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Another Small Biz Title Bites The Dust

December 7, 2009

SMB titles are dropping like flies. If the great recession holds so much opportunity for small businesses, why are SMB pubs dying? The answer has more to do with the pubs than the SMB market.

Ownership comes with privileges. And Bloomberg LP is exercising its prerogative after buying BusinessWeek: the exit of high-profile editors such as John Byrne (taking his presumably high-profile salary off the books) and a certain amount of deck chair rearranging is a matter of course with new ownership. Yet the announcement that BusinessWeek SmallBiz is being absorbed into the mothership begs a question that has nothing to do with Bloomberg’s vision: Are we now watching the sunset of small business titles.

A sunset looks more probable when you consider that BusinessWeek SmallBiz is just the most recent SMB pub to be deposited curbside this year. Another old media glossy vanished into the ether last month when Time shuttered Fortune Small Business. And the extinction extends online: last summer UBM trimmed bMighty to a skeleton crew (full disclosure, I have contributed to FSB and was formerly editor of bMighty).

The recession has, among other things, been heralded as a time of prime opportunity for small business. Unburdened by debt, lean SMBs are nimble enough to turn on a dime and grasp new opportunities and break new markets; they should be making hay while large enterprises wallow in cost cutting and reimagining strategic visions. That’s the theory at least and it’s ubiquitous enough to have become a pole in the tent of conventional wisdom. Why then are SMB pubs in full retreat?

Well it could be a simple repackaging. That’s the stance of Bloomberg BusinessWeek Chairman Norman Pearlstine who says, “BusinessWeek.com’s Small Business Channel will deliver the same quality journalism and insights that small business professionals depend on, as well as targeted opportunities for advertisers looking to reach them.” Time will tell if the small business coverage does indeed continue but the viability of targeted SMB content and advertising within a general interest business title is…questionable?

Over at Time, there was no talk about folding FSB into Fortune. That makes sense given that FSB was a custom title (owned by American Express). When the client stops footing the bill…adios! My guess is that OPEN Forum has performed well enough to supplant the role that FSB served for AMEX’s small business cardholders.

Regardless of the reasons, Time and Bloomberg’s turn away from the SMB market, doesn’t mean there isn’t one. It’s just not an opportunity that old media knows how to pursue. Not to worry, others are stepping into the void.

Twitter just inked Citysearch (and its 200,000 local merchants) as the charter partner for its Sign-Up API that lets users create new Twitter accounts from external sites. The move’s seen as a precursor to Twitter offering corporate accounts — a SMB-to-enterprise trajectory that’s decidedly counter to the enterprise-to-SMB vector of Fortune-FSB and BusinessWeek-BusinessWeek SmallBiz.

And taking another step in it’s plan to own everything, Google’s rolling out “Favorite Places on Google,” a program that will link store window displays to Google search results for 150,000 selected members of Google’s Local Business Center.

And as Liz Gannes posits, it can’t be too much longer before Facebook local debuts.

Old media “coverage” of SMBs may be thinning, but that doesn’t correlate to waning interest in SMBs or a dearth of viable, even thriving, small businesses. The problem isn’t SMBs, it’s old media — it’s not the message, it’s the medium. Or as David Carr of the New York Times, noted recently, “Business wisdom that is imprisoned in printed pages, already locked in the past, increasingly seems like a curio.”

For my money, the passing of these two SMB publications are merely the latest death throes of old media, nothing more, and that’s hardly news.

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