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Don’t Be Surprised with Who Enters the Publishing Business August 7, 2013

By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos buys the Washington Post; American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) buys Cygnus Business Media’s agricultural events and publications. From here on out, don’t be surprised by who enters the publishing business.


Amazon founder Jeff Bezos starts his High Orde...

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos starts his High Order Bit presentation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, maybe it’s not a fair comparison, but when you consider how out-of-the-blue these two acquisitions are and the types of organizations that purchased some well-worn publications, you can’t help but compare.


The Wall Street Journal compared the Amazon/Washington Post marriage to a “shift of power from old media to Silicon Valley.” If staying with comparisons, does that mean a shift of power from the independent B2B media world to member-driven service organizations?


Probably not. I think American’s purchase of Cygnus Business Media’s agriculture events and publications simply means an opportunity for growth. According to sources Cygnus’ ag trade shows and magazines are solid money makers. In contrast, the Washington Post lost $54 million just last year.


I have to talk about this one because I used to work for Cygnus Business Media. In 2000, I was lured away from the Institute of Supply Management (based in Tempe) to launch and run Vulcan Publications’ newest publication, iSource Business, later named Suppy & Demand Chain Executive. We launched at the height of the Dot Com Bubble and that bubble burst just as we were selling full-color, one-page ads for $8,000 and $16,000 a pop. Not bad for a very specialized business-to-business (B2B) magazine.


From the moment the bubble burst we struggled to make sales goals. If memory serves me well, we were finally purchased by Cygnus Business Media around 2003. That purchase saved us and we were enveloped into an organization with a clearer focus in the B2B publishing and media space. Despite its greater management of a very competitive space, Cygnus has had its recent struggles. Cygnus put a “For Sale” sign up for its agriculture division and American Farm Bureau Federation came a courting.


American’s purchase includes five IDEAg branded farm shows – Minnesota Farmfest, Dakotafest, Amarillo Farm and Ranch Show, Northern Illinois Farm Show and the IDEAg Interconnectivity Conference. The business also publishes Feed & Grain Magazine and customer publishing of Case IH’s Farm Forum magazine.


“This acquisition is the union of very strong brands that are deeply-rooted in agriculture,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman. “By joining the Farm Bureau family, these publications and events create additional opportunities for us to serve farmers, ranchers and the stakeholders looking to connect with them.”


The events and publications will operate as part of IDEAg Group, LLC, which is wholly owned by the American Farm Bureau Federation.  All of the current managers and staff of the events and publications agreed to continue in their positions.


The IDEAg Group publications and events with AFBF’s leadership should be a strong brand in the future. While the expertise in farm shows and publication management is coming from the IDEAg side, AFBF will bring issue specialists to the marriage.

Be under no delusions however, the media business is tough and competitive. In print newspaper ad revenue alone, advertising revenue fell by 55% between 2007 and 2012, according to the Newspaper Association of American.  Various sources identified a decline in magazine advertising (and certainly B2B magazines) but not as dramatic as with newspaper. The big growth is in digital media. Create digital streams with valuable content and the future is yours … maybe.

Regardless, AFBF’s acquisition of Cygnus’ agriculture farm shows and magazines is an exciting venture that will be fun to watch play out. And, hopefully an opportunity for the state Farm Bureau’s to exploit some of its success with possibly extended regional Farm Shows and more.

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