Mainstream Auto Mags Shadow Fate of Business Week

Whoda thot: Business Week on the block.

In an environment where TV Guide was sold by parent Macrovision Solutions for one dollar (yes, a buck), McGraw-Hill finds itself attempting to unload its weekly business title during the worst possible M&A climate. Deciding to sell is one thing, finding an engaged buyer with cash and big ideas is another matter entirely.

Mainstream print-based news has become rendered nearly obsolete by new media. Yet a base of rabid information seekers are willing to pay for information unattainable elsewhere. Therein the challenge for consumer automotive titles seeking to recapture former glory. Simply put, what lies in the pages of Motor Trend that you can’t obtain by other means and in a more timely fashion? And with car buyers opting for greenie mobiles, are the vaunted Road & Track test methods all that relevant?

The past few summer evenings gave me the opportunity to unscientifically gauge page traction among a number of titles ranging from the Fab Four to AutoWeek, Street Rodder, and a few club newsletters. Wish I had a timer, but I can certainly lay claim to the glossies retaining my interest for about 4 minutes per issue (3.5 minutes reading R&T’s Side Glances by Peter Eagan). Mags with a particular focus, roll-up-your-sleeves articles, and tons of neat ads hold my attention a solid half hour. Club newsletters enjoy their own economics. Morale of the story: I’ll pay a premium for info I need, a smaller amount for info I want. I simply don’t need nor want much of anything from the self-absorbed rants of Automobile Magazine’s Jean Jennings.

Business Week is not alone. Newsweek has cut staff and reduced circ initiatives, and Hachette is unloading a number of titles for a fraction of their revenue contribution.

The glory days of a quick exit at 2 or 3X revenues are gone. And the once valued sub liability is, well, a liability. What buyer in their right mind would take on, say, Car & Driver for more than its sub liability as a roll-up to an existing title?

Expect consolidation in the coming months among the mainstream consumer automotive titles. Direct competitors are the most logical acquirers, and the selling company should retain its brand and pursue a vigorous online presence without print baggage.

Or re-purpose the magazine into a mother lode of insanely pertinent information sold at a higher price for the hardcore. You can forgetta bout paid advertising adding much to the mix, so maybe newsletter economics has a role in magazine publishing after all.

I’d would like to your views on this topic to share with CPI readers… so please post your comments!

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There Are 3 Responses So Far. »

  1. Advertising holds the key to the future of the consumer periodicals referenced in your article. I agree about the newsletter concept but only to a point since “information wants to be free.”

  2. Automobile once had that special mojo lacking in the competition. Maybe it was David E., but probably more to do with the shifting economy. And its writers should definetely check their ego at the door!

  3. The gurus at journalism schools, whose job it is to decipher what is going on with digital communication these days, stress over and over again that people have so many choices today that you have to know WHY they are coming to you, and WHAT they are looking for, and then provide that – if it is within your content area.

    The big car magazines, as you say, are simply trying live a model that has died; they just don’t know it is dead yet. There is literally NOTHING in them that can’t be found a month earlier on the web. They all test the SAME cars in the SAME places and LOVE them all. They have devalued themselves to the consumer (the last special I got for one buff book was one year, $10 or, TWO years, $10). That lets you know exactly what they think they are worth to a consumer.

    The era when the big car mags were the only source of information, and they could dollop it out to you as they please, is over. The question is, when will the suits at headquarters, who have gotten used to big juicy salaries from the profits the car mags made, realize that they simply can’t keep spending the way they have.

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