B2B media has existed at least since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution -- and maybe even before. It came of age in the Gilded Age -- the last three decades of the 19th century, when the United States experienced an unprecedented explosion of economic and technological growth that has never been equaled in its speed and cultural impact. And it thrives still, as B2B industries rise and fall, and the need for high-quality information drives economic success.
But as technologies change, and industries are disrupted and disintermediated, the old technologies suffer -- and with them, the media that serves them.
No doubt there were once raucous, jam-packed annual conferences for the telegraph industry. And thriving magazines that served the kerosene-lamp industry. But they slowly dwindled and declined as telephones and electric light proved to be more effective.
There’s also no doubt that true believers within the horse-and-buggy industry stood strong against the rise of the automobile, insisting that the manufacturing craftsmanship and user experience of horse-drawn carriages would never be matched by sputtering and juddering cars.
That’s just the nature of things. The holdouts who say the earth is flat are still wrong.
Which brings me to the news yesterday that the Magazines and Books at Retail
Association has ceased operations. The organization was created in 2016 out of the consolidation of the 50-year-old International Periodical Distributors Association and the 57-year-old Periodical and
Book Association of America. It served the consumer-magazine side of the business, which like B2B and all of print media has been distressed for years.
MBR’s mission was to “promote a profitable, efficient and responsive supply chain and be a catalyst for supporting innovative concepts in all facets of the distribution, display and sales of publications at retail.”
In an announcement on its website, MBR said it was ceasing most operations as of June 30. “The consolidation of publishers and distributors has accelerated in recent years, and has now reached a tipping point in terms of the association’s sustainability,” the announcement said.
MBR was small. Only 16 members are listed on its website, but those members included the last remaining magazine-publishing heavyweights, Hearst Magazines and Meredith. The list also included Bauer Publishing, the German media giant that sold off its last remaining U.S. magazine holdings in January of this year.
That MBR’s predecessor organizations needed to merge says a lot about the extended bloodbath that occurred on the magazine newsstand and throughout its supply chain over the last two-and-a-half decades. First, hundreds of independent magazine wholesalers disappeared in the mid-90s as retailers — mostly supermarkets — demanded that they be served by one wholesaler, not dozens. Eventually, the wholesaler universe dwindled to two, and then one. And the last one standing morphed into a publisher and is now known as A360 Media.
The truth is that far fewer people are buying print magazines than in the days before digital media. It’s an incontrovertible fact. It can’t be bravely wished away.
And as that happened, the whole supporting infrastructure of print media also caved in on itself. Associations first got smaller and then went out of business entirely. Suppliers dwindled, unable to sustain their business as buyers of their products -- print-media companies -- consolidated and went out of business, and those that remained had much smaller budgets.
I won’t say that print media in 2022 is exactly like the horse-and-buggy industry in 1905, but the similarities are there for all to see.