Boom time for business press

The business to business magazine market is still in its infancy but it is growing fast. And advertisers are taking notice, writes Steve Wrelton

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By  Steve Wrelton Published  February 19, 2006

Boom time for business press|~|Brown,-Graham200.jpg|~|‘A lot of the more specialised magazines have not spent a lot of investment in editorial or in circulation’ Graham Brown, regional sales manager for Alain Charles Publishing|~|A flick through the Middle East Media Guide’s business and trade press section reveals a side of the publishing world you may never have known existed. There is a staggering array of magazines — a quick count tots up around 250 — which cover everything from cattle and livestock to the workings of the water industry. And while they are not all as niche as Bovine and Ovine Middle East and North Africa, the number and variety of publications is certainly impressive — especially considering the fact that a few years ago there were only a handful around. “Business publications have developed in a rather similar way to the development of the rest of society in that there’s been an explosion in the publishing of new titles, of which a reasonable percentage are B2B, and the quality has been improving,” says Barry Gray, publisher at Gray Business Communications. “The market is dominated by a few large publishers, maybe half a dozen in the whole region. But as the market grows other companies will be attracted and there will be increased and better quality competition.” Graham Brown, regional sales manager for Alain Charles Publishing, which publishes Technical Review and Oil Review Middle East, says that the Middle East market has seen an explosion in the number of new titles and has become increasingly specialised during the last five to 10 years. “You’ve only got to go to the newsstands and look at all the shelves,” he says. “Unfortunately, quantity does not necessarily mean quality. A lot of the more specialised magazines have not spent a lot of investment in editorial or in circulation.” Matthew Southwell, ITP Business’s deputy managing director, says that as long as a commitment to informative editorial is maintained, the market will continue to offer up new publishing opportunities. ITP, probably the region’s biggest B2B player, is publisher of Campaign and prints titles such as Oil & Gas, Construction Week and Aviation Business. “Editorial is both front and centre for ITP,” says Southwell. “If magazines do not contain quality editorial and information that readers require to take good business decisions, then you have failed as a publisher.” There is, he also argues, room for titles to become increasingly specialised. “Sub-industries are growing rapidly and they need information to fuel that growth. For those industries where a title is not present, they deserve a high quality publication to help them make informed business decisions so they can drive their companies forward.” Despite a large number of titles, Ramzi El Hafez, the founder of Lebanese publishing house InfoPro —publisher of Lebanon Opportunities and BusinessWeek Arabiya — argues that the market in Lebanon has been slow to develop. “We’ve been going for nine years now, but in our neck of the woods the market is not developed because the business environment hasn’t really changed,” he says. “Lebanon has stagnated in the last few years and the content of the magazines now is not really any different to what it was eight or so years ago.” Hafez says that for quality Lebanese publications to become more specialised, the economy, too, must diversify. “We need the market to grow, but we operate in a market that’s very small. Any publication that’s more specialised than just a general business publication will be non-viable — you need to be able to get to a certain size before you can break even.” Ghadeer Taher, editor-in-chief of the English language publication Jordan Business Monthly, says that the calibre of editorial content in the market leaves much to be desired. However, that does not seem to deter the advertisers. “Most advertisers seem unable to tell the difference between magazines in terms of content or layout,” says Taher. “We unfortunately have a significant cut-and-paste culture that is flooding the market with sub-standard material, and it is too easy for anyone to set up a magazine that is entirely reliant on the internet for plagiarised content.” There is no question that the Gulf region features a wealth of publications that are competing for attention, but it is the UAE where things are really taking off. “The UAE by far — especially Dubai — has long held a competitive advantage in terms of experience and the talent pool that has congregated there, so it’s no surprise. But other parts of the Middle East are moving forward. Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Egypt hold promise for the future,” says Taher. Brown says that the business and trade publication market is becoming more mature and is catching up with the US and Europe. The growth of Dubai Media City, he says, has been instrumental in making the emirate the destination of choice. “Most of the publishers have moved to Dubai and since DMC opened I think a lot more people will begin to move here to target the Middle East market,” says Brown. Gray, who is also responsible for Al Tasweeq Al Arabi, sister English language title Gulf Marketing Review, and Tadawul — the official magazine of the Saudi Arabian stock market — says the question of where the best titles can be found is debateable. “I’m not comfortable with the word ‘best’,” says Gray. “Although the Arabic press is less developed than the English press, it does have the biggest market and, as European publishers, it can be easy to overlook the size and value of that.” With online becoming an increasingly important medium for advertisers, it is appropriate to consider the role of websites and whether they enhance or reduce a publication’s appeal. “Websites are a negative, because most of them give you the editorial content on the site and so it’s a disincentive for the advertisers,” says Hafez. “We have a website but we don’t give all of the editorial content away. Websites can only really work in very, very large markets.” Brown, too, is sceptical about the value of investing heavily in a website, especially for the more niche publications. “Websites are essential in a lot of industries, they can provide a useful service, but they’re yet to prove profitable to publishers,” he says. “Hard copy in a real magazine is a lot easier to sell and there’s nothing better than actually getting your hands on it.” Taher says that websites enable both local and international readers to have access to Jordan Business Monthly’s content, which boosts the ||**||Boom time for business press|~|Barry-Gray-Publisher200.jpg|~|Barry Gray, publisher at Gray Business Communications|~|magazine’s profile. “A web presence is also crucial to attract those who rely on online research,” she says. “Were it not for our website and our partnerships with online news providers like Zawya.com, we’d probably miss a large segment of people who would not hear about us otherwise.” When asked what they look for in a publication, the answer from major brand advertisers is simple: good quality editorial and a healthy circulation. In the case of general business magazines it seems those criteria are more important than they are for specialised publications. Hamad Malik, director of marketing and communications for electronics firm LG in the Middle East, says he evaluates three elements before spending money. “Magazine circulation is the starting point and we’ll make a note about the circulation figures’ authenticity as well — certified magazines always have an edge over the non-certified ones,” says Malik. “Quality of editorial content is also very important. With respect to everyone out there, I believe some of the business magazines do not offer very high quality or unique content. “Brand positioning and image match is another factor and it is important for LG to advertise in well-known, premium business magazines which match its brand image.” Malik adds, however, that for niche trade titles in core markets — construction or IT magazines for example — circulation figures are less important. “The reason is that even if they’re selling just a few thousand copies, their readers may be our core target for a particular campaign or product line,” he says. “Especially for our IT and commercial air-conditioning products, specialised trade and industry magazines are of great importance.” Michel Sabbagh, marketing manager for Canon Middle East, says that the main objective for advertising in business magazines is to be able to communicate with executives. “We select a wide variety of titles to cover our brand large portfolio of products namely and we try to keep a good balance of business, IT, lifestyle, sports, women’s and in-flight magazines to give an acceptable exposure to the product in question and to cover the widest readership of end-users,” Sabbagh says. “In general, those who read business magazines are interested in the latest news and development of the market and usually read many articles. Therefore, placing a good ad for a specific product that can enhance their business performance and increase efficiency has a good chance to be noticed.” Quality editorial is important, says Sabbagh, but so too is the authenticity of a publication’s distribution figures. “The magazine should sustain credible distribution and circulation figures that are audited in order to justify the placed investment,” he says. It is often argued that in the consumer sphere there are too many publications for the market to sustain. The view from the business and trade sector seems to be somewhat different. While there are a large number of titles, because the economy is so strong — particularly in the GCC — the future looks rosy. “There are areas that are very cluttered, particularly the society type magazines, but I don’t think business is cluttered,” says Gray. “The quality of B2B could still improve, but with industry and society growing rapidly, there will be more opportunities to service the audience. Property, especially, comes to mind, but in the end it will be the quality of the content that will decide where people put their money.” For Hafez, although the market in Lebanon for internal business and trade publications is shrinking, there are opportunities for international publishers to set up shop. “In Lebanon the pie is not growing, but I think that titles can come here and serve the wider market — that’s what we’ve done with Business Week. Also, costs of printing and production are cheaper here and so more magazines could come,” he says. Taher adds: “Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt and Morocco show potential for B2B publications, though this will be contingent on market liberalisation. “What few niche markets remain are being recognised and leveraged rather quickly — for example construction, real estate, information and communications technology, sound and lighting, fashion, travel, motoring. “Some publishers are going too far with specialisation, and the sustainability of some niche markets remains to be seen.” There is no doubt that while the Middle East economy continues to grow the future of business and trade publications looks bright. However, only the strong will survive, and in publishing that maxim is no less apt. A downturn in the economy, and in oil prices in particular, will test even the best titles. “A lot of the publications will survive in the current economic climate,” says Brown. “But all it will take is a downturn in the oil price and then only the most resilient will be able to last. “In 22 years of Technical Review we’ve have had four major crises and we’ve seen a large percentage of the B2Bs not survive.” In the meantime Gray says that magazines must broaden their horizons and strengthen their commercial viability. “None of the requirements for producing magazines will change,” he says. “There is a need for quality editorial, of course, but there is also a need to provide a comprehensive package, to have added value such as conferences or awards — building a community around the publication so it’s not just about the magazine itself.”||**||

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