Tag Archives: B2B

United Business Media, Informa and Reed Elsevier results – the health of big B2B media?

I know. I’m a bit odd. But I love ‘results season’.

Watching the results come through from the big media firms you get a unique perspective on how the industry is shaping up. They give you a pretty forensic view of markets, strategy and platforms. An overview you never usually get unless you’re employed directly in those firms.

In previous years I have covered the results of UBM, Informa and Reed Elsevier individually on this blog. This year I’ve been a bit busy building our new business – The Media Briefing – so it wasn’t until today that I got a chance to catch up and watch the board presentations to analysts.

Each year I try not to read analysts reports or look at share-price movements. I don’t claim to be a financial analyst. Instead I am far more interested in:

  1. How the strategy is presented
  2. What levels of confidence are the management team giving off
  3. Which parts of the business show opportunity or weakness
  4. Are there any wider industry trends being highlighted

After watching the webcasts this is my feeling about the health of the big three.

Reed were the first of the companies to release their results. You can view the full report and view the webcast here.

Reed have been through the wringer in recent years. Chief executives have come and gone. Reed Business Information has been up for sale and then not. The company has spent big to buy a ‘non-traditional’ media company – Choicepoint. There have been continual questions about Reed Exhibitions…

All of this has meant that the analyst presentations have been made very much on the back foot.

This year Erik Engstrom was able to put on a more confident show. You could almost see his relief.

Broadly the company’s results were fairly static year on year with a small growth in revenue and a small decline in profits. On the surface, stable.

But under the surface there are clearly some big issues. The main one seemed to be the weakness of the Lexis Nexis part of the business and the high level of investment required. The legal markets are obviously still struggling, the Westlaw platform seems to be taking market share and their profits were down 12%.

It was interesting that the Choicepoint part of the business had managed to grow margins from 24% at the time of aquisition to a staggering 38% now. At the same time Lexis Nexis margins were just 14%.

So, what I took away from the Reed presentation was a perception of a company still very much in transition. Choicepoint and the re-bound of the exhibition business were collectively masking some deep underlying problems in Lexis Nexis and the continual re-positioning of Reed Business Information.

Informa’s results felt more predictable. They are still benefitting from cost control measures implemented across the business – especially in the events field where it is easier for a conference and training company to quickly cut marginal events and overheads.

Overall Informa had flat revenues but a decent growth in profits. Peter Rigby and his management team projected confidence and an uncomplicated outlook for the business. Clearly there are still challenges – for renewals in academic markets and Datamonitor sales – but this is a company firmly looking forwards.

They will continue to focus on large events, geo-clone successful formats to new territories and move subscription products up the value chain.

A theme that came from the presentation was that Informa were concentrating on premium intelligence and increasingly looking at enterprise sales of subscription content. I hear this more and more from business media companies as they search for the ‘holy grail’ of data and ‘workflow’ based products. The move from providing information to intelligence

All in all I felt that Informa were the strongest and most confident of the 3 companies.  They announced unequivocally that they “would have a good 2011” and that “interesting acquisition opportunities were opening up”. Their debt was under control and Adam Walker joked that for the first time in a long while the phrase “under-leveraged” had been used to describe them in an investor meeting.

We recently interviewed Peter Rigby on TheMediaBriefing and asked him what worried him most. His answer was geo-political risk and so I suppose that whilst the company seems strong he is keeping a close eye on events in the Middle East.

The UBM results yesterday (1 March) were the most intriguing. Last year I wrote about a company that was weathering the global storm pretty successfully. I suggested that they were transforming themselves steadily – and via a long stream of acquisitions – into an emerging markets exhibition company.

It’s pretty easy to understand the strategy here. Whatever is happening in individual business verticals it appears clear that the strength of growth over the next 10 years is going to come from the emerging economies of, in particular, the Asia Pacific and Indian sub-continent. Exhibitions are a market that really benefits from scale and by acting as a consolidator I thought UBM was putting itself in a good position.

A strategy of acquiring assets in these regions – as well as the Americas – seems sensible and David Levin has always impressed me as a no-nonsense leader of the business.


… looking at their analysts presentation today gave me some cause for concern. In spite of the company’s “fastest rate of revenue growth in a decade” their profits were flat. This was put down to an increasing investment in new products, sales and IT systems but I suspect it is much more than that.

There was an emphasis on ‘targeting, distribution and monitoring’  (PR Newswire) side of the business that I hadn’t seen before. I cannot see how the margins for this type of service are not going to be adversely affected by the easier distribution of information online and social media. In previous presentations I got the feeling that this service was not seen as core to UBM’s future.

Likewise the focus on virtual events and development of better marketing services with print and online platforms combining to generate leads for sponsors was different. I suspect that the old CMP business is really struggling.

There was also the announcement of the sale of The Publican (and some related brands) at what sounded a virtual fire sale price compared to the valuations it enjoyed relatively recently.

I suspect what has been happening at UBM is that everyone has been extremely busy running around acquiring and integrating businesses. I know from bitter experience what a time-consuming task this can be – especially in overseas markets – and it must have been a significant management distraction. One which wasn’t helped by the global downturn and writedown of the print portfolio.

UBM’s analyst presentation was by far the most confused of the three. It felt over-long and complicated. Sometimes less is more and the clear strategy that they had shown last year seemed to have been muddied.

David Levin also gave an exclusive interview to TheMediaBriefing in October last year in which he highlighted the fact that there would be inevitable ups and downs for the company. I can’t help but feel that UBM could do with a period of stability to really concentrate upon building a world-class emerging markets events business.

I admire the company and am a long-term shareholder but David’s assertion that the re-focus of the company was done had a bit of a hollow ring to it.



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www.TheMediaBriefing.com – our first site launches next week

In my previous post I talked about a new company that I have co-founded with Neil Thackray called Briefing Media Ltd.

We aim to take a different approach to the business media industry.

An approach that combines many of the disciplines of traditional niche media publications with the latest semantic technology to aid the discovery of the very best third party content.

Marrying old and new media if you like.

The team are currently developing dedicated sites for six industry verticals, but our first covers the media industry itself and is due to launch next week.

It will be called TheMediaBriefing and if you work in any aspect of the media industry – B2B, Consumer Magazines, Newspapers, Radio, Digital Media, Mobile, Agencies, TV & Film or Finance – then please come and take a look.

Patrick Smith, our editor and lead media analyst, is currently refining the content and taxonomy for the site. He is also gathering up a faculty of experts from  the industry who will be providing exclusive interviews, video commentary and regular columns about what’s really going on in their businesses.

If you’ve got something to say about the strategic aspects of running a media business in today’s digital world we’d love to hear from you. Please e-mail: contributions@briefingmedia.com

Our site is not live yet but if you would like to register to see it first please leave your e-mail address in the box on the homepage and we’ll be in touch.

Much as I hate the concept, we will be launching in beta so if you spot a glitch or miss-classification please do let us know.

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So, should we all give up and go home?

3525090847_2f001a60feIt is now a little over 8 months since I left Incisive Media. At some point in the future I will do a ‘reflections on a post-corporate world’ post, but for the time being I wanted to share some thoughts on what has happened to the media industry this year. I’d also like to discuss where we might be going & highlight some bright spots.

Looking back, I am still amazed that there was any debate about whether this media downturn was cyclical or structural. Patently it was both but companies that didn’t accept this early are undoubtedly the ones who are now panicking the most.

Having said that there are no easy answers here. No-one really knows how the business models are changing online. Even those organisations who waded straight in to structural change have struggled. I remember one commentator describing the process as being like ‘changing the tyres on a moving truck’ – a pretty apposite analogy.

Over the course of the last few months I have been in a lucky position to step back from the coal-face and observe. My work as a board member of SIPA and my tours round medialand in both the UK & US have allowed an interesting perspective. I have seen both the struggles and success stories first hand and, probably because I am not currently affiliated to any company, I think that I have had more open and honest discussions with media business leaders.

The tone of most of those conversations has been one of steely determination to get through it combined with underlying fear that they’re not sure how.

Whichever way you dress things up we’re going into unknown territory. The shift from an analogue to a digital world of content, collaboration and communication is gathering pace. The skill-sets required by media employees are ever changing and the power that many once formidable media brands had is on the wane.

So, should we sell up, give up, go and do something else?

Some would already seem to have chosen that option. Private equity players are suddenly less keen on the sector. Business Week was confirmed to be ‘on the block’ this week. There has even been talk about a sale price of $1 in spite of having nearly one million paid readers!

Reed Elsevier have made no secret about wanting to sell RBI and have now started selling bits off piecemeal & I am speaking to a lot of the media brokerage businesses about publishing assets that are in the pipeline. But, at the same time…

… I am still hearing very positive stories from a lot of publishers whose businesses, while affected by recession, are structurally sound and doing very nicely.

These are the businesses that, on my travels, everyone wants to pick my brains about and so I thought I would point to a few and try to categorise what has made them more robust:

  • Privately held niche business intelligence providershere I am talking about companies like Business Monitor and Euromonitor. These companies have always worked at the premium information end of the market, often on a subscription basis with renewable revenue streams. They generally are not affected by downturns in advertising spend or event travel. I admire greatly the operations of both of these companies and the entrepreneurs behind them. Their transition from print to online and electronic site licence deals have been transformational & was probably the reason that Informa shelled out such a huge amount of money for Datamonitor a couple of years ago.
  • Online-only membership sites – there are a few that spring to mind but the best ones I can highlight are eConsultancy & SEOMoz. Both of these sites operate in the digital marketing and tech space and practice what they preach, with a full understanding of what it takes to build a successful information business online. The concept of membership rather than subscription is one that I really like because it successfully builds in a lot of the community elements of niche publishing. Combined with this they are increasingly offering bespoke tools to help their members do their jobs better. The Racing Post has also launched a membership offering this week that I think is well crafted.
  • Magazines that really work their brand – here I would highlight Monocle magazine. A consumer lifestyle magazine that seems to be full of advertising, sponsored reports and has even started opening shops with branded merchandise. There was a recent write up from a fan of the magazine here. From my previous corporate life I would also point to Risk & MEED magazines as examples of business publications that has cleverly built a massive complementary business around their mother brand.
  • Data and work-flow publishers – I have written before about some of these developments in publishing but they are usually at the top end of publishing & put together by the behemoths of the media world.

These are just a few examples of media brands which are well positioned in the current economy. There are plenty of other niche and smaller players I have come across that are also growing nicely. It is undoubtedly a challenge but not all doom and gloom.

So, coming back to my original question, should those who currently work in the media all give up and go home?

Some probably should. If you work in an old school media business, and haven’t got the energy to reinvent yourself and your products on an almost continual basis, the next few years aren’t going to be much fun. You should probably look to go off and do something else instead.

If, however, you can learn some lessons from the examples I have listed above then the publishing and media world remains a great place in which to work & an environment which is full of opportunity. I’m looking forward to leaving home and getting back into the fray.

(Photo credit – Columbusneon)


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Specialist publishers: 3 great conferences coming up in May, June and July.

2477140811_ab022c2a345Unless you have been living under a rock for the last 18 months it cannot have escaped your attention that big changes are afoot in the media world. Changes that have been accelerated by the current recession but most of which would have been taking place anyway. Some traditional revenue lines are under significant pressure, business models require reinvention and technological developments are changing the way our customers both consume information and market their products and services.

Against this backdrop should we all put on a tin hat and hide under the nearest desk?

Instead of adopting the Private Frazer approach I strongly suggest that you get out there, meet your peers and learn from others in the industry. On this basis I would like to recommend 3 upcoming events – all of which I have had some involvement in.

The E-Publishing Innovation Forum. Marriott Regents Park, London. 19-20 May.

This 2 day event is organised by my old division of Incisive Media in conjunction with Outsell. Last year it was one of my favourite events of the year and I wrote about some of the presentations I found particularly enlightening. For 2009 Laura and Lorna have again put together a great programme. Featuring speakers including:

  • David Craig, Chief Strategy Officer, Thomson Reuters
  • Juian Sambles, Head of Audience Development, Telegraph Media Group
  • Robert Brown, Media Business Director, Exalead
  • Ben Edwards, Exec VP, The Economist Group and Publisher of Economist.com
  • Ashley Friedlein, CEO, EConsultancy
  • Tim Weller, Group CEO, Incisive Media
  • Neil Thackray, Thackray Media
  • Nick Barnett, MD, Phorm
  • Jonathan MacDonald, Senior Consultant, Mobile Marketing, OgilvyOne
  • Graeme McCracken, COO, Reed Business Search
  • Dame Wendy Hall, University of Southampton

… and many more influential speakers. Click on the title link above to see the full programme.

33rd Specialized Information Publishers Conference. Mayflower Hotel, Washington D.C. 31st May – June 2nd.

Entitled ‘Deal with the Now. Navigate the Future’ the SIPA Washington Conference looks set to be a cracker. While I have never been to a Washington conference I am the current chair of SIPA UK and sit on the main board of directors. This year I was asked to programme the online marketing track and am very much looking forward to attending. There’s a great line up over the 3 days including keynotes from:

  • Jay Berkowitz, CEO of Ten Golden Rules of Internet Marketing
  • Andrew Madden, Director of Strategic Partner Development, Google
  • Jeff Pence, Farm Journal Media’s President of its television and newsletter businesses
  • Mark Ragan, CEO, Ragan Communications

alongside track presentations from:

  • Amy Africa, Eight by Eight
  • Matt Bailey, SiteLogic Marketing
  • Bill Barnes, Enquiro Search Solutions
  • Bob Bly, Bly Copywriting
  • Sean Brooks, TechTarget
  • Kathlene Collins, Inside Higher Ed
  • Nan Dawkins, Serengeti Communications
  • Bill Dugan, The Pohly Company
  • Sarah Rotman Epps, Forrester Research
  • William Fridrich, Wm Fridrich Design
  • Herndon Hasty, Range Online Media
  • Craig Huey, Creative Direct Marketing Group
  • Greg Jarboe, SEO-PR
  • Mark Johnson, Copywriter
  • Robert Lerose, Lerose Copywriting
  • Sandra Niehaus, Closed Loop Marketing
  • Don Nicholas, Mequoda Group
  • Alan Rosenspan, A.Rosenspan & Associates
  • Jim Tucker, Integrating Marketing Technology
  • David Yale, Controlbeaters

and many more over the course of the 3 days.

UK Specialised Information Publishers Association Annual Congress. Tower Hotel, London. 7-8 July.

I finish my tenure as chair of SIPA UK at the end of June and am delighted to hand over to Nick Laight of Canonbury Publishing. Nick’s first job will be to chair the SIPA UK Annual Congress and he has already been working hard to put together a great programme.

One of the sessions I am particularly looking forward to attending is a keynote presentation by Bill Bonner of Agora Publications Inc. Bill’s presentation is entitled “A perfect swarm: total integration marketing” and from what I understand it will outline the concept of combining marketing and editorial pieces to come out incredibly fast in response to topical events in the markets publishers serve. The aim is that within 2 hours of a story breaking pieces are published and marketing promotions are in the hands of prospects – both increasing the topicality and response rates of the promotion and ensuring that the publisher receives the full SEO benefits of their efforts. I can’t wait to hear it.

With roundtables, discussion forums, and tracks on marketing, publishing and content the SIPA UK Congress is without doubt my favourite of the year. Full details are on the link above.

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If a B2B marketer had launched Wired UK – part 2

OK. Apologies for the delayed sequel – school holidays, planning for a new business, Twittering instead of blogging, blah blah blah…

In my last post I looked at the launch of Wired UK. I said that it was a brave company that would launch a glossy consumer magazine in this climate and that I was generally impressed with the first issue. However, I did feel that the launch team had missed a few tricks.

If Wired UK is to survive better than it did last time then I believe the main thing the team should be concentrating on is building loyal subscribers, capitalising on the buzz of the launch & developing a variety of diverse revenue streams – key B2B disciplines that are sometimes missing in consumer publishing.

All the publicity I have seen since the first issue has been about successful newsstand sales and good initial support from advertisers. Outwardly it seems as though these are the main metrics Condé Nast are monitoring.

Fantastic; but one successful issue doesn’t make a successful business. This is especially true for a bi-monthly* where advertisers and agencies have a long time to forget about you between issues.

As any decent media marketer will tell you, subscriptions rule. Good subscription titles can enjoy 70%+ renewal rates and subscribers pay you the money up front. Subscriptions make a viable long term business and give a great message about circulation and loyalty to advertisers. Without them your business can disappear in a flash.

A quick look at the successful US edition of Wired circulation statements shows that it has nearly 90% of readers on subscription – some 614,000 of them.

The UK market is obviously a lot smaller but it shouldn’t be unrealistic to set a target of 50,000 paid subs by the end of the first 12 months & this would be my prime goal if I was running the launch marketing team. The Independent, in an analysis following the demise of the first attempt at a Wired UK estimated that it would need to sell 80,000 copies an issue to break even. 50,000 subscribers would leave a lot less pressure on the marketing budget for the promotion of newsstand sales.

So, I left my previous post explaining how the pre-launch activity should be concentrating on subscriptions (with a charter offer), data acquisition (via the web site) and social media marketing. I suggested that I would aim to have 12,000 subscribers, 60,000 registered web users and active communities on all the major social media sites 2 weeks before the first edition even hit the newsstands.

What then?

Well, I would also want to make sure that I had more than just a magazine to sell to my prospects. One of the things that’s at the core of successful B2B media is that a thriving media brand should only be the start of your business. The real money often comes from the sales of related products – conferences, training, exhibitions, books, special reports, affiliate deals etc. and the best time to sell them is when interest in your brand is at its highest – when you’re new. So let’s make the most of all these new registered prospects, social media visitors and web site readers & make sure that we have something else to sell.

Let’s also try to covert some of these people who have expressed an interest in Wired into subscribers – not just by inserting flyers in the magazine and directing people through to a subscription bureau but with direct sales contact via e-mail and the phone. As a result of the work we have done pre-launch we can have one to one conversations with a lot of our potential customers. I’d put an offer together – always with a time limit & countdown to encourage urgency – and contact all of my registered readers, fans and followers with a invitation to subscribe.

As well as contacting people on my own databases I would actively be monitoring a range of online channels to see what people were saying about the magazine. I would be seeding influential online personalities with free sample issues and tracking the conversations that are taking place online. By using the advanced function on tools like Twitter search you can get some fairly detailed prospects to call. It would be a shame to leave these people to never get round to subscribing (I haven’t yet, and I’m not hard to find…).


*I’ve always been confused about whether that is the right way of describing a publication that comes out once every 2 months.

Update: An interesting interview with Wired’s editor in the ‘back from the dead’ Press Gazette today – £2m first year promotional spend? Crikey.

Postcript (07/05/09) – Just seen issue 2 (June 09) & it’s also good. Also looks like I made a mistake about it being bi-monthly – don’t know where I got that from.


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If a B2B marketer had launched Wired UK – part 1

UK Edition of Wired launched this week

UK edition of Wired launched last week

Last week the UK edition of Wired magazine hit the newsstands for the first time. I have long been a fan of the US version and was interested to see how they had taken the format and adapted it for a UK audience.

Generally I was impressed. It’s a brave company that launches a glossy consumer mag in this environment but the team at Condé Nast have done a pretty good job.

UK Wired kept a lot of things that I liked from the US magazine but toned down the bleeding Sillicon Valley edge – maybe focusing a bit more on design and media instead of gadgets and west coast internet celebrity.

After the launch I was curious about what others were saying about the magazine and so did a quick Twitter search to see feedback from others. Again, it generally seemed to be fairly complimentary and a lot of people were talking about the possibility of subscribing – in fact I was one of them

But I haven’t.

Now this doesn’t mean that I won’t. In fact Condé Nast have some pretty attractive subscription options and competitions for new subscribers that I still might take advantage of but the chances of me doing so are getting lower by the day.

You see the main problem that consumer publishers have is that they lose direct contact with their prospects. No matter how good a job the Condé Nast marketers and PR machine have done to get me to buy the first edition they have no idea that I did so and have therefore lost any ability to follow up.

It got me thinking about what I would do differently if launching the magazine. 

My first job would be to build buzz in the run up to the launch. Now this should be fairly easy. There aren’t many high profile magazine launches around at the moment & the topic areas are eminently ‘PRable’. I’m sure Condé Nast have a team of in house and agency PR’s who can do this job in their sleep but I was slightly disappointed in their use of social and online media.

This for example was the magazine’s Twitter feed. It only went live on the day the first edition hit the streets and even now, nearly a week later, there are no real conversations taking place. And where are the Facebook / LinkedIn pages for fans to congregate and show support? – they may be there somewhere but I couldn’t find them and there are no links from the magazine’s webpages.

Now, how about that webpage?  What’s it for? There are some nice articles on there and a video introducing the magazine from the Editor but really; what’s it for?

As I have said already the major disadvantage the consumer publications have is that they lack direct contact with their customers – who generally purchase via a newsagent. The website should be a great way to get round this. It should be used to capture information about customers and prospects and it should offer a chance for dialogue. There is a section that asks you to ‘Join Wired‘ but what is that and why should I?

What I would like to see here is that data capture becomes the primary purpose of the page. With the buzz you can make about the launch I would be disappointed if a decent B2B marketing team couldn’t get tens of thousands of people to register on these pages – what about a free downloadable white paper, a regular weekly e-mail alert or even a free sample of the first issue? There have been lots of great books written about creating effective landing pages, it’s not difficult but is so important.

At the same time a lot of people are already going to be converts. Let’s get their money now & lock them in before launch with a special charter offer for anyone who subscribes by the end of March. The website already pushes subscription options widely but there’s no urgent call to action. When you get through to their subscription landing page it hardly inspires the customer (one of the problems with subscription bureau that try to standardise everything). I bet it has a high bounce rate.

I’ll leave this post here. But let’s assume that it is now 2 weeks before the first edition hits the newsstands. We have 60,000 people registered via our webpages, 12,000 charter subscribers and  active communities on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social networks. Now the real fun of launch starts – I’ll come back to it in part 2 (and also let you know if I’ve subscribed yet).


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Digital editions – trying to solve the wrong business media problem


Recently I’ve become quite a fan of my ex-colleague, Bill Pollak, the CEO of Incisive Media North America.

Bill has recently ‘got’ social media & is both twittering and blogging profusely.

Along with the rest of the business media sector Bill is clearly looking at the future of his product lines and wrestling with the challenges they face. He is doing this in a very open way and with the aim of both engaging the staff of Incisive Media’s North American operations & reaching out to the industry he serves. I applaud his efforts & hope they permeate the rest of the company.

However, Bill’s post of the 28th November entitled “Capitalizing of Digital Edition Technology” tells me that there’s still a long way to go as the old ALM business faces up to a digital world.

In the post Bill says:

“If advertising declines, I believe publishers will be pushed to find ways to cut the costs of those publications, and that almost certainly means manufacturing and distribution costs. Turning a print publication into a digital one is an obvious solution, and one which we need to all be looking at with an eye toward how we can make the transition work in our favor.”

He then goes on to highlight a recent edition of American Lawyer which managed to embed video from an awards dinner into its digital edition pages & urges his teams to look at ways of selling this to advertisers.

With the greatest respect Bill you’re sending everyone off on a wild goose chase here. Digital editions like those facilitated by Zinio, Olive, NxtBook Media, Texterity etc. are a massive red herring & here’s why:

1) Recipients don’t read them. I could stop this post here. Just think about average open rates for e-mails these days let alone the people who cannot be bothered with re-formating and re-sizing something that wasn’t designed to be read on screen.

2) The digital version of a magazine is called a website – or occasionally a PDF. Concentrate on getting these offerings right rather than tinkering around with something that is designed to look like a magazine but isn’t printed.

3) Engagement with a media property is about much more than having a video pop up from a page. It’s about commenting, sharing, bookmarking, forwarding… how do you do this within a digital edition?

I understand why publishers are tempted to go down the digital edition route – quite apart from the suppliers being all over the trade associations like ABM & PPA.

Let’s see, I can charge the same amount (or even add a premium) to my advertisers and not have to incur any printing and distribution costs, hmmm. What’s not to like?

But the reality is that digital magazines are a gimmick, and not a very practical gimmick at that. They are trying to solve a problem by ignoring the original nature of that problem – the fact that advertisers, in the main, don’t see the value in spending money with your controlled circulation title. The old business case doesn’t make sense any more.

So, my advice to your publishing teams is this. If your magazine is not making money and you’re giving it away for free then cut back the circulation to the people who your advertisers really still want to reach – and make sure those readers are actively engaged with your brand.

If you still cannot make money then don’t pretend to be a print magazine online. Drop the legacy print title and start again.


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