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Top 10 A&D Magazines Online: Comparing the Numbers August 25, 2010

Posted by ludozone in Aerospace, eBusiness Applications/Services, International Business Development, Internet Marketing, Social Media, Twitter.
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In my recent blog post entitled “MRO Americas and EBACE Online Coverage: Missed Opportunity for Exhibitors”, I stated the following:

I would want to see AIN’s news content
in FlightGlobal’s multi-format web platform
delivered to AviationWeek’s online audience.

This was a pretty strong statement that generated much discussion around the water coolers of numerous A&D publishing companies. Flight Global argued that they had a larger online audience and ended up posting their web traffic analysis (PDF) for all to see. AviationWeek sent out a press release about their Farnborough web traffic to show that they felt their presence was pretty successful. Flight Global responded in their editor’s blog. Many others commented to me privately via email. All of this interest prompted me to investigate further. My complete data spreadsheet is available for download (PDF).

PRINT MEDIA CIRCULATION

Using the online BPA circulation reports, I selected the ten most distributed A&D magazines based on their December 2009 Qualified Total Circulation.

As I thought, AviationWeek has by far the largest audience of them all. But there is more than meets the eye. When looking at Qualified Paid Circulation and eliminating the Air Force Magazine which is provided as part of the association membership, the dominance of AviationWeek is undeniable. Quite an achievement since 100% of their circulation is paid versus 77% for Flight International. All the other magazines have less than 15% paid subscribers.

ONLINE PRESENCE

I then looked at the online presence for each company, analyzing the “public” side of each publisher. That is to say, I did not have access to data regarding web pages behind a password protected screen. I also included Twitter information. I gathered the information from websitegrader.com and twitter.grader.com data as well as Google Doubleclick Ad Planner estimates. What quickly emerged, contrary to the statement I made above, is that Flight Global dominates the online audience in every category.

With over 118 thousand pages of information available, they manage an estimated 360,000 unique visitors and 4.6 million page views per month. Next up are Aviation Week and Jane’s who both have a mixed model of public and premium pages. For their public pages, their numbers are similar: around 35,000 pages available, generating an estimated 1.2 million page views by 110,000 unique visitors per month. That is roughly a third of what Flight Global generates. So even if you optimistically double the page views to account for the password protected data (the unique visitor counts would be unchanged), Flight Global is still well ahead. It is important to note that Jane’s traffic numbers are skewed compared to the Aviation Week ones because janes.com handles a number of topic not related directly to our industry. They should therefore be somewhat discounted.

However, niche magazines seem to be missing the online domain entirely. Aircraft Maintenance Technology, Aviation International News, Aviation Today and Defense Systems all have less monthly unique visitors than they have circulation for their flagship magazines. They have the least amount of information available, and therefore generate the least “stickiness” with an average of 6 page views per unique visitor as opposed to over 10 for the industry leaders. Aviation International News has the least stickiness with less than 4. They also all have less than 2000 followers on Twitter (Aircraft Maintenance technology has less than 100!) which seems to be an important traffic driver for the top websites.

Most of the A&D Media publishers also offer “Premium” (paid) products both in print and online. Those are difficult to compare because their circulation and traffic numbers are not public. Segmented headline newsletters (with electronic version usually available alongside) seem to be the most common. The larger publishers also provide database and reference services that are well suited for online access. AviationWeek has indicated a steady growth in their Intelligent Network (AWIN) and MRO Prospector online products. Flight Global has a number of online paid products including the Air Transport Intelligence (ATI) as well as a series of “Analysis Systems” geared at various segments of the industry.

WHAT CAN BE LEARNED FROM THIS?

Despite the introduction of new technologies such as the Kindle and iPad, the convenience and portability of a paper magazine won’t go away for a while. At least not until we have a complete generational overhaul of our industry’s personnel. Judging by the subscription level changes of the last 5 years, the reduction in subscribers seems to follow the natural attrition rate of the industry. That is except for Flight Global. The reduction in their circulation numbers are the most significant in the industry (down 23% since 2005), but they have by far the largest web traffic. Critics will say that providing most of the content for free online hurt their subscriptions figures. However, they offer online advertisers the largest targeted audience with tremendous demographic information, and great campaign flexibility that just impossible to match in print. Will their loss in subscription revenue be compensated by the increase in online advertising and premium web-based product revenue? I personally think it can.

The modern business to business marketing techniques suggest strongly that print advertising still works well for brand awareness, but that online campaigns yield the best results when it comes to cost effective lead generation. That puts the smaller publishers in the toughest spot. They make very little revenue from magazine subscriptions yet must carry the significant production costs. They are sustained by traditional (brand) advertising and small premium products, while their online traffic numbers do not allow them to commandeer premium advert insertion rates on their websites.  For example, Aviation International News has a similar print circulation than Flight International. However, they have almost no paid subscribers. They have strong print advertisers and high content volume, but they struggle to invest in their online platform and therefore are losing ground to their competitors.  Combine that with a very low Twitter presence and it shows the typical profile of an A&D Media company that used to do well, but is now unable to keep up or grow. Aviation Today, Aircraft Maintenance Technology and Defense Systems are all in the same position.

Air Transport World and Defense News have managed better online numbers that the other small magazines. Defense News in particular has a tremendous amount of traffic and inbound links for very low available content. By focusing on their online products and traffic these companies could continue to play a strong role in the landscape and segment they serve.

As for AviationWeek, they have great revenue coming from their print magazine. Based on their published subscription price, and factoring in some corporate discount, I estimate their subscription revenues at around $7M. In addition, B2B magazine revealed AviationWeek’s print advertising revenue to be at $12.7M. That is roughly $20M/year in print revenue excluding other premium services, online services, conferences, and online advertising.  Knowing full well that growing their on line portfolio will cannibalize some of that “traditional” revenue, one can understand the careful and measured approach taken by the company when it comes to web based publishing.

My analysis only covered the 10 A&D magazines with the largest physical circulation. There are dozens of other magazines and websites that cover small segments of the industry and draw a very narrow but enthusiastic demographic. Since most of them are driven by advertising and sponsorship revenues, they will all struggle to keep up with the business environment changes afoot unless they manage to make a significant and successful transition online.

Consolidation of the smaller magazines into larger entities could occur but the difficulty is that the audiences overlap significantly and the net revenue increase for the buying company is usually not meaningful enough. Delivering specialized narrow content is only cost effective online if the company has a flexible web platform. That requires significant upfront investment with a long term ROI. So in the next 5 years, I foresee a consolidation of intellectual capital (journalists) into larger properties. They will create better content in a timelier manner as well as premium advanced analytics tools and services. But unfortunately, I don’t think the printed landscape can sustain the diversity that has existed until today.

What do you think of the A&D media landscape? What are some of the trends and innovations you would like to see as a publisher or a reader? What information will A&D businesses expect from these media companies?

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