Our two recent posting about what really may have motived Editor & Publisher magazine to switch from weekly to monthly print publication led the magazine’s Publisher Chaz McKeown to e-mail us information to show that E&P is a very healthy and competitive print publication.
Chaz McKeown is one of the most hard working and dependable trade journal publishers who we know. He rightly points out that E&P won Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Awards in 2001 and 2003 for Best Staff-Written Editorial content. He also notes that E&P Editor Greg Mitchell was awarded a McAllister Editorial Fellowship this year.
The material that McKeown sent us included results of a recent survey by Belden Associates of 547 executives in various departments among US newspapers. The survey showed that E&P was the most widely read publication among the entire US newspaper industry.
- Among all these newspaper industry executives: 79% read E&P, 65% USAToday, 52% NAA Presstime, 46% The Wall Street Journal, 43% The New York Times, 36% Newspapers & Technology, 35% American Journalism Review, 23% Columbia Journalism Review, and 16% NAA TechNews.
- Among newspaper publishers, general managers, and corporate officers: 90% read E&P, 74% NAA Presstime, 57% News & Technology, and 30-% NAA TechNews.
- Among editors and newsroom executives: 68% read E&P, 63% The New York Times, 55% The Wall Street Journal, and 35% NAA Presstime.
- Among newspaper production and MIS executives: E&P 87%, Newspapers & Technology 80%, NAA Presstime 58%, and NAA TechNews 43%.
- And among newspaper advertising, marketing, promotion, and circulation executives: 90% read E&P, 74% NAA Presstime, and 32% Newspapers & Technology.
All that sounds great; E&P wins in all those categorical comparisons. McKeown who recently took over one of the magazine’s sales territories himself is valiantly defending his magazine. However, we regret that we are unconvinced.
Just because E&P is the most widely read printed publication among all newspaper executives and among executives of any newspaper department doesn’t make it the most efficient in fulfilling tasks for its readers and advertisers. McKeown’s PowerPoint slides carry impressive percentages. But just because more newspaper executives own Honda Accords than any other vehicle doesn’t mean that they’d choose a Honda Accord to carry more passengers better than can a bus, or to carry more cargo than can a truck, or to outrun a sports car. E&P‘s readership is wide but E&P‘s usage is thin
Classified Advertising Revenues
Classifieds used to represent more than 50% of E&P’s advertising annual revenues. That was 15 years ago. Where has that advertising gone? We aren’t sure. Some of it simply evaporated as the number of media jobs declined throughout the 1990s, a decline which certainly accelerated during the current recession. Some other classifieds migrated online elsewhere than E&P’s own Web site; that migration shouldn’t surprise anyone because, unlike E&P , other sites (such as Monster.com) didn’t charge anyone to place a classified ad online nor required anyone to first buy a classified ad online in print with a lead time of a week or two before publication. Regardless of where went the bulk of the classified ads that E&P’s print editions used to have, they are gone and E&P no longer has most of that revenue from print &$151; a huge blow to its overall revenues.
How much worse will E&P‘s classified advertising revenues be when the magazine switches to monthly print publication? Would prefer to place your classified ad in a weekly that has a lead time of a few weeks or a monthly that has a lead time of a few weeks?
Display Advertising Revenues
McKeown’s charts might impress advertising agency people. But E&P‘s display ads have almost always been bought directly by newspaper companies or newspaper equipment vendors. The past 20 years have seen a remarkable consolidations of newspaper vendors (i.e., vendors acquiring other vendors) and of newspaper chains (i.e., more newspapers owned by fewer companies), reducing the number of E&P’s possible advertising prospects. We believe that E&P‘s average number of paid display advertising pages has shrunk to less than 5 per weekly edition, probably earning revenues less than the publication’s print costs. The magazine itself has shrunk to only 20 to 24 pages per edition.
Moreover, what growth synergies that VNU Media owner of Adweek, Mediaweek, and the Hollywood Reporter, among other publications might have hoped would develop when it bought E&P from the Brown family a few years ago haven’t developed. E&P‘s office and production costs were reduced by moving the magazine into VNU’s offices and using VNU’s existing magazine production staff, but E&P‘s ad sales and circulation didn’t grow from any of those synergies.
E&P 15 years ago had a circulation of almost 30,000. Five years ago, its circulation was just under 20,000. We believe its circulation is now around 15,000. That’s not a healthy trend. Part of that decline is due again to the reduction in the number of newspaper industry jobs. Plus, many newspapers once had six or seven annual subscriptions, but now have placed orders for only one or two.
Editor Greg Mitchell has done a very good job of improving the quality of the stories that E&P has staff to publish. No longer are E&P stories rewritten press releases. (Or, worse, press releases printed verbatim. We remember once story an E&P about the Associated Press that began “Your internationally renown new cooperative’s Chairman Louis Boccardi ”.)
However, we still believe that E&P has been editorially outflanked by a variety of more niche competitors, such as AJR, CJR, and Newspapers & Technology. Worse, during the past dozen years, E&P‘s weekly edition has gained editorial competition from the very medium it covers: National newspapers, such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York York Times, and major regionals such as The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Los Angeles Times, now often daily report on the newspaper and media industries. The aggregate result is that E&P has fallen from a ‘must read’ to a ‘should read’ for newspaper people.
We frankly don’t believe there is a way to maintain E&P as a weekly printed publication. That battle has been lost. In the words of one critic of it, “It will go the way of many of the publications it covered through the decades. There is no more Brooklyn Eagle, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Miami News, San Antonio Light, Washington Star, Long Island Press, etc. Soon, there will be no more E&P.”
Can E&P be maintained, or improve its fortunes, as monthly publication? We’re not sure. Reduced publication frequency will reduce its production & distribution costs. Will give it more time to improve the story quality, but not timeliness. Will certainly hurt its print classified revenues. We don’t see how it will improve its display advertising lineage; there might be more paid ad pages per edition, but not we don’t see how reduced frequency will lead to any increase in the aggregate number of paid ad pages printed per month. Reducing publication frequency will reduce costs, but you can’t turn around a publication simply by reducing costs.
E&P‘s ancillary goal of enhancing its web site’s coverage of the newspaper industry is admirable. Increasing its Web staff beyond the current single person will certainly help. We have plans that could make much more of profitable of its Web site (and VNU’s other Web sites). Unlike Variety (archrival of VNU’s The Hollywood Reporter and one of the most successful trade journals online) VNU Media’s publication’s made the classic error of mistaking the Web as a place simply to shovel print content and of not diving more fully into Web publishing five years ago. We won’t divulge more about what we think E&P should do online (that, after all, is the what we sell, not give away for free here online).