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What Happened To Our Trade Magazines?
Their decline is a sign of a changing industry.
by Mike Hartnett (August 18, 2008)
Craftrends has published its last hard-copy issue,
following the same path as Craft & Needlework Age (CNA), Profitable
Craft Merchandising, Sew Business, Craft & Art
Market, and Creative Product News. Their decline is a
sign of a changing industry, changes that may be an ominous sign for
independent retailers, distributors, and trade shows.
For decades these trade magazines prospered, giving free
subscriptions to the industry's professionals and deriving all of
its revenue from advertising. What happened?
The answer lies in the definition of advertising proposed by
David Ogilvy of the Ogilvy & Mather ad agency: "Advertising
is what you do when you can't go see someone."
Since the industry's infancy after World War II, manufacturers,
publishers, distributors, trade associations, and others who wanted
to influence the thousands of retailers would advertise in the trade
As the industry evolved, chain stores wiped out thousands of
independent shops. Vendors who originally sold to chains and
hundreds of independents eventually found themselves with only a
handful of customers. A seller can't go see hundreds of customers,
so he advertised in the trade magazines. Today, he travels to Texas,
Ohio, Arkansas, and New Jersey and "sees" his remaining
In many ways there is a strong parallel between trade magazines
and trade shows. Think of an issue of Craftrends as a trade
show: the ads are the booths and the articles are the seminars. Show
sponsors need to worry about the vendors, with their mere handful of
customers, continuing to need so many trade shows.
A brief history of Craftrends.
Craftrends was a catalog published by Plaid Enterprises and
mailed to Plaid's customers. One day in the early 80s, founder David
Cunningham and John McDonald received a phone call from Bud
Rothschild, the founder of Craft World, the industry's largest, most
powerful distributor at the time. Bud wanted to buy an ad in Craftrends.
David and John explained that it was a company catalog, not a
magazine. "But it goes to all your customers, doesn't it? I'd
like to get a word in to your customers," Bud explained.
That made David and John think. They called some industry
manufacturers and asked if they'd advertise in Craftrends, if
it was a magazine. When they had a commitment from a dozen vendors, Craftrends
did, in fact, become a trade magazine.
John McDonald was the first publisher and Craftrends
flourished under his leadership. It was the first all-color trade
magazine, far more attractive (and appropriate for a colorful
industry such as crafts) than its competition, Profitable Craft
Merchandising, Craft & Needlework Age, and Creative
Eventually, however, Craftrends encountered problems as
Plaid expanded its product line. Everyone knew Plaid owned Craftrends,
so every time Plaid introduced a new product, such as glue, the
other glue manufacturers would stop advertising. "Why should we
help a competitor," they asked.
About that time, the late 80s, David Cunningham received an offer
for Plaid that he couldn't refuse from Dyson-Kissner-Moran (DKM), a
privately held New York-based investment firm. But DKM wanted no
part of publishing, so Dave sold Craftrends to Century
Communications, a relatively small trade publisher in Niles, IL.
Aided by the industry's growth due to cross stitch (and the
emergence of thousands of cross-stitch specialty shops) and then
wearable art, plus the fact that Plaid no longer owned Craftrends,
it prospered. It absorbed Profitable Craft Merchandising and Sew
Business, and CNA absorbed Creative Product News.
They would have faded, too, but then scrapbooking came along and
soon there were, once again, thousands of independent retailers and
trade magazines devoted to scrapbooking, such as Scrapbook
Century Communications sold Craftrends to Primedia in 1995
when Century's owner, Phil Miller, retired. Primedia later sold Craftrends
and its other industry-related properties (Creating Keepsakes,
Simple Scrapbooks, Sew News, etc.) to Sandler Capital
A history postscript.
Profitable Craft Merchandising started as Profitable Hobby
Merchandising, but two industry pioneers, Eleanor Zimmerman (Zim's)
and Aleene Jackson (Aleene's), talked founder Jack Wax into changing
his magazine to become the first trade magazine devoted exclusively
"When Jack did that," Eleanor told me years later,
"it was the first time I felt we were a real industry."
(Note: To read previous Business-Wise entries, including CLN's
interview with CHA's Steve Berger about moving the summer show to
Orlando and adding a consumer show, click on the titles in the