Are we experiencing the demise of this media, enjoying the last few days of sunshine before its final collapse?
I know this is a controversial topic and I am by no means one of those radical loonies that advocate the throwing away of everything that is last century for the sake of it. In fact, I have a great deal of respect for good trade media, I count several journalists as friends (indeed even in my own family!) and I am a member of the NUJ. So I have no intention of slating journalists. But the writing appears to be on the wall for printed media of all kind, and if you asked (confidentially) any Editor worth their salt they will admit that they are extremely concerned about it. Indeed in a blog posted by George Brock, Prof of Journalism at City University, it was reported that Alan Rushbridger, the well known Editor of The Guardian, announced that the current printing presses would be the last the paper would purchase!
I don’t know when we will see a full collapse of printed media including trade journals, but I estimate this may happen sooner than we think. What has been holding up this paradigmatic shift is mainly poor communication infrastructure. Electronic devices portability is inextricably linked to the ability to get on line everywhere. If you have to sit in front of a PC, connected to a cable or even relyinig on WiFi you won’t get very far. The real change will happen when a full 4G network will be implemented. Then, 98% of the population of the United Kingdom should be able to enjoy fast Internet access everywhere and this will change completely both the way we work, as well as the way we access all kind of information.
“We have always done that way, why should we change?”
Going back to the trade media, my main bugbear is that too few publications have adopted a good online presence of their own. Many are still almost totally reliant on their printed publications, with a web site existing as an afterthought. Ignorance of online possibilities tend to prevail, together with a high degree of smugness too. A few months ago I had a heated discussion with a Senior Executive in one of the trade publications I deal with concerning something as basic as an email newsletter. They insisted on sending the newsletter without the option of text only, with the result that when we tested their output using an email reader that had images disabled, their newsletter bulletins became almost invisible. No matter how convincing the argument was for an alternative, their reply was “We have always done that way, why should we change?”, or words to that effect. Well, I won’t be sad to see the demise of trade titles like these as they have no place in the 21st century with that sort of attitude obviously.
With a good online presence a transition from printed trade press to online only would be possible and could even ensure that many of the useful titles we enjoy reading now will continue to thrive, though it would be inevitable for some consolidation to take place.
Ultimately, with the exception perhaps of journals that are published by professional trade bodies, the real reason for trade media is for companies to inform their markets and therefore prospective customers, about their wares, with the hope to gain an edge over the competition. Yes, it’s nice to read some excellent editorial content and long may this last, but were it not for the power of advertising (which includes advertorials such as colour seps of course) most trade magazines would not exist. I remember when I used to be a buyer in the industry my criteria for deciding to be featured in a publication (either as press or advert) were based on audience, presence of competition and whether we could get leads…. but those were in the days of reader response cards. These days, as we all know, prospective customers are more likely to Google a product than reach for the printed Buyers’ Guide… Alternatively, excellent online review sites provide good opportunities to compare products. Although this service is currently limited just to electronic and consumer goods in particular, why should it not be open to the B2B sector as well? (There is a hint for some savvy Publishers here!)
So, while I am not attempting to provide a conclusion in such short blog, particularly about a subject which is so inherently complex and well documented, I think that if the trade media wants to survive in the 21st century it will need to consolidate and reinvent itself. This may require new skills of course, particularly in conjunction with a much needed influx of young people into the sector. Here again I have my own views… but this may be the subject for another blog!
For now, my own reading of trade press (outside my business hours when it’s obviously part of my duties) is limited to times when I can’t get on line, like in the garden, on airplanes (take-off and landing!) and similar constrained circumstances. Once these constraints go then printed media will inevitably join the realms of niche interests, like steam engines and illuminated manuscripts.