BusinessWeek Forges Ahead Digitally; But Can it Save Its Print Edition? 4

In my mind BusinessWeek is light years ahead of its business magazine counterparts (Forbes, Fortune, The EconomistPortfolio, etc) in integrating its online efforts with its print magazine. However, as Sam Whitmore reminded me recently, “they are really only the fastest ship in a slow moving convoy.”

As we have spotlighted before, John Byrne has revitalized BW’s online efforts by making crowd-sourcing a priority, taking to the Twittersphere, embracing video and building a highly useful online business meeting place (Which has the potential to be a game changer).

With all this going for them, you would think the folks within the McGraw-Hill Building in Midtown Manhattan would be optimistic. However, in my two recent trips to their offices within the last couple months, Mr. Whitmore’s aforementioned reality that BW is really just a fast moving ship in a slow moving envoy – seems to be sinking in. In fact, in-terms of generated ad revenue, the folks at BusinessWeek may see themselves as the slowest moving ship in a slow convoy.

It’s hard to have a conversation with anyone in the media right now without addressing the severe drop in ad pages, which the economic climate is expediting. However, the folks at BusinessWeek seem specially attuned to the dire industry conditions. As we know, now is not a “great” time for business, and it’s an absolutely horrible time to be a magazine ad sales person looking to pry ad dollars from financial, auto and technology conglomerates. In hearing statements like “We’d take any advertiser right now,” from folks at BW, I understood that they were battling some tough times. How tough?

Douglas McIntyre shed some light on that this morning in a post on BloggingStocks. According to his analysis, within the first three weeks of the new year (not accounting for the inauguration issue on newsstands now), BusinessWeek’s ad pages are down 31%. The decline must be tough to handle for all of BusinessWeek’s staffers and especially its top brass after they watched ad pages decline 16% in 2008. That signified the sharpest decline in the business magazine category for 08′, as Forbes fell 14%, Fortune was flat and The Economist managed to increase ad pages by 4%.

The real question appears to be is “Can BusinessWeek and McGraw-Hill make up the difference with an increase in online ad sales?” Byrne and others at BW  continue to promote the user engagement they are seeing as a result of their online initiatives – but is it wooing online advertisers? With the New York Times Co. and other media companies reporting a decline in online advertising for Q4 it would be hard to bet on being any different.

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