The future of specialist magazine publishers

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SMEs are proliferating in the commercial media sector. In the past decade only the strong have survived, operating with strict cost containment, a realistic approach to revenue generation and a strong focus on editorial quality.

For over 20 years, Mike Leahy, Founder and CEO of Media Manager, has followed trade publications.

“There has been a drop in the number of titles from a high of 775 in 2008 to 395 in 2020, and the numbers continue to drop. Covid-19 on its own hasn’t changed the landscape, it’s about compressing the events of the past five years into one, ”he says.

The ever-increasing printing costs, the collapse of the post office, declining ad spend, technology and ever-changing reader behavior have all played their part.

He adds, “Probably many shouldn’t have survived in the first place. In some industries, five or more titles competed for ad spend, the only source of revenue for most. There was never enough money for everyone, and when Covid-19 marked an evolution became a revolution – those publishers who couldn’t change closed, only the nimble continue to publish. ”

Technology has forced publishers to actively pursue diversification and many have done so with the introduction of websites, ezines, events, daily news sites, newsletters, blogs, podcasts, videos and social media.

Reducing prints while introducing new platforms remains a balancing act, for some it was too little too late and contributed significantly to the alarming number of non-submissions and closures reflected in the last report. of the Audit Bureau of Circulation. However, high-profile publishing houses, which value credibility and smart work, are well known to direct advertisers who matter.

A decline in advertising revenue in all types of media and over many years has further suffered from the Covid-19 pandemic, lockdowns and recent strikes. Two survivors share how they adjusted to the tumultuous change and what sets them apart from the herd.

The power of positioning and content

Ranka Jovanovoïc

In 1996, after studying the booming tech market, Serbian Jovan Regasek launched ITWeb. From the start, he envisioned a fully online press house serving a booming IT sector. A gap in its online product and a growing pool of tech vendors eager to advertise have secured ITWeb’s future. Its revenue model revolved around an innovative virtual press office.

Developing strong relationships with readers and clients and securing long-term advertising contracts ensured profitability from the start. Editorial Director Ranka Jovanovoic said a major contributor to their success has been “an absolute commitment to editorial content creating a wall between editorial and sales teams, we deliver top notch journalism while supporting growth financial “.

Jason Aarons, director of Isikhova Media, agrees. “If a headline cannot produce a continuous, relevant, engaging and relevant editorial to maintain its credibility, financial viability is likely to decline. ”

The company has forged alliances and partnerships with the media – examples include the Jewelery Council of SA, the Department of Education and Master Builders SA. “We are recognized as leading brands in the industries we serve by knowing our audience first and foremost,” says Aarons.

Thinking upright

Commercial publishers such as these embraced the concept of cross-platform at an early stage, juggling print and digital while launching event divisions and other brand extensions is hard work. The adoption of a rapidly evolving niche industry has enabled ITWeb to maintain profitable print products such as Brainstorm magazine, The Margin, CIO and CISO directories. Today, they reach over 300,000 targeted decision makers in the IT sector.

Jason aarons

Isikhova bravely stepped forward by taking for the first time existing print titles in the digital realm, and over the past two years launched three of her own independently published titles – JZA Your Jewelery Magazine, SA Homeschooling and Down to Earth and acquired the publication rights. to SA Constructeur.

While introducing new brands only online and establishing additional local and global partnerships, the company has developed a customer-centric and pragmatic approach to customer budgets, especially during Covid-19, bottlenecks and current uncertainty. our country is facing. Aarons details their approach:

“Let’s face it, the numbers game is the end result if our products don’t hit stores or online, they don’t work, the drop in ad spend is real and not just limited to one genre or one. a support, ”says Aarons. “We continue to engage with advertisers, in real time or in zoom time, to deliver affordable solutions. We bundle advertising in headlines, emails, and social media and bypass payment plans where necessary. ”

Remaining the number one choice of niche publishing readers and advertisers remains a key indicator of sustainability. Stories abound of unscrupulous and aggressive editors who tamper with circulation numbers and take an intimidating approach to sell ad hoc advertising.

Leahy suggests that advertisers weigh their options, select the brand with a deep understanding of their readers, study and verify circulation stats, and pick one or two that come out on top.


Sandra Gordon has an extensive background in marketing, with experience in media, advertising, branding, communications, public relations and publishing (print and online). Currently CEO of Iconic Group, a savvy collection of entrepreneurial companies offering services across the full spectrum of marketing and communications, including Stone Soup PR. She is the former publisher of The Media Online and The Media, and founder of the MOST Awards.


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