else had either fixed the stack or buried your magazine under Civil War News or something. So to win we had to compete almost every day.

Is anyone still playing?


Photo credit: Martin Green

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Ted Bahr

Bloomberg and BusinessWeek: The Future of Magazines?

Ted Bahr B2B - 10/15/2009-12:35 PM

Many years ago when I had the good fortune to work for Ziff-Davis, I read a quote from Bill Ziff about how publishing had changed. I've lost the quote but it went something like this:

"It used to be that our business was run by enthusiastic eccentrics—people who worked and lived day in and day out in their markets and hardly even realized that they were running a 'business,' in the classical sense, at all."

I brought this idea up speaking to a roomful of publishers at the Niche Magazine Conference in April—that the future may be linked to the past and that the magazines of tomorrow need to be published by independent entrepreneurs and smaller, dedicated companies.

Like Inc. magazine, which was purchased a few years ago by Morningstar founder Joe Mansueto, BusinessWeek under Michael Bloomberg can hopefully enjoy a life beyond the super strict demands of a publically-held company like McGraw-Hill.

Essentially, Michael Bloomberg and Joe Mansueto can afford to ride the economic ups and downs over time and frankly, can also afford to publish at a loss. Even though someone buys a professional sports team telling themselves that they can make it profitable, we all know the real reason is that they are a fan.

If the long-term future of magazines, the short-term will still be wrenching. All the private equity-held companies are reviewing terms with their lenders realizing that these much smaller businesses cannot support the debt. And the industry sea change toward an online world continues to claim many casualties. Yesterday's shuttering of the former Commercial Property News by Nielsen brought another shudder: at Miller Freeman this David Nussbaum-created title was one of the biggest revenue producers and year-after-year the #1 most profitable title in a field of 60 in the 1990s.

It looks like time to bring on the enthusiastic eccentrics.

EDITOR'S NOTE: There was a lot of buzz about the BusinessWeek acquisition yesterday at the MPA's Innovation Summit. As one attendee pointed out to me, "Isn't it crazy that a magazine like BusinessWeek could sell today for a tenth of what Mediabistro sold for only a couple of years ago?" Crazy? Sure. But while Bloomberg's rumored $2 million to $5 million winning bid seems low, the magazine was said to have lost more than $43 million last year and to carry more than $30 million in debt. That had to be factored into the bottom line.

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Ted Bahr

Recession’s Winter

Ted Bahr M and A and Finance - 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.

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Ted Bahr

Google to Make Publishers Rich with Display Ads?

Ted Bahr Sales and Marketing - 09/23/2009-13:35 PM

The news that Google will now broker display ads much as it does text ads is positioned by the company as being a way for publishers to make more money by selling remnant banner space. Here's the article in the WSJ [subscription only].

I have a few issues. First of all, many vertical niche publishers already have relationships in place with ad networks that suck up and sell all of their remnant space. For example, we partner with IDG TechNetwork and are generally happy. There are hundreds of other networks like this. But our experience and what I have heard from others is that the revenues from these sources just keep on dropping as inventory increases and advertisers demand more services for less cost-per-impression and cost-per-click.

As I have said before, the media business is suffering from not so much "dollars into dimes" but "dollars into pennies."

So, first, publishers are NOT going to make any significant money from this. (Four years ago we made $600 to $700 per month from Google adwords. More recently, it dropped to less than $100 per month. We have removed them from our site).

This experience, which is pretty universal unless your ad page view growth outstrips Google's decreasing returns, means that web publishers like us will tell Google to "take a hike."

I've also heard from customers—advertisers—that they are growing increasingly suspect of their Google adwords investments. As such, I don't even know if the idea will fly for Google. Not everything they do works.

Maybe by placing display ads on the blogs of individuals with day jobs who currently get no revenue for their efforts, they will be satisfied with a few hundred dollars per month versus nothing. But for professional Web publishers, for certain, the idea that Google is now going to make us rich is a joke.

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Ted Bahr

The Race to the Bottom

Ted Bahr Sales and Marketing - 08/06/2009-10:24 AM

It seems to me as if media companies are falling all over one another in a race to price themselves out of business. First, print, with a few exceptions such as SD Times, is in a death spiral. We know that many many publications are on their way out. But it seems that media companies in jumping on the online bandwagon are so desperate for sales - any sales - that they are pricing themselves into oblivion.
 
Because there are very low barriers to entry on the Internet there are often dozens or even hundreds of places that an advertiser MIGHT find a buyer. Which websites are best?? Dunno, wonders the ad buyer, who then concludes that it must be the ones that generate the most clicks or have lower prices.
 
What about the hundreds of blogs or websites that might mention your product or be "on topic?" The popular solution has become the so-called Ad Network, which acts like a broker. Advertisers can place one banner with an Ad Network, and it'll appear on hundreds of websites. At the opposite end of the business, website owners can sell their "inventory" of banner spots via the Ad Network with no effort - especially leftover, or remnant, space.
 
Sound like win-win? It's not. It's lose-lose.
 
When websites - with their carefully crafted content, expensive designs and unique readers - become just another member of an Ad Network, do you know what they are? A commodity. An eyeball aggregator. Nothing more.
 
When you're part of an Ad Network, a click is a click is a click and the lowest price wins every time. Therefore, the Ad Networks, with the willing cooperation of publishers and advertisers, are slashing prices in an effort to compete with one another. A network I use recently told me their standard CPM (cost per thousand impression) for remnant space was dropping to 50 CENTS.  That's one million impressions generating $500 in revenue. Who can stay in business for that? (We told them they were not to sell any remnant space on our site.)
 
Plus, the Ad Networks are now being asked to serve up certain sections, pages, niches within their website. Slicing and dicing. This means that a network advertiser will buy fewer impressions - less money for publishers - as it cherry-picks only specific parts of websites.  Where does this end?
 
Maybe Rupert Murdoch has figured this out as he brashly said today, "ENOUGH," we're not giving our content away for free anymore: It's like a take-off on the New Hampshire state motto:  "Give Free and Die"  Oh I know, everyone says lead-gen is the answer - I don't think so. Stay tuned.
 

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Ted Bahr

Twelve Tips for Operating a Niche Media Business

Ted Bahr Consumer - 04/28/2009-10:18 AM

Editor's note: Ted Bahr, president and publisher of BZ Media, a Long Island, New York-based software-development industry publisher, gave a keynote at the third annual Niche Magazine Conference, an event for small companies, held in Denver this week. Here, taken from Bahr's keynote, are 12 tips for operating a niche media business:

•    Keep infrastructure costs low—spend only on products and people, and no excesses.
•    Check facts and contentions versus “trust.”
•    Drive sales. If you are not a former salesperson you may feel you have no right. You have the right. Do it.
•    Go on sales calls. There is a tendency among publishers to sit and preach from the tower. It’s the only way to really know what is happening.
•    Use drill-down research as an excuse to meet with potential advertisers—become a market resource.
•    Always know that initiatives start at the top.
•    Figure out the special numbers—say, the number of spreads—that clue you in to how the business is running.
•    Get a sounding board/partner, or have outside sources of advice.
•    Maintain insurance. You owe it to your family.
•    Have excellent personal credit. It keeps you in business.
•    Bill early and bill often.
•    Watch cash flow short term, and long term, as well as the P&L.

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Ted Bahr

Will CSO Magazine Follow in CMO’s Footsteps?

Ted Bahr B2B - 04/14/2008-16:52 PM

If anyone needs more proof of the declining value of high quality editorial, this could be it.

CSO Magazine, winner of the most recent Grand Neal award for editorial quality, is in trouble. Now, I know nothing about this directly, but I have this old fashioned habit I can’t get rid of. I count ad pages. And from my hand counts, advertisers could care less about editorial quality.

You may remember the story of IDG’s CMO Magazine. Lots of fanfare, seemingly invincible target along with the side benefit of having the advertiser base as part of the readership. And it immediately sashayed its way into multiple Neal Award nominations in 2006. Only problem was, IDG had already shuttered it, due to lack of interest by advertisers. (ABM scrambled and at least did not let them win any awards.)

The April issue of CSO was down to 5 paid ad pages (6, if you count association pages or trade shows—I don’t) and the total folio was a slender 40 pages. There were 10 ad pages in March, coinciding with a major industry show issue, but only 6 pages the month before. December’s total was 15.3. October 2007—with a redesign—totaled 14.3. In healthier times, October 2006, they sold 29.5 pages.

So what’s happening? Could be that that the sales team has conceded the fight for print and is selling online products harder? I have no doubt that CSO has a robust online business. It may even keep the magazine alive for a while. But what of editorial quality? Do advertisers care anymore?

UPDATE: Just got a call from Bob Bragdon, publisher of CSO, and he assures me the franchise is doing very well (with the robust online activity I had guessed at) and that the print product is indeed profitable. That's good. I too want to see good print titles survive. I'll write about this later but an implied point is that we as an industry have got to figure out how to sell print's unique benefits so that a great editorial product like CSO is rewarded. That's the challenge. 

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