Many people are warning that the Utopian days when any journalist could write whatever they wanted, without commercial issues (i.e. the advertising team) interfering with the independence of the press. They point to the growth of native advertising, and the hard commercial realities of running a modern publication.

It’s also very true that there are lots of other people saying that those Utopian days weren’t quite as good as we imagine, and our rose-tinted hindsight is a bit misleading.

However I was surprised to read how blunt Karen Simon was in her piece on EE Journal, entitled The Media Mafia. She makes some very specific accusations:

“Last week, while I was meeting with customers at the annual Design Automation Conference (DAC), I was told by more than one of my contacts that they make sure to reserve some of their marketing budget for certain publications, out of fear of what the editors from these publications will write about their product if they do not “pay up”…er, I mean, purchase a program.”

She even issues a call to arms for advertisers, telling them:

“Trade publications hold a lot of power. Only you can stop the bullying!”

Of course Karen has a clear motive: to position Techfocus Media as being different from other publications. A case of “she would say that, wouldn’t she?”, perhaps?

I think only time will tell the future of the trade press, and the electronics media in general. It is true that some publications link advertising to editorial coverage (if you’ve ever bought advertising in Israel, you’ll know exactly what I mean: this country is perhaps the most extreme example, but there are examples in a wide range of industries and countries).

In the US, the recent consolidation of a huge percentage of the electronics media has made everyone very nervous. Is Arrow some kind of benevolent benefactor that has bought publications to ensure their ongoing success and survival or some kind of movie villain hiding in a secret lair and hatching an evil plan to hold the industry to ransom? The truth is somewhere in the middle – without doubt the acquisition of publications has been done to benefit their distribution business, but with the relatively low cost of entry to publishing, I can’t imagine they would think for a minute that they could turn the publications into tools to force electronic component manufacturers to do what Arrow wants, without seeing startup titles overtaking their established brands.

The future, however, is very uncertain. Publishers sell data as much as content, and it’s really hard to make enough money in publishing to be able to invest in large editorial teams. On the other side, advertisers are putting more emphasis on owned media – we can see this from the rapid rise of “content marketing”.

Overall, I’m an optimist. I think people, particularly when it comes to B2B, value journalists and their work. Although I’m not going to predict a golden age for publications, and at Napier we’re certainly putting a lot of effort into helping clients used owned media effectively and successfully, I don’t see publications disappearing completely. If journalists produce great quality, they will survive and thrive: in fact it’s the publications that decide their editorial content based upon the advertising budgets they receive that, in the long term, will probably have the greatest challenges.