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Friday, December 14, 2007

Early New Year's Resolution: Back to Blogging 

In April, I took a vacation with my family, and a vacation from this blog. The family vacation was great, and too short; the blog vacation was also great, but too long.

After having gotten out of the habit of blogging, I remained out of the habit, with many excuses for my laziness, including an incredibly busy year for GRID Media (our best year yet since our founding nearly eight years ago), and a variety of health-related scares which, thankfully, turned out to be just the normal scares related to being in my late 40s.

But what really moved me to get back to my small b2b blog crusade are two things: a recent post by my friend Paul Conley, who fears "that 2008 is going to be an awful year for B2B publishing," and my recent experiences on the road with my partner Scott Chase drumming up 2008 business for our clients.

I've long held to two principles regarding economic slowdowns: the first is that we talk ourselves into recessions, and the second, based on my experience, is that b2b publishing often serves as an early recession indicator. I'll explain.

I'm no economist, but to me, booms, bubbles and busts are more the result of how we talk about markets, than actual underlying market problems. The amount of economic news to which we're all exposed, with its conflicting themes, and bi-polar conclusions ("Everything's great, credit is easy, buy that house you can't really afford!" "The sky is falling, subprime credit is killing us, inflation is out of control, we're all going to die a horrible and penniless death.") contributes to "herd" behaviors that become self-fulfilling. Just as we over-over extend when the economic mood is manic, we under-under extend when the mood depresses.

So, no matter what, we're in for a slowdown in 2008. The length and depth of that slowdown will be determined, in my view, mainly by how much we overreact. And for b2b, that means how much our readers and advertisers overreact.

Based on what I've been seeing the last few months, there's a reasonably strong overreaction underway. Which means we'll be seeing a recession of some sort in b2b media. And I'm sure that's already being reflected in your 2008 budgets--if you even have them done now. Because it's being relfected in the budgets of advertisers--and many of those budgets aren't fixed yet, either.

If you look back over the past six months, b2b media has again been serving as a leading indicator of the slowdown. Ad pages continue to be off, and while other media spending (online, live events) can account for some, and maybe most, of that shortfall, there's still been an underlying cut back on media spend going on by our advertisers. Check out Inquiry Management System's free and valuable MagazineWatch tool, if you don't already do so.

And after this Fall's "selling season," my partner and I have little reason to expect 2008--at least in the first half--to improve. (On the other hand, we have no reason to believe we'll fall off a cliff either. For every advertiser who's cut back, we've picked up new business, and so are at least looking at equal revenues and pages, at this point.)

So, am I contributing to the depressive and recessionary talk with this post? Maybe. But I don't see all doom and gloom. I think media recessions are as healthy (and deadly) as wildfires. They clear out the weaker players. They force creativity--as smart publishers try to survive by doing more with less. And they force a focus on the basics--how we best serve our audiences and the marketers who want to reach them. (They're also healthy for our little media management firm--we were founded in the throes of the last bubble-popping downturn, and thrived as clients struggled to grow their businesses with fewer resources, and outsourced some problem properties to us).

I'll be blogging on these potentially healthy outcomes throughout 2008. That's my early New Year's resolution.

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