Pete Nofel: Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Posted by Pete Nofel on Feb 5th, 2010.

Two more industrial business-to-business magazines have bitten the dust. Penton Media’s venerable American Machinist and Welding Design & Fabrication have ceased print publication. For me, both were within that six-degrees-of-separation.

My first editor-in-chief gig was as head honcho of Gases & Welding Distributor, a sister publication of Welding Design & Fabrication. In fact, the WDF’s editor – Brad Kuvin at the time [now editor of MetalForming magazine at Precision Metalforming Association] – had the office next to mine. We even shared some staff.

In some restructuring at Penton, American Machinist moved into our publishing group. It was the big dog on the block: rarely less than a half-inch thick, the rest of the books – that’s publishing jargon for magazines – in the Industrial Group were less than dust beneath its feet. Since GWD was a small bimonthly book, it was a rare day when the editor back then had a good word – or any word, for that matter – with what he considered a pee-wee book such as GWD.

My other connection with AM came when I edited Modern Applications News. AM was one of our direct competitors, though you couldn’t tell from MAN’s name. I had just come from being a tech writer in the IT department of a large bank where computer programs were called “applications.” For me, a magazine called Modern Applications News, should have been about programs. Maybe that’s one reason it was never much of a leader in the field, despite it’s 42-year history.

All things considered, the demise of AM, WDF, and MAN bring up the issue of where people in the industry are getting their news?

Blowing Sunshine Up Readers’ Exhaust Ports
Let’s face facts, there is more than a close relationship between manufacturers and B2B magazines. While I tried to maintain something of a firewall between editorial and advertising, it wasn’t unknown for some books to be predisposed to working more closely with advertisers than I was comfortable with.

But, we all tried to maintain the idea we were independent of undue business influence. Now, however, with print publications disappearing, who will be taking an unbiased view of information coming from manufacturers?

Company in-house magazines, while slick and professionally produced give the impression of an unbiased presentation of facts, they are, in fact the mouthpieces of the company. That’s not a criticism. They wouldn’t last very long biting the hand that feeds them.

That leaves the reader in an uncomfortable, but probably unaware position, of not fully trusting what’s being printed. Not that such publications would lie, but I’m sure they would paint the rosiest picture possible of their products.

E Pluribus Stupid
Many of the websites about machining get most of their content from reader forums. I’ll be charitable and state that most of the participants are less than genius level. Is it really prudent to take advice from people who don’t know how to use the shift key, use multiple exclamation points, lack spelling proficiency, and insert emoticons? The intelligence of a crowd is inversely proportional to its size.

“Bring Out Your Dead!”
So, where does that leave things. I dunno. If I did, I’d have cashed in on it long ago. All I can predict is that newspapers and B2B magazines are on the skids, or as Grandpa Simpson said [and I'm paraphrasing]: “You’re in the newspaper business? Ho-ho! Something that’s going to die before I do!”

Pete Nofel has 30+ years of journalism experience and has held the position of Editor-in-Chief of several magazines covering the manufacturing industry.  He currently serves as Editor of CNC Report.com.

2 Responses for “Pete Nofel: Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”

  1. peter08 says:

    The slow death you’re mentioning has been hurting the machine industry for a while. The loss of magazines you’ve mentioned, Don Wood and Automatic Machining, smaller books like ‘Shop Talk’ and others probably isn’t over yet. I have to believe the players who remain will be those who understand the delicate balance it takes to manufacture parts and run a business. As employees are counted on to do more with less, we’re looking for resources that quickly help us do just that. These days, it will HAVE to include an online value, not just a website or pretty forum. I think the technical strength Modern Machine Shop has and the warm niche Today’s Machining World has will let them ride out the storm for now. But I also think the voice of the reader forums and readers posting comments is going to surprise everyone.

  2. Pete Beatty says:

    Great article!

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