Off-White Paper #22: Yet More Publication Mania, or, Is There a Bandwagon We Haven’t Hitched to Yet?

Now that Martha Stewart has been let off the SEC hook, she’s announced a new publication: Martha Stewart’s Home, Land and Garden Defense Journal. The cover story is on how to make the clear plastic covering (with duct tape) more attractive on your outer windows using those crinkle-cut scissors, multi-colored duct tape, and some other things lying around the house. A related story is on home-based remedies for bio-terror. While this may appear to be an exaggeration, I will not be surprised if it really happens. Pennwell launched Homeland Security Solutions in April. The publishers of The Hill are coming out with Government Security News, and as I recall, there were a couple other security publications last year at the first GovSec as well, including Loss Prevention & Security Journal, Security Magazine, and Government Security. Not dissimilar from a Beijing neighborhood – maybe a little to crowded. We also have CMP taking subscribers from three healthy publications (Information Week, Network Computing and Optimize) to create the quarterly Government Enterprise. eRepublic (the Government Technology folks) are starting a public sector CIO publication. The Federal Paper, launched in September 2002, didn’t last through the end of last year. There are others, but my brain hurts. These join the usual suspects – the established publications: Federal Computer Week, Government Computer News, and Government Executive magazine, as well as the e-newsletters of each, including the weekly e-news on Homeland Defense from Government Executive. OK, so the publishing vultures are circling the government market. The rest of the economy has been dead for so long that there’s nothing left on the bones. Now these vultures are coming after a live, robust, though slow moving behemoth. These vultures have finally realized that there may be something to this “executive branch” thing. What does this mean for publishers of established publications, to advertisers, to potential readers, and anyone silly enough to invest? Publishers: for established publishers, pray that Dell does not lend legitimacy to these pretenders by advertising in any of them. I don’t think the Round Rockers will fall for this latest rash of editorial drivel. This (Dell advertising) wouldn’t save any of these would-be publications, but it could prolong some of them. Like the Federal Paper last year, before busy season 2004 the majority of these newbies will be gone. Some won’t survive the slow Federal winter of 2003/04. There simply isn’t room, much less the new editorial fodder necessary to create some excitement. Advertisers: You’ve all been here before. Some poorly informed sales rep will attempt to speak “government” to you, invariably mess up the acronyms, represent the “tens of thousands” of yet-to-subscribe “security decision makers” their publication will reach (at some nebulous future date), and offer you a deal (and maybe a cover story! With reprints!). Hint: there is a difference between “reader” and “subscriber”. Let’s wait for an audit from BPA before we express any real thrill about these sales reps interrupting your day. Potential readers: how many information sources do they want, or need? Who are these as yet unreached, under-informed readers? I don’t think many in the public sector will bother to subscribe to these, as they already get lots of information from many sources and most don’t wish to add to their reading lists. Well, the Hill might subscribe. They always like free publications where they might get mentioned, or quoted. And they can get a reprint! If one book stands out editorially, they might have a chance. Maybe. Investors: anyone putting outside money into one of these is foolish, plain and simple. Don’t get me wrong, I miss foolish investors. I sold their dot-coms lots of data a few years back. Any major publishing firm entering this arena thinking they can establish marketshare better take a close look at the three Federal publications and ask themselves why any intelligent advertiser would migrate to untested waters when most of them are spending less anyway. Haven’t had enough? Well then, let’s look at the rather adjectival Media Kit for Government Security News. The target audience is “39,000 security-related integrators, resellers, government security buyers at GS-12 and above” (GS-12 is government-speak!) at the “federal level but also major state, county and municipal governments across the US.” It promises to reach more “government security executives” (new OPM functional designation?) “than any other publication.” I can tell from the “bona fides” of the staff that these are carefully selected readers. The Hill will scour its’ records for all those GS-12s who have testified on the Hill. 39,000 is a magic number, though. Every one on The Hill knows this. The letter from the publisher, Edward Tyler (yes, the Edward Tyler!) offers a personal commitment to helping you “garner your fair share of the growing government market for your security products, systems and related services.” Husker-du! If that isn’t comforting, I don’t know what is! And that’s not all – they have an “exclusive e-mail research program”, for which you have to contact your account rep to get details. Sounds like research on how much money you might have that they can get… Apparently you can order your reprints now! “Call our Reprint Manager to order reprints!” They have a manager for reprints – great! Maybe that’s another new OPM job function area. I know several Congressmen who have already called for reprints, while others are asking for Reprint Managers for their staffs. Then there’s the free email program – they’ll email “5,000 of our subscribers (a $1500 value)”. Would you like spam with your toast? The editorial calendar promises many things (access control, ID technology, intrusion detection, data information security) that evidently aren’t available elsewhere. And may not be available here if you believe they’ll be around in the six months they’re projecting this calendar. Market research for the launch of this publication? My guess is that editors of The Hill started getting curious about that “executive branch thing” that kept interrupting our illustrious Congresspeople from their respective headline chasing. “What do you suppose they’re talking about?” “I don’t know. Whatever it is, it isn’t on the Hill.” “Do you suppose it’s one of those other branches they talk about?” “Well if it is, it can’t be as much fun as watching these ambulance chasers up here.” “Send Tyler.” Anyone see Peter Weller and John Lithgow in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai? “Where are we going?” “Planet 10!” “When are we going?” “Real soon!” Now let’s talk Defense. I know companies that want some defense against the idiots crawling out of the woodwork trying to launch a bunch Home, Land, and Garden Defense and Security publications. Copyright 2003, Amtower & Company