My Economic Indicator: Publications launched and shuttered

Everyone has different views of how to track the economy. Some people look at employment numbers and others look at interest rates.

Me? I look at the number of new publications launched and shuttered.

Print magazines, email newsletter and now blogs are all good indicators of where things are heading. Print magazines are perhaps one of the quickest indicators of an economy on the way down.

Think about it, you’re a CEO looking to save cash because of a down turnwhat do you do?

First you walk down the hall and tell your COO and Director of Sales to send out a memo telling people to take clients for coffee or meet them in their offices for a sandwich as opposed taking them to lunch. You also send a memo that all travel has to be preapproved by your manager and your manager’s manager. If that email goes around your company brace yourself for layoffs. Companies that are selling have no problem taking their clients to lunch, companies that are getting slammed do.

Side note: My other indicator of the economy is how filled restaurants are at lunch, and how hard it is to get a reservation at night. Obviously the lunch crowd is related to company confidence and the dinner crowd is related to people’s personal confidence. You needed lunch reservations during the dotcom boom, and then in 2001 and 2002 you could walk into any restaurant for lunch in Silicon Alley and you were guaranteed a tableeven Union Square Cafe! I can remember being one of two or three tables at some upscale restaurants in the Alley at that time. Heck, some places closed for lunch! (As I side note, I grew up in the restaurant business and that is where I learned my work ethic, my resiliency and how to treat people. Not to mention how to debone a fish tableside but I digress).

OK, back to our stressed out CEO. Where do they go next on their money saving walk around the office? Yep, you guess itmarketing! If you work in marketing you know that day well. It’s the day when the director of marketing is summoned to the CEO’s office with a huge stack of paperwork to see where “we can get more efficient.” The conversation typically goes like this:

CEO: “What is bringing in direct revenue?”

Marketing Director: “Well, it is all part of comprehensive strategy that will”

CEO: “What is bringing in direct revenue?”

Marketing Director: “Well, you see you need to have print to support the trade shows and online to”

CEO: “Cancel everything but these two trade shows we did last year that landed us six clients and wait for me to get back to you.”

You can translate “get back to you,” as “get back to you with who to layoff and how much severance I’ll give you.”

When I pick up Fast Company and it is 100 pages, feels like an LL Bean catalogue and is filled with house ads I get worried. When I see print magazines miss a couple of issues, move to ten, six or four times a year to “spend more time on the editorial” I know the economy has problems.

So, magazines are good to monitor for the downturn.
Now, I look at blogs and email newsletters to check the pulse of the uptick in the economy. You see, starting a blog or email newsletter takes much less cash then print magazines do. Also, they don’t get shut down as quickly as a print magazine does.

In the past month I’ve watched as Nick Denton launched Defamer, we launched Engadget.com and today my old friend Dany Levy at Daily Candy launch a Chicago edition. What does this tell me? Well, not that much because the three of us were all active during the downturn launching publications and dragging our sorry asses to work everyday to band our heads against the wall!

However, when I saw John Battelle announce he was representing Boingboing.net and starting a new conference, and I see tons of bloggers talk about making a business of their blogs I start to see the signs of a publishing rebound.

If I look at my peers from the dotcom days Tony Perkins is back to work and Battelle is back to work. Fred Wilson is back to work. Seth Goldstein is back to work. Scott Heiferman never stopped working. Heck, Phil Kaplan who was once considered a flash in the dotcom pan is buildgaspa real business!

No, it’s not going to be the “hello, Silicon Alley Reporter may we take your order” days of publishing. I wish it was that easy again, but it is going to be slow and steady rebound from my early indicators.

The cycle start again and it feels even better this time around!

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