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Veterinary publishers mixed on future of print journals

Amid advertising decline, MediMedia bets on online services; others say print runs far from over


April 23, 2010
By: Jim Downing
For The VIN News Service


A nearly 25-percent drop in advertising pages last year has forced veterinary trade publishers to decide if their print journals are ready for the recycling bin.

In January, MediMedia Animal Health LLC ended the print runs of its four Veterinary Learning Systems (VLS) titles — Compendium, Compendium Equine, Veterinary Forum and Veterinary Technician — as part of a long-term reorientation around the services available on the firm’s two websites, vetlearn.com and vetstreet.com.

But it’s not clear that MediMedia has started a trend.

Next year, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) plans to reintroduce a print version of the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association (JAAHA), which went online-only in 2004. And, citing rebounding ad sales and surveys showing that most veterinarians still want paper-and-ink journals, the publishers of Clinician’s Brief, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) and Veterinary Practice News say they plan to maintain their print editions.

“We certainly don't feel that (print journals) are going away anytime soon — at least in the veterinary market,” said John O’Brien, vice president of sales and marketing at Clinician’s Brief.

The veterinary trade press faces pressures similar to those that have driven layoffs and cutbacks across the publishing business. As readers get more of their information online, virtually all journals and trade magazines have launched Web operations. But publishers generally haven’t been able to sell enough advertising online to make up for falling print revenue.

The typical veterinarian subscribes to roughly six print periodicals, according to several industry sources. That figure is down from roughly eight before the Veterinary Learning Systems titles closed. JAVMA’s circulation of 76,320 copies per issue is the largest in the sector, according to December 2009 figures from auditing firm BPA Worldwide.

The other five mainstream veterinary publications audited by BPA — DVM Newsmagazine, Veterinary Economics, Veterinary Medicine, Clinician’s Brief and Veterinary Practice News — all have circulation totals of between 55,000 and 61,000. These publications are sent free to most clinicians.

Veterinarians appear to be somewhat more fond of print than average trade-publication readers, according to results from several surveys.

A study released in February by New Jersey-based Signet Research found that 75 percent of all trade-publication readers wanted to receive a print edition, regardless of the electronic alternatives. By comparison, a survey of more than 1,000 veterinarians by Clinician’s Brief found that nearly 82 percent wanted a print option. Mark Reynolds, president of Media Communications Inc., estimates the demand to be even stronger.

“What we're thinking is that about 5 to 10 percent of veterinarians would like their content strictly online,” said Reynolds, whose firm manages advertising sales for AVMA’s publications.

While print remains popular, veterinarians are also getting more and more information online, publishers said.

Derrick Kraemer, president of Pennsylvania-based MediMedia Animal Health and one of the architects of the decision to stop printing the VLS journals, said his company's market research found that more than 70 percent of veterinarians expect the amount of time they spend reading online content to increase in the coming years.

MediMedia’s studies also found that many readers still want print journals. But advertisers, Kraemer said, were projecting that their print ad budgets would continue to decline, while Web spending — whether on online ads or other e-business ventures — would likely rise.

“We did our homework on this,” he said. “For a company that has the growth expectations that ours does, (publishing print journals) is not a sustainable business model.”

MediMedia’s vetlearn.com will continue to publish news stories and reference articles and sell advertising space. But Kraemer doesn’t expect online ads to keep his business afloat. Instead, he’s counting on rising sales of the company’s online services, like the vetstreet.com practice-management package.

The main reason MediMedia will continue to produce articles, Kraemer said, is to uphold the company’s credibility as a vendor of veterinary information and services.

But the volume of that content appears to be decreasing. In the last six months of 2009, the tables of contents of Veterinary Technician listed an average of more than 25 articles in each print issue. In each of the first four months of 2010, the journal’s online editions have featured five or fewer items.

Kraemer noted that while the company has cut some types of content, the number of continuing education articles has not dropped.

The leading print publisher in the veterinary sector, Southern California-based Advanstar Communications Inc., declined to comment for this article. In its portfolio of 68 titles, privately held Advanstar owns DVM Newsmagazine and Veterinary Economics — the top two veterinary trade publications by number of ad pages — as well as Veterinary Medicine and Firstline.

The 1,000-employee company was acquired for $1.1 billion in 2007 by a group of investors headed by two private equity firms and is carrying a heavy debt load, according to a September 2009 article on Folio magazine’s website.

Advanstar is showing signs of trouble. The company has cut at least 140 jobs in the past year, according to news reports. In the first two months of 2010, year-over-year advertising page counts at Advanstar’s four veterinary titles were down more than 25 percent, according to figures from market tracking firm Inquiry Management Systems provided by MediMedia’s Kraemer. In the same period, page counts rose at JAVMA, Clinician’s Brief and Veterinary Practice News.

In 2009, the 10 leading veterinary publications ran 3,084 advertising pages, compared with 4,085 in 2008 and 3,649 in 2007, according to the Inquiry Management Systems figures.

Association-published journals, like JAVMA and JAAHA, face different economic constraints from those run by companies.

In the past, private publishers expected — and often got — a sustained profit margin of around 25 percent, said trade-press consultant Paul Conley in an e-mail exchange. In recent years, private equity firms, such as the lead stakeholders in Advanstar, have been major investors in the sector. They have generally sought to cash out relatively quickly, Conley said.

“Most operated on the assumption that they could borrow heavily, cut costs, sell some assets and then flip the property for a profit in roughly five years,” he said.

By contrast, revenues from the journals published by professional associations often don’t cover production costs, with the shortfall coming out of the association’s budget.

At the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), for instance, falling advertising revenue at the association’s journals was one reason for a recent dues increase, according to spokeswoman Sharon Granskog. JAVMA Editor-in-Chief Dr. Kurt Matushek said the journal has been cutting costs in a variety of ways, such as switching recently to lighter weight, less-expensive paper.

Some professional societies charge extra for the printed version of their publications. The American Association of Bovine Practitioners, for instance, this year began charging members $10 a year for the printed version of its newsletter and $25 for the print edition of its journal, Bovine Practioner. Members can read both online for free.

A big reason veterinarians like print, publishers and clinicians say, is that the veterinary workday doesn’t tend to include stretches of time in front of a computer for clicking through journal websites.

“Honestly, I don’t read them online because it’s not convenient to do it,” said Dr. Evan Clark, 50, owner of Middle Country Animal Hospital, a two-veterinarian practice in Selden, NY. On midday breaks, Clark said, “I grab a sandwich and a journal. It gives me a chance to do something productive between patients.”

In Veterinary Information Network (VIN) online discussion boards, many clinicians agreed with Clark on the convenience of paper journals. Some, though, like Milwaukee-area veterinarian Dr. Brenda Johansen, expressed a strong preference for online over print.

“Click and search instead of paging through a million journals,” Johansen wrote in a Nov. 23, 2009 post. “More room on my shelf for books!”

AAHA spokesman Jason Merrihew said member demand drove the association’s decision to revive the print version of JAAHA. The bimonthly journal will launch in January with a circulation of roughly 6,000 — one copy per member practice group. AAHA’s other publication, Trends Magazine, will continue to be available in print and online. Before JAAHA stopped being printed in 2004, its circulation was roughly 12,500.

Former AAHA Executive Director Dr. John Albers said the decision to stop printing JAAHA in 2004 was based on member feedback. Most importantly, Albers said in an e-mail, few members reported reading the journal cover to cover. Instead, most members focused on abstracts, reading three or fewer articles per issue in full. AAHA chose to invest in developing the journal’s online features, including a searchable archive, rather than continuing to incur the cost of printing pages that most members flipped past, Albers said. The abstracts from each online issue of JAAHA were made available in print in Trends Magazine.

Spokesman Merrihew said the new print JAAHA is not expected to support itself with ad sales at first. “The ultimate goal is to have it be self-sufficient,” he said.


 




VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email news@vin.com.



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