There is a fascinating article by Hershel Sarbin at Magazine Enterprise 360 on the surprising health of the allegedly dying B2B print business. Sarbin cites a rash of statistics that point to the continued health of print.

This certainly tracks with what I am hearing from our clients with magazine properties -- business is good, revenues are up, and a few are even reporting (quietly, for fear of jinxing this success they really don't understand) record years.

Almost the first day I entered this business, a brief 20 years ago, I heard predictions on the imminent death of print. I remember a meeting at Thomas Publishing in the early 80's where its composition vendor was demonstrating a prototype version of Thomas Register on something called a CD-ROM. To illustrate this miraculous new technology, the president of the vendor company brought with him a low power laser, which certainly had the rapt attention of the room as he demonstrated it, especially after it became apparent the laser beam was not at all low-powered. First takeaway from this meeting: print is dead. Second takeaway from this meeting: lasers are not toys.

I have been hearing about, and talking about, the imminent death of print ever since. But every time I look around, I see continued health and growth in print. So what gives?

My notion is what we are seeing is less a demonstration of the power of print than a demonstration of the underlying power of business publishers. B2B publishers exist to unite buyers and seller, and both buyers and sellers continue to want and need to be united. The format of choice to do this for many decades has been print. It's understood. It is comfortable. It has a track record of delivering results. That's why many publishers continue to push print and rely on it, and that's why many advertisers continue to buy print, and this situation has the potential to go on for a very long time.

The problem and risk is complacency. There is continuing power in the printing press, but the information paradigm has shifted permanently. Up to 90% of all pre-purchase B2B research occurs online, and that's why print-based publishers need to build out strong electronic alternatives to their print products. The real strength of most B2B publishers is their central market position, which you’ll hear more about in October at this year’s InfoCommerce 2006, and publishers need to make a genuine commitment to dominating their markets online as well as in print. Because if they don't provide the online counterparts to their successful print publications, some one else assuredly will.