IT Overload

If you think information technology publishing is the realm of the computer nerd, and dismiss national newspapers’ coverage of IT because you think it’s too shallow by half, then think again.

“The national and business press have fully acknowledged the importance of the sector,” says Richard Buckley, associate research director at Banner Corporation, the research consultancy responsible for the annual Banner Survey of technology buyers and their readership patterns. “In fact, for many, IT advertisers are increasingly becoming the leading advertiser category in their titles.”

IT impinges upon every aspect of business life, even influencing the way decisions are made. “Business managers in all sectors have a far greater understanding of how IT can improve and build their business,” says Richard Firminger, UK sales director at the US publishing house CMP. “It’s this understanding that is driving all media to provide the knowledge support to help businesses better understand the technology that’s available, and its role as a business enabler.”

Clamouring for their piece of the IT action, many of the nationals are now producing weekly IT supplements, directed at either the home (Interface by The Times) or the business sector (FT IT by The Financial Times). “Clearly this coverage builds interest in the IT sector as the majority of business managers will not be active readers of IT-specific titles,” says Buckley.

Indeed, the impact of the nationals on the IT market should not be underestimated. Media Monitoring Services (MMS) calculates a decline in advertising revenue in the IT press of 12.7 per cent between December 1997 and November 1998 by volume, as spend on IT ads in the nationals grew by 4.9 per cent. While the nationals’ share only represented 11 per cent during this period, its share has more than doubled since 1994, and the trend is likely to continue.

However, Rob Lewis, chief executive of Network Multimedia TV (NMTV), the online IT news provider which presents Silicon.com tempers the success of the nationals: “National newspapers are unlikely to replace existing print and online specialist media. IT issues will always require in-depth reporting by specialist journalists,” he says.

Neil Carter, media analyst with Dresdner Kleinwort Benson agrees. “The IT press and the nationals have very different readerships,” he explains. “There is no doubt that national coverage of IT has stimulated the market, but there’s enough internal competition in the IT trade publishing sector without the IT press having to worry too much about what the nationals are doing.”

There are five weekly IT titles in the UK battling for advertisers’ money. The fight for readership, is forcing IT publishers in particular – and to a lesser extent the business press – to present themselves as multi-product communications companies, capable of reaching the buyer across all stages of decision-making. To achieve this they have created a number of tools which include IT title-related Websites which contain different content to the printed editions: list rental facilities (subscriber informat ion); research facilities (test labs, industry and bespoke research); contract publishing; exhibitions and roadshows; and dedicated TV channels. “These added-value services have become the norm and are now an essential component of today’s publishing package,” says Buckley.

Despite these efforts to provide across-the-board services, IT publishers face an even greater challenge. VNU deputy managing director Brin Bucknor says: “Readers have so many different ways of getting information, that magazine publishing now competes with TV, radio, the Internet and all the other subsets of these groups. It’s likely people will spend less time reading any particular magazine or newspaper, or browsing a site.”

This is prompting advertisers to create a more mixed media package for their product messages. For example, the biggest threat to the IT press is the move of vendors towards television advertising as the medium for communicating brand and corporate campaigns. Although the IT press is increasingly being used to complement brand campaigns, it is primarily used to communicate product messages.

According to Buckley, the national press does represent a threat to the IT press with its share of the market for brand-led campaigns: “Such campaigns are tending to move towards consumer-based advertising agencies which are generally not so comfortable working with the specialist press, and seek saturation through traditional media channels, such as the nationals and TV,” he says.

Buckley also maintains that over the past 18 months, the majority of IT advertisers have been focusing on the strengthening small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) market. “Typically an organisation with over 100 employees will have an IT department. Medium-sized organisations (with between 100 and 499 employees) maintain the same buying process as corporates,” he says. “The IT professional controls buying – from selection right through to purchase – and relies on the IT press as the dominant information source.”

But here, too, the IT press is coming under increasing pressure as the nationals, the business press and TV fight for their share of the budget, says Buckley. Advertisers feel they have to target both IT professionals and managerial influencers in this market, and so are covering their options by placing their ad spend with the IT press while supplementing it with ads in the nationals.

The driving force behind the expansion of European IT publishing though is the desire of media owners to be able to offer consistent international packages of titles. “These mirror the marketing strategies of their advertisers,” says Buckley. “IT product campaigns were in fact some of the first to go regional and global. The leading trade press publishers – IDG, CMP, Ziff-Davis and VNU – are making considerable ground in providing these services to their advertisers.”

The use of new media is also thrusting business and IT publishers into the heart of the emerging electronic commerce market. They have realised the impact of the Internet and established registered sites (for example, www.idg.net and www.zdnet.com).

These sites bring incremental readers to the market, increasing business potential for advertisers. For example, Ziff-Davis claims 50 per cent of its Website visitors do not read the print versions of its magazines.

At IDG in the US, buyers can also visit www.webshopper.com, make purchases based on PC title reviews, compare pricing from resellers and buy over the Internet. As electronic commerce becomes more widespread, and buyers’ concerns over security are assuaged, direct selling over the Web will assume a new importance across the market. It will appeal to the largest corporations and individual traders alike.

Expansion in business-to-business publishing is being driven by demand for targeted marketing campaigns. In the longer term, however, readers will seek more effective ways of receiving specialist information through the Internet – and advertisers will finally have to wake up to this fact.

“Only through personalisation can IT professionals ensure they never miss key developments in an industry that changes quicker than any other,” says Buckley.

But the time IT managers can dedicate to perusing the specialist press is limited. According to recent telephone research on the European IT professionals market carried out by Research Business International (RBI), the average IT professional receives 29 magazines per month; 61 per cent believe they get too many magazines; only eight per cent want to receive more. Consequently 89 per cent expressed a preference for receiving information over the Internet. Only 16 per cent said they had time to look at a paper magazine each day, but 49 per cent said they used the Internet every day.

It is, therefore, inevitable that Internet-delivered information will become more popular because of its immediacy and perceived versatility.

“It can deliver accountable, responsive campaigns to a high-quality, controlled-circulation audience,” says NMTV’s Rob Lewis.

Although it accounts for a small proportion of ad spend at the moment (research organisation Jupiter forecasts that by 2000, Web ad spend as a percentage of total ad spend will be just one per cent in the UK), this is expected to change dramatically thanks to the way information providers will be able to use technology to present a personalised information service tailored to their readers’ exact needs.

Much more likely is that by refining their customer databases, the media publishers will recognise their customers’ likes and dislikes, and then deliver an appropriate product through the appropriate medium.

“Those running around shouting about the demise of print media and its replacement by the Internet are forgetting that this was also said about radio and TV,” says VNU’s Bucknor.

“We’re still here. There are just different methods of presenting information and they have to be accommodated.”

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