Good news from the magazine industry: business media’s thriving

by Rachel Sanders

Good news about the publishing industry is rare these days. So when Don Genova heard some, he came straight to Story Board to share it with his freelance colleagues.

Genova, a freelance food and travel writer and president of the Canadian Media Guild’s Freelance Branch, had run into an old friend – an editor he used to work for – in an airport. This editor had become the publisher of a small niche trade magazine and was on the verge of starting up another one.

“How are things going?” Genova asked his friend, bracing for the kind of gloomy report that’s standard in publishing lately.

But gloomy news didn’t come.

“He said trade magazines don’t seem to be suffering at all, in fact they’re doing quite well,” Genova told me in an email later that day.

“So…why are the trades making it and should more writers be targeting their pitches there?” he asked.

Business communications consultants weigh in

It was an intriguing question. Most of the news I’ve read about magazines over the past couple of years has been about disappearing advertisers, struggling publishers, and plummeting writers’ rates. Could there be a sector of the magazine industry that’s actually thriving?

John Milne says there is. Milne is a business communications consultant and former senior vice-president of Business & Professional Publishing at Rogers Publishing. Along with D.B. Scott, magazine consultant and author of the Canadian Magazines blog, Milne has co-authored two white papers, one in 2013 and another in 2014, summarizing the current conditions and future prospects for business publishing.

Although some business media sectors have been hard hit by market conditions, others are “proving nimble and adaptable with strong future potential,” according to Milne and Scott’s 2013 white paper.

The internet and the 2008 financial crisis had a devastating effect on much of the media landscape, but Milne says that the smaller scale of business-to-business media made it easier for those types of publishers to respond to the ensuing challenges and opportunities.

“B2B [business-to-business] publishers tend to have closer and more direct relationships with their advertisers and readers than do consumer publishers…this facilitates speed-to-market,” Milne told me in a recent email.

Those closer relationships, as well as the specialized knowledge of trade magazine publishers, make the trade mags indispensable to their readers. Because they target niche markets, they’ve always been able to offer advertisers precise targeting for their ads, too — something that advertisers are demanding from all publishers these days.


Content still king

In the new publishing reality, a magazine’s content is more important than ever. In their 2014 white paper, Milne and Scott note that magazine paywalls and subscriptions depend on high quality content.

“That can mean many things to many readers: more timely; more useful; better curated; more informed; better written; easier to find; faster to consume; more relevant; more fun/entertaining, etc.” it says.

So where is all this high quality reading material coming from? Milne says much of it comes from freelancers.

“Every one of the categories in which I have worked over 35 years has had its own group of freelancers with specialized knowledge of the given field. Interest in ‘business’ continues to grow – with that growth and the proliferation of digital platforms that demand immediacy, there is an ongoing need for professional writers,” he says.

The fundamental skills needed for pitching and developing story ideas for business media are the same as they are for consumer magazine and newspaper writing.

“Insights into specific market niches come from a blend of creativity, experience and ‘connecting dots,'” says Milne.

“The best place to start is with developing relationships with editors and assignment editors.”


Advice for freelancers

Tim Dimopoulos agrees. Dimopoulos is an executive publisher at the Business Information Group, the trade magazine division of Glacier Media. He oversees two dozen business magazines in the manufacturing and construction field. He also says that many sectors of the business media are thriving.

“The more niche the audience, the better, because it allows you to service it a little bit easier,” he told Story Board in a recent phone interview.

“The trade books have had a little bit more success than our consumer counterparts [because] they really are part of the niche community they serve.”

Dimopoulos says that all of the magazines he oversees use freelancers.

“Some of it is done at no charge from industry experts, but the large majority is actually freelanced out to writers who have a particular specialty in the industry they serve. Sometimes we’ll hire general writers, but the majority of our writers that have a lot of success and have repeated assignments from us are people who understand the industries that they’re writing for,” he says.

Freelance writers hoping to break into trade magazines first need to familiarize themselves with the industry they want to write about.

“My advice to freelance writers would be to pick a discipline or a market. Find out everything you can about it through your own research. It could be through just researching online, it could be just by reading the trade magazines that you have an interest in writing for. And it also could be as involved as going out to events. Most of the events that these industries have are either open to the public or at least you can get an invitation to go out to see these things if you have a general interest in the subject matter,” says Dimopoulos.

As you learn about the industry, keep in mind that your status as a newbie might actually be a boon.

“Often the best ideas come from outsiders looking in. A lot of times we get fairly myopic because we’re so immersed in it and we’re so used to writing for our industries in a certain way. Sometimes we don’t take a fresh approach that people who are on the periphery of the industry might have,” says Dimopoulos.

He says freelancers should approach editors with a well-crafted pitch.

“You can’t go in there with a portfolio of assignments you’ve written for other industries as a reason to pick you as a freelance writer. You have to show some initiative and that generally comes from researching the industry and making a pitch,” he says.

Trade magazines are looking for freelancers with a combination of strong writing skills and industry knowledge.

“The ideal person…is an excellent writer and also somebody who understands the subject matter and can speak the language of the industry. It really doesn’t take long to learn. As long as you’ve got general knowledge, the terms and the language of the industries are fairly easy to get ahold of,” he says.

As for the publisher who Don Genova ran into in an airport… I contacted him for comment but received no reply. Too busy running successful trade magazines, perhaps? Freelance writers, take note.



If you’d like to break into trade magazine writing, here are some resources to browse:

• The magazine titles published by Glacier Media’s Business Information Group.

• Fulcrum Media’s list of publications.

• Rogers Publishing’s full list of titles, including both consumer and trade magazines.


Posted on January 9, 2015 at 9:00 am by editor · · Tagged with: , , , ,

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