So last week, while announcing a $4.1 billion acquisition of ChoicePoint, Reed Elsevier revealed its intention to divest itself of Reed Business Information, which you don’t need me to tell you should be of particular interest to the publishing industry because RBI is the company behind Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. The PaidContent blog plucks out some key details in RBI’s financial performance: Advertising accounted for 60 percent of the company’s revenue last year; also, 30 percent of the revenue derived from RBI’s online business, which is sharply outpacing the print division. The Times of London is already suggesting a private equity group might make an offer, while United Business Media has already declared it doesn’t care about “orphaned print products.” Continuing in that vein, PaidContent speaks to an unnamed source who says the proposed sale comes “a year too late.”
David Rothman, who like me has contributed frequently to Publishers Weekly, poses some interesting questions about the business, including the possibility that PW might migrate to an online-only format. He also notes that the magazine is “an important part of the publishing ecosystem on which many independent bookstores depend.”
That’s certainly true: Although several other sources for publishing industry news have emerged in recent years—and I’m speaking here of outlets that are solely devoted to the subject, not individual reporters for general-interest publications or news syndicates—very few have penetrated anywhere near as deeply into the book-biz community’s attention span as PW, and even those that have don’t offer as much in the way of original reporting. (That said, compiling news from across the available sources, with or without analysis, is clearly seen as one of several valuable services that can be provided to publishing professionals.)
While online media has made it possible to sustain publications that can focus very narrowly on particular aspects of book publishing, perhaps even beating PW in coverage or analysis of certain sub-categories, the magazine is still the 500-pound gorilla of industry news.
But PW is just one piece of the RBI puzzle, and I’m the first to admit that my understanding of the magazine industry is limited in scope, so if you have any insights at all, please share them with me.