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German trade media at a crossroads: adapt or risk fading away

Digital transformation is radically changing the media landscape in Germany, including the trade media. Back in 2012/2013, the study Wege in die Zukunft – Herausforderungen für Fachverlage found that digitisation was the key driver for market changes. The study predicted a fundamental change in user behaviour and it said that customers would increasingly make use of digital content and print media would lose significance. This same study also predicted that interactivity, multimedia and mobile content would become more relevant. As we know, today much of this has become reality.

Importantly however, despite the market conditions and contrary to many predictions, the trade media in Germany is still growing. Print is also far from dead in the trade media sector. Although print advertising revenue is flat, it still accounts for more than half of trade media revenue.

 

So why is German trade media different

Particularly in the areas of automation and engineering, there is an impressive scope of magazines in Germany, including some that have recently launched. This can be partly explained by the fact that the major publishers, such as Vogel, Konradin or Weka, are financially strong and have established numerous other business areas alongside their print publications that keep their brands visible. In addition, in Germany there are still many large manufacturers that invest significant amounts of money in broadcast advertising campaigns that include print.

The anomaly that is the  German industrial trade media is recognised  by Dr Volker Banholzer in his article Von der Information zum Nutzen: Digitale Transformation von Geschäftsmodellen für B2B-Fachmedien, in which he says “It is significant that this trade journalism is a specific phenomenon of the German-speaking area of Europe and does not have any counterpart in other European or Anglo-American markets.”

 

The ‘current’ situation

The German trade media landscape was a topic at a recent presentation by Dr Holger Schmidt’s titled Innovate or Die – Was Medien von Tech-Firmen lernen können. Here, he explains how he sees three predominant business models: community models, advertising-only models and integrated models.

As an example of the community model, the author cites media linked to an association, such as the weekly magazine VDInachrichten or monthly magazines such as etz, where journalistic content is tied to association membership.

In his view, the endangered ‘classic’ model consists of magazines that are exclusively financed by traditional advertising, either print or online. For years, trade magazines have been selling journalistic content, such as cover stories, as bookable advertising space or advertorials. The resulting print products are usually distributed free of charge to recipients in the industry concerned.

The fastest growing segment is integrated models in which the conventional advertising model is supplemented by, as Dr Schmidt put it, “conventions and events as well as corporate publishing and webinar services.”

 

The future is digital

The trend towards digital communication and media usage is unstoppable. Even though the shift from print to digital is slower in the trade media compared to consumer, it is unstoppable due to pressure from powerful online platforms that are dominating the online advertising market.

Publishers in the areas of automation and engineering have recognised this situation and are working hard to develop digital strategies. However, this is not an easy task and many of them are still searching for sustainable business models for their digital content, which is growing but still generates distinctly less revenue compared to their print content.

 

Trade media in a changing environment

Trade media is being met by new digital competitors – in both editorial content and advertising income. The new players in the market include internet heavyweights such as Google and Amazon, as well as social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter and XING. The social channels in particular operate their own editorial channels and play a major role in the B2B industry. There are also competitive content creators, such as bloggers or enterprises that are developing into media producers in their own right. However, bots that generate content automatically also represent an additional and presently unpredictable player on the horizon.

This trend is leading to increasing diversification. According to a study conducted by the German Association of Business Media (Der B2B-Medien- und Informationsmarkt in Deutschland), trade media publishers are now transforming their core business of printed books and magazines into ‘multimedia information and communication service providers that serve their customers through diverse channels.’ The study is the first to address the market of information and communication services for professional users. The study shows how diversified the products and services of  publishers have become. The offering now ranges from content solutions such as B2B media, conferences, training and industry-specific software up to marketing solutions such as corporate publishing, shows, market research and data selling.

 

B2B PR and the trade media relationship

At this point you might think that we as a global public relations agency would be happy to see the trade media working on the ‘cut-and-paste’ principle and simply taking the content we pitch to them and publish them as they are. But in fact this is a common misunderstanding.

There are several reasons why we believe we are all in need of strong, independent trade media. First of all we are in the same boat - the editors working in this sector are still extremely valuable to us and often serve as ‘key influencers’.  Secondly, if trade magazines look and feel more like advertising collateral, this diminishes the value of the high-quality editorial work we present to our clients. And last but not least, the demands of modern content marketing. Users, in particular engineers, do not want to read pushy messages, but instead useful content that offers them true added value (see our recent blog on Customer Centric Content). Trade media plays an important role here because well-trained journalists familiar with the industry can present information in a market context that is meaningful for the readers – something that enterprises cannot do because they are too tightly bound to their own perspective.

 

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Mark Herten, Account Director, Technical Publicity

Follow Mark Herten on XING or LinkedIn, or contact him by Twitter or e-mail.

 


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