A trade magazine, also called a trade journal or professional magazine (and colloquially or disparagingly a trade rag), is a magazine whose target audience is people who work in a particular trade or industry. Its main goals are to keep members of the industry abreast of new developments (in which role it functions similarly to how academic journals, scientific journals, medical journals, and engineering journals serve their audiences) and to serve targeted advertising to them, which earns a profit for the publication and sales for the advertisers while also providing sales engineering–type advice to the readers, helping them with industrial purchasing and investment decisions. The collective term for this area of publishing is the trade press (although that term sometimes also refers to publishers of trade paperbacks).
Trade magazines typically contain advertising content centered on the industry in question with little if any general-audience advertising. They also generally contain industry-specific job notices, a highly pertinent aspect to many readers.
Economics of the trade press
For the print medium, most trade magazines operate on a type of subscription business model known as controlled circulation, in which the print subscription is free but is restricted only to subscribers who are what salespeople refer to as qualified leads. Because the print medium costs substantial amounts of money (for printing and postage), the publishers cannot afford to hand out free copies to everyone who requests one (unqualified leads); instead, they operate under controlled circulation, deciding who may receive free subscriptions based on each person's qualification as a member of the trade (and likelihood of buying, for example, likelihood of having corporate purchasing authority, as determined from job title). This allows a high level of certainty that advertisements will be received by the advertiser's target audience, and it avoids wasted printing and distribution expenses.
The online medium is easing the problem of print medium costs. It opens up the readership to everyone in the world who has any interest in reading the publication for free, even if they are unqualified sales leads. This is tremendously liberating in the respect that knowledge is more widely available than it was in the print-only era. But it also offers new challenges, because the conversion rates and impression pricing for online advertising are different from those of controlled circulation of print. Because the pool is diluted by less qualified visitors, many visits and clicks will not result in any sales, so the prices for advertising have to account for that. Another factor is that editorial competition can be tougher in an online environment because the barriers for entry are lower. The content a publisher produces must compete for reader attention with the vast sea of information that is available in the Web era. The main competitive edge is in content curation and trustworthiness. In a world where anyone can write content, the quality of the content becomes the differentiator.
- Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Business English Dictionary
- Gillian Page, Robert Campbell, Arthur Jack Meadows (1997). Journal Publishing. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-44137-4.
- Periodical Publishers Association (UK): "Controlled & Paid Circulation"
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