Ascend shutters mags for lack of pharma ads

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Ascend Media is shedding its titles dependent on pharma ad revenue.

The publisher will close Physician's Money Digest, Family Practice Recertification and Internal Medicine World Report, and is considering selling off the remainder of its Princeton, NJ healthcare division, which includes Pharmacy Times, Surgical Rounds, Resident & Staff Physician, Cardiology Review and The American Journal of Managed Care. Most employees on the three titles closing will be let go, and it is unclear whether Will Passano, who heads the healthcare division, will remain with the company.

The Overland, KS-based firm will also divest its dental group, comprised of Compendium of Continuing Education in Dentistry, Contemporary Esthetics, Contemporary Oral Hygiene and Contemporary Dental Assisting.

The publisher is holding onto its 14 LA-based Allied Healthcare titles, which are less exposed to the fallout from declining spending in the pharmaceutical sector. The division, including niche titles like Hearing Review, Medical Imaging and Plastic Surgery Products, only receives around 10% of its ad revenue from pharmas, the remainder coming from device manufacturers and services, said Ascend president and CEO Cameron Bishop. Ascend will also hold on to its event media division in Kansas, which works with healthcare trade associations to develop print and online products for their events, as well as its New Jersey-based medical education unit and Practice Builders, in Orange County, CA.

The moves, first reported in Folio, reflect the ugliness of the market for medical journals, particularly primary care titles hit by a dearth of new launches and a longer-term trend away from advertising to primary care docs by pharmas. “There just isn't the focus on communicating messages in the primary care sector,” said Bishop, noting that ad pages for many leading journals are off 20% or more. “If the dominant books are off that much, it's a safe bet that second-tier titles are as well, if not more so.”

Going forward, he said, the company will look online for growth. “We're seeing great traction on e-newsletters and webcasts, along with some of the traditional things associated with Web sites,” said Bishop.

Founded in 2002, Ascend acquired the titles, together with Practice Builders, through its 2004 purchase of Medical World Communications, which tripled its size and gave it an estimated $150 million in revenues. Even before downsizing its medical and dental divisions, the firm had been slimming down, having offloaded its professional services stable of 17 mags onto BNP Media in August and sold Expo magazine to Red 7 Media in October. 

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