The leaves continue to fall

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If you want to see something really ugly, then you need look no further than the journal advertising numbers for the first half of 2009 (see “The Hit Parade”, pages 43 to 46).According to PERQ/HCI, spending on medical/surgical publications, January to June, plummeted to just $155 million—that's 32% percent down from the $228 million recorded for the same period in 2008 and 40% below 2007's $258 million.

Individually, the big three behemoths are reeling. The market-leading New England Journal of Medicine saw a 31% drop in ad pages for this period. Number two, Journal of American Medical Association, lost 44% in pages. While third-placed American Family Physician fell 36%.

It gets even queasier when you break out ad spending by pharmaceutical company. For example, it's quite something when last year's biggest spender, the perennially reliable Forest Pharmaceuticals, was able to stay at number one, despite a 32% drop in journal spending. More alarming still, is that Pfizer was able to replace Eli Lilly in the number two spot on the back of a whopping 61% cut in outlays. (The reason? Lilly had pared back even more—64%).

And Forest, despite culling around one third of its ad pages, was still responsible for three of the top six most advertised products (Lexapro, Bystolic and Namenda).

The Association of Medical Media (AMM) has worked tirelessly over the years to “prove” the value of journals, commissioning a number of studies in the process. “It is the print channel that delivers the largest audience for the least amount of dollars,” reiterates AMM president Jenny Day. But it's been a long time since journal revenues have reflected this.

So is there any encouraging news for publishers? Well, according to PERQ/HCI's David Emery, readership and ad exposure numbers for the top 10 primary care journals have held up well since 2005. And of the specialties, oncology continues to perform in terms of spend.

But the consensus seems to be that, akin to other b-to-b industries, journals are struggling to compete for dollars with a number of evolving channels — online, video, mobile, social media. Not only that, healthcare is hardly the recession-proof sector it was once claimed to be. “And when you add in a long, dry spell for new products,” notes Alan Imhoff, president and publisher at IMNG, “you get a year like 2009.”

Some believe print will come back, but most agree that any resurgence will be part of an integrated approach to reaching physicians, also incorporating online, live events and mobile. “We need to deliver however our readers and customers want it,” says Trevor Deal, publisher, Mayo Clinic Proceedings and Journal of Family Practice.
One thing's for sure: journals can't take too many more 30%-plus revenue hits.

The industry's big night

This is my final column before the MM&M Awards winners are revealed on October 29. Preparations are going well and it is shaping up to be another night to remember. Despite the tough climate, we continue to be encouraged by the interest and support in this program and I am certain that everyone who attends will feel heartened that the spirit and creativity of the industry is alive and well. We will certainly not be holding back in making it spectacular evening and we guarantee you will have a good time.

Good luck to all our finalists and I hope to see you for a celebratory drink!
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