Consumer Magazine Report: Minding Their Business

Magazines covering the new economy are proliferating, but will they flourish?
The real heavy lifting for Internet executives these days doesn’t involve lugging a laptop around–it’s toting the increasingly weighty load of New Economy magazines.
These hot books are already fat with ads. And the more successful the magazines are, the more they spawn new entrants.
This May, the Fortune Group at Time Inc. will launch eCompany Now, a monthly with a planned paid circulation of 200,000. Business 2.0, owned by Imagine Media, is doubling in frequency, from monthly to biweekly. And PC Computing, published by Ziff-Davis, is changing its name to Smart Business for the New Economy, to go after the executive market.
That’s in a field already packed with IDG’s The Industry Standard, Conde Nast’s Wired, Mort Zuckerman’s Fast Company, and the independently published Red Herring and Upside.
While these magazines draw a load of ads and an enormous amount of buzz, their circulations remain relatively small compared to those of the big gorillas in the business press: Fortune, Forbes and Business Week, which sell in the neighborhood of 1 million copies an issue.
At some point, observers say, the field will become too crowded, the ad frenzy will slow down, and the Internet will become the normal way of doing business–and then “they’ll fall by the wayside,” says Martin Walker, chairman of the
magazine consulting firm Walker Communications.
“They’re so hot, and there’s so much buzz, they don’t have a need to grow their circulations [now],” Walker says. “When there are 10 of them out there fighting, it will start to become a circulation war, and they’ll need to grow it.”
But circs are already growing, the publishers report. Business 2.0 launched in 1998 and now has a paid circ of 210,000; the magazine’s president and publisher, Michela O’Connor Abrams, foresees a rise to 500,000 by 2002. The Industry Standard, which launched in 1998 as a controlled-circulation magazine, is now growing its paid subscribers; of its 135,000, about 50,000 are paid, Standard president John Battelle reports. He expects to hit 150,000 circulation by April, and 200,000 by the end of the year.
These magazines are being read by people making key strategic decisions, like whom to form a partnership with or what technology to buy. That explains the proliferation of Internet ads, as well as ads for companies selling the hardware and software that run many companies’ Web sites.
“People still don’t know what the whole thing is about, and there’s a craving for information that will explain in plain English what’s in it for them,” says Page Thompson, media director for DDB Worldwide. “I don’t see this phenomenon ending soon.” –Dan Fos