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Your Business Commentary

Mike's often irreverent, thought-provoking analysis of the industry-- with an occasional guest columnist.

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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 magazines.

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 customers.

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 Product News.

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 Retailer, appeared.

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 in 2006.

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 to crafts.

"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 right-hand column.)

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