Everyone in the semiconductor industry seems so shocked by the steady stream of electronics industry publications closures and cutbacks over the past year. From where I sit as both the Founder and Editor of 3D InCites (Aka Queen of 3D), as well as Editorial Director of Kiterocket, none of what is happening surprises me. Indeed, this week’s outpouring of dismay on LinkedIn over the layoffs at Aspencore left me wondering if people really understand the business model of trade media.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a recap of what’s happened:
Extension Media’s bankruptcy in March saw the demise of ~50 publications including industry icon like Embedded Systems Engineering, Solid State Technology, and Chip Design. Advantage Business Media, owners of recognizable titles like R&D Magazine, Laboratory Equipment and ECN, abruptly closed operations in June, leaving 50 employees jobless. And just this week, Aspencore, owner of EETimes, EDN, and many others, whittled its editorial staff down to the bare bones, laying off well-known industry veterans Rick Merritt, Dylan McGrath, Clive Maxfield, Steve Taranovich, and many others. Lou Covey blogged about it in detail here. (His perspective is spot on and worth reading.)
Let me be perfectly blunt. The main reason that you see the electronics industry publications crumbling around us is that there are not enough advertising dollars being spent to support them. Companies in this industry want coverage of their technologies. They want their articles and white papers published. They want their events posted and shared on social media. They want to sit down with editors at industry events, and they expect those editors to write about them. But when it comes to spending their marketing dollars, the wallet snaps shut. Emails and calls to discuss sponsorship go unanswered.
This is not a new situation. It’s been going since my days at Advanced Packaging. magazine. First Semiconductor International went belly up, and then Advanced Packaging was integrated into Solid State Technology and the entire editorial staff was let go in one day; all because the ad revenue wasn’t there to support it. As many of you know, it’s how I came to start 3D InCites ten years ago.
Here’s a little secret: none of us – not the big media conglomerates nor the small, independent companies – are in this for altruistic reasons. Like the company you work for, publications exist to make money. When there is not enough revenue generated through advertising dollars to support a publication, they get smaller, reduce their staff, layoff good people, and ultimately if they can’t grow their subscriber base to compete with other publications for ad dollars, they fold. It’s that simple.
But that’s just one side of the story. I sit in a fairly unique position in my dual roles. While I know how much effort and money goes into making an online community/publishing platform succeed, I can also appreciate the perspective of companies trying to maximize their marketing dollars. I understand that this is a multifaceted problem.
The Internet has allowed every company to be in the publishing business. The concept of content marketing grew out of a desire to bring the audience directly to company websites by providing fresh information and establishing thought leadership. Marketing dollars that used to go to support trade publications have been diverted to this task.
But successful content marketing is about more than just posting blogs and white papers on your company’s website and sharing them on your company’s social media platforms. Without independent platforms, industry journalists and influencers, and their audiences, you may be publishing into a vacuum. Your content could be perceived as biased, no matter how “brand agnostic” you try to make it. There is still a great deal of value in investing in traditional trade publications, independent blogs, and online communities. The reach is broader, the content is more neutral, and the endorsement of an industry influencer carries more weight than self-promotion.
We at 3D InCites are grateful for the sponsors that understand the importance of investing in industry media outlets. Companies like Xperi, Veeco, FRT, EV Group, KLA, SEMI, and others have helped to keep our doors open over the years through ongoing sponsorship and advertising. They are not focused on analytics only. They believe in our mission as a community and wish to support it. Even so, it’s not enough. We already have a fairly trim staff and low overhead. I would love to offer Rick, Dylan, Clive, and Steve editorial staff positions at 3D InCites. I know their recognizable names would bring more traffic to the website and would help us grow. But at this moment in time, we simply can’t afford them.
Unlike some of the other editors and publishers in the industry, I don’t view other electronics industry media platforms as competition. We all serve different purposes, and while some areas overlap, we all offer different perspectives and points of view. We are all important to the whole electronics marketing and communications ecosystem that includes not only traditional trade publications but online media platforms, industry associations, trade shows, conferences, and symposiums.
Media platforms like 3D InCites, SemiEngineering, Chip Scale Review, Semiconductor Packaging News, i-Micronews, Semiconductor Digest and others manage to exist because we are smaller operations relying on freelancers, skeleton staff, and in some cases, second jobs. We provide you with the opportunity to demonstrate thought leadership in a truly agnostic environment. But if these organizations cannot turn a profit through advertising revenue, the independent voices of industry trades and their journalists may fade away. It is entirely possible that we are witnessing the end of an era for this industry.
With your support, we can make sure this doesn’t happen. If you share my belief in the importance of the electronics industry media and have ideas for a more sustainable business model, I would love to hear from you.