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Business Journals Find Lucrative Niche

THE chroniclers of local economic news - business journals - have done surprisingly well the last few hard years.

Business journals are mostly weekly newspapers that serve only one community or metropolitan area. They usually cover just business news, steering away from weddings, obituaries, crime, etc. prominent in general community newspapers.

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Many businessmen, especially local business suppliers, are placing advertising in these publications rather than in national newspapers or even local dailies.

Mike Cassidy, copublisher and co-editor of Wenatchee Business Journal in Wenatchee, Wash., says "daily newspapers are becoming what Sears was to retailing ... If you want sporting goods, you don't go to Sears, you go to Footlocker. It seems like niche publications are doing the same thing as specialty stores are doing to the big retailers."

In Wenatchee, a community of less than 50,000, Mr. Cassidy uses advertising as a measure of his paper's success: "In 1991, our ad sales were up 100 percent from 1990. In 1992 they were up 50 percent from 1991, and this year so far we're up 30 percent from 1992."

Business journals seem to have weathered the recession better than broader-based publications. Marcia Appel of the Association of Area Business Publications in Minneapolis, Minn., says: "Whenever you can target a niche, your audience will have a need for you when economic times change."

Indeed, the number of business journals has continued to grow during the recession and slow recovery. Ms. Appel's association has more than 75 member journals across the nation, but many more are not registered with her organization, she says.

Gloria Scoby of Crane's Chicago Business, a monthly magazine, says: "We've taken away from the major dailies. The key to business is local." Either by free or paid circulation, business journals are sent to nearly all business operations in their markets, Ms. Scoby says. This is also an important factor for advertisers, she adds, because there is no waste in the advertising message.

Steve Jones-D'Agostino, editor of Worcester Business Journal, says that advertising in business journals is a good buy: "We go for business-to-business advertising - one business talking to another. ... We can give them direct access to their potential market more so than the dailies."

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Success seems to be in the kind of coverage business journals provide: "They are to each local market a more intense, a more personal, and a more knowledgeable Wall Street Journal," Ms. Appel says.

"We supplement the daily newspaper diet," Mr. Jones-D'Agostino says. "We can get below the surface of a story - the `hows' and `whys where the dailies may not necessarily be able to." Revenues have gone up each year since it was founded in 1990, he says.

Unlike daily papers, business journals do not target the entire public, says George Harmon, a teacher at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. Specialization is their strength, and they are "very much on the rise," he adds. They are also moving into smaller and smaller communities, such as Du Page, Ill., and Lima, Ohio.

Even in the last few recession-ridden years, readership of established business journals has increased. As Harmon says, "Bad economic news sells."

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