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Newsletter publishers learn "new ways to make money at an old game" at NEPA conference.

Two mantras wafted through the corridors and meeting halls of the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., during the Newsletter & Electronic Publishers Association's 27th annual conference, June 1-3--"Back in the black" and "Ancillaries are no longer ancillary."

Back in the black. While publishers reported declining revenues during this sluggish economy, many also said profits were up because of previous cost-cutting measures, exhibiting newsletter and specialized information publishers' characteristic resilience and flexibility Keynote speaker Mark Ragan, CEO of Lawrence Ragan Communications Inc., Chicago, said his company had enjoyed "our best year ever." Other publishers and at least one vendor reported the same thing.

Ancillaries are no longer ancillary. Ragan went on to say that the term "newsletter publisher" almost sounds quaint these days. "We provide solutions. We marry software with content," he said. Wayne Cooper, president and CEO of Kennedy Information, Petersborough, N.H., reported that only 20 percent of their revenue was from newsletters last year. Others echoed that trend, having switched their focus to non-newsletter revenue sources such as audio conferences, special reports, webinars, and other online services and products.

Newsletter titles themselves have become the hub from which a wide variety of revenue sources radiate.

Audio conferences

Among the 25 small roundtable discussions offered, the most popular was the one on audio conferences--inexpensive to promote and to stage and inexpensive for those participating Nan Grambo, of Grambo Consulting, Linden, Virginia, told us that in her session on audio conferences last year, only 12 publishers reported hosting audio conferences. This year, she said, "that number is too large to count." And the publishers who haven't been tapping into this lucrative market said they plan to do so soon.

Editorial quality

Also evident at the conference was a big stress on editorial excellence in a number of sesssions, no matter what their subject matter. Newsletter and specialized information publishers have long been noted for providing valuable, useful content--especially in comparison with the proliferating free e-zines and e-newsletters. Speaker after speaker emphasized the importance of fine-tuning content, breaking articles down to bite-sized nuggets through the use of sidebars, bullets, and subheads.

Don Ranly, of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, said editors' goals should be to make their content useful, usable, and used. (More of Ranly on writing in coming issues.)

The economy

Thirty-five vendors exhibited at the conference, a pretty good sign that people are no longer waiting for the economy to turn around, that--like the early days of the war in Iraq--we've got to just keep on keeping on.

What was termed "mild optimism" at last December's NEPA conference in Las Vegas has in many cases now turned into "disgust" with the enemic economy. But, as we noted earlier, previous cost-cutting actions and the development of new revenue sources have done well for many publishers' bottom line.

But the half-dozen investment bankers we spoke with did not have much to report on the M&A front. Eugene Simonoff, of New York City, summed up the situation: "I don't see a lot happening."
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Publication:The Newsletter on Newsletters
Date:Jun 15, 2003
Previous Article:500 attend annual conference.
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