Research Review: The Specialized Business Press
***** ENDRES *********** EJC/REC Vol. 4, Nos. 2-4, 1994 ****
RESEARCH REVIEW: THE SPECIALIZED BUSINESS PRESS
Kathleen L. Endres
University of Akron
Abstract: This article reviews the scholarly
research dealing with the specialized business
press. It focuses on research produced journalism
and communication departments, as well as that of
business schools and humanities programs. The
author notes the lack of theory building and ties
across disciplines, and anticipates that new
advances in CD-ROM technology may increase
research into the field as well as strengthen ties
The business press in this country predates the
American Revolution. Nonetheless this branch of
journalism continues to confound the nation's researchers.
Perhaps the problem emanates from nomenclature. Researchers
have never been quite sure what to call this branch of
journalism. Julien Elfenbein, who wrote a book on the
topic, preferred the term "businesspaper." That term,
however, never quite stuck. Nor did the related term
"business press" or "industry magazine." The more
common term in academic circles is "trade press," a name
at which the industry bristles. Publications within this
field, as well as the associations which represent them,
prefer the term "specialized business press." That term
is designed to describe the industry while differentiating
it from the general business books such as _Forbes_,
_Fortune_, and _Business Week_.
Researchers also are never quite sure how to categorize
this branch of journalism. Traditionally, it is grouped
within the magazine category. Yet many of the articles and
books on magazines fail to incorporate this segment of the
field. Even in their indices, some academic journals
fail to include articles on the business press under the
One other problem continues to plague the specialized
business press: the charge that this branch of journalism
somehow lacks the same integrity and high editorial
standards of other fields. It is an old charge that is often
cited. In part, this stems from a distribution method
that differs from other branches of print journalism.
Controlled circulation, sending the periodical free to
individuals qualified by occupation, remains the
distribution system of choice for the largest number of
specialized business publications. This means that the
largest amount of revenue comes from advertising.
Research into this branch of journalism must be seen
against this backdrop. Few fields of journalism have had to
deal with such confusion with regard to name,
categorization, integrity, or the roles they play within the
industries they cover. The confusion had been so widespread
that Harold McGraw, a publisher of specialized business
periodicals, created an editorial foundation to explain the
industry to professors in journalism/communication programs.
The Business Press Educational Foundation has since come
under the umbrella of the trade association for the
industry, the American Business Press (ABP). The
organization continues to focus its efforts on journalism
and communication programs across the nation. These
programs, however, are not always responsible for generating
scholarly research about the field. Indeed, research into
the specialized business press is just as likely to come
from business schools and humanities programs as
Business academics often do research that has direct,
pragmatic impact. Researchers with this orientation tend to
view the specialized business press as a medium for
marketing and advertising and design their studies
accordingly. A number of studies have attempted to gauge the
effectiveness of the specialized business press as an
advertising medium. John E. Morrill's study in the _Harvard
Business Review_ is a case in point. Morrill attempted
to measure the effectiveness of advertising campaigns placed
in a number of business periodicals, covering a variety of
industries. Morrill then interviewed buyers, those who had
been exposed to the campaigns and those who had not, and
found that the advertising in these specialized publications
brought about a change in attitude and opinion. However, in
order to achieve success, advertising had to appear
frequently--at least six pages of advertising in a
Alicia Donovan came to similar conclusions in her study
of one McGraw-Hill periodical, _Modern Plastics_. In
this experiment, one corporation introduced a new product in
an advertising campaign published solely in _Modern
Plastics_. The researcher performed pre- and post-tests on
readers and found that the product enjoyed a substantial
increase in "share of mind" awareness after the campaign.
Of course, the most recent and most widely reported
study was the Advertising Research Foundation/ABP
investigation of advertising effectiveness. This research
covered 12-month advertising campaigns for four products and
found that advertising in the specialized business press
"will increase sales and profits; that increased frequency
can increase qualified sales leads; that results can be seen
within four to six months; that color enhances an ad's effect
on business; and that an ad campaign's effectiveness can
outlast the campaign itself." This study was widely
reported in publications covering the advertising and
publishing industries. However, no report appeared in the
scholarly periodicals. This points to a difficulty. Unless
researchers include specialized business periodicals in
their search of the literature, they are likely to overlook
important and salient industry reports.
Advertising effectiveness was behind Lynette S.
McCullough and Ronald K. Taylor's cross-cultural study of
humor of advertising appearing in specialized business
magazines. Drawing on a substantial body of literature
in psychology and business that points to humor's potential
in conveying persuasive communication, the two researchers
looked at advertising in American, British, and German
specialized business periodicals and found that humor was
used extensively. There were no differences among the three
nationalities. However, there were differences among
industries. Advertising in the marketing/advertising,
business, dental, travel, and toy publications had the
highest average humor ratings; advertising in the
paper/pulp, mining, safety, fur, and security industry
magazines had the lowest.
Most scholarly business research on the business press
focuses on the advertising/marketing side of publishing.
J. Ronald Milavsky's study was one of the few looking at the
editorial side. His research question revolved around
how magazines reported on marketing and social effects from
an international perspective. Milavsky found that the
publications he studied dealt with this subject primarily in
straight news reports or consultative studies of uneven
quality. Like other forms of journalism, these
magazines under-represented countries outside of Europe;
even Asia, Central and South America and Africa received
little attention, although much industrial production has
shifted to these areas.
Business researchers tend to leave the historical
development of the specialized business press to others.
One exception was Ronald B. Smith's look at the beginnings
of business publishing in the United States. This
study, however, has only limited usefulness because much of
the research is based on secondary sources.
Historical analysis is best left to the humanities.
Researchers from many disciplines--from history to
theatre, from American studies to art--have examined the
specialized business press, primarily from an historical
perspective. This variety of disciplines and their
differing points of view have brought a rich diversity to
the research into the history of the specialized business
press. Unfortunately, because this research covers so many
different disciplines and such a range of scholarly
periodicals not always consulted by journalism/communication
scholars, this material is not always found or used. The
benefits of the research from these differing disciplines
are too often lost.
Historians have long tilled the specialized business
press as an important area of research. The verb is
especially appropriate because the agricultural business
press has captured the imagination--and the research
questions--of a number of historians. While many of these
studies can, at best, be called case studies of one
publication or one editor, others place the journalism of
the agricultural business press into a broader historical
Homer E. Socolofsky's study of the Capper farm
press offered an interpretation of how the westward
movement explained the continuing specialization within the
agricultural business press. Soil and weather conditions
changed with each new frontier, requiring different, more
specialized publications to serve a farm audience in each
new frontier. Joseph Cote saw the editor of the _Progressive
Farmer_ as a product of both the Populist and Progressive
movements. However, his editorial campaigns in favor of
mechanization and modernization only worked against the
yeoman farmer. In the end, the yeoman farmer declined in
numbers and importance, a development inconsistent with
Populist and Progressive ideals. And Donald Marti
transformed agricultural journalism into a question of the
diffusion of knowledge and the democratization of
America. These publications went from voices of small,
private, elite agricultural societies in the eighteenth
century to independent journals with much larger
circulations in the pre-Civil War period. The shift also
brought changes to the publications themselves, as editors
began to rely for information primarily on
The changing nature of agricultural publications was
also the topic that interested Karl B. Raitz and Stanley D.
Brunn. However, because their discipline of geography
differed from Cote's--history--the two brought a different
perspective to their work. Raitz and Brunn tied the
development of farm journals to geographical variations
and the growing dominance agriculturally of those regions.
Other branches of the specialized business press have
not received as much attention. The publications of the
printing trade have drawn their share of scholarly
examination from a wide range of disciplines in the
humanities. Patricia Frantz Kery, who has a degree in
journalism but works in the fine arts, combined both
interests in her magnificent book on magazine front covers.
Here, she includes the art of many specialized business
periodicals and pays special attention to the _Inland
Printer_ for its role in developing the changing front
cover. John Bidwell built on Ray Nash's work, _Printing
as an Art_. Bidwell studied _The Engraver and Printer_, a
case study of the rise and demise of a periodical covering
the printing trade.
Other studies have used the specialized business press
to examine topics and issues of historical importance. For
example, historian Thomas DiBacco used a wide range of
periodicals covering the industrial and financial fields,
marketing and transportation industries to chart business
response to the Vietnam War. James Hilgenberg Jr.
focused on business response to the occupation of Japan
following World War II and the early Cold War.
Hilgenberg, though, drew more heavily from the general
business press than the specialized business periodicals in
his book. What marks both works is that the specialized
business press does not speak with a single voice. It
cannot be interpreted as a monolithic body. The humanities,
then, have added a rich literature to the study of the
specialized business press, a literature that should not be
ignored by journalism/communication scholars.
Frank Luther Mott represented a bridge between
humanities scholarship and journalism/communication
research. In his five-volume study of American magazine
journalism history, he incorporated the specialized
business press into each time period, offering perspectives
on the field as it followed--or differed from--patterns
on the consumer side. Likewise, he fit the specialized
business press into an economic framework that helped
explain how this branch of journalism developed.
Mott differed from many of the important early writers
on the specialized business press in several key respects.
First, Mott looked at the business press as part of the
magazine industry. Both business and consumer periodicals
were studied. Most of the earlier writers on the business
press preferred to isolate this branch of journalism from
its consumer cousins. Second, Mott's professional
background does not appear to be in the business press.
Most of the early writers on this topic had worked for a
time in the field. Jesse H. Neal, who wrote a brief history
on the field in the 1920s, was executive secretary of the
Association of Business Papers in New York, after a career
at United Publishers Corp., a forerunner of the Chilton Co.
Horace M. Swetland, who offered a book-length examination of
"industrial publishing" in 1923, was president of Class
Journal Co. and United Publishers. Julien Elfenbein, who
provided a 1945 examination of the "business press" as well
as a 1960 update, had been an editor for eight national
business magazines. Edgar A. Grunwald, who wrote a 1980s
text on the industry, had edited one specialized
business publication and worked for another. Sal Marino,
who offered a business side appraisal, remains chief
executive officer of Penton, a large publisher of
specialized business periodicals. David P. Forsyth, who has
written the only book on the history of the industry to
date, was manager of communication research for Chilton
and later a consultant for a variety of specialized business
The Swetland, Elfenbein, Grunwald, and Marino books
complement each other. Each provides an overview at a
pivotal moment in the development of the specialized
business press. Swetland offered a look at the 1920s as the
specialized business press adjusted to the unbridled growth
after the first world war. In his first edition, Elfenbein
charted how the field was about to explode after the second
world war. His update explained the phenomenal growth of
the 1940s and 1950s. Grunwald wrote his book as a text,
introducing students in journalism/communication programs to
a field that had grown large in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.
Grunwald's work focused on the editorial side; Marino's the
business side. Based on about 50 years of professional
experience on the business side, Marino's book offered
practical advice for would-be publishers and CEOs.
David P. Forsyth's book looked at the roots of the
industry. The author offered an industry-by-industry
breakdown of specialized business periodicals published
prior to the Civil War. Unfortunately, in the almost 30
years since this book was published, no one has analyzed the
second half of the nineteenth century, when economic,
industrial and technological changes revolutionized the
nation and its business press. The only thing close to that
is a volume scheduled for publication in 1994. This
book, edited by Kathleen Endres, offers histories of
important periodicals in the specialized business press.
Heretofore, histories of the specialized business
publications have been left to the periodicals themselves.
Most are done to commemorate anniversaries. _American
Banker_ issued a large, special edition in 1986 to celebrate
its l50th anniversary; _American Salon_ its 50th in 1927;
_American Machinist_ its 75th in 1952; _Editor & Publisher_
its 100th in 1984; _Publishers Weekly_ its l00th in 1972;
and _Travel Weekly_ its 25th in 1983. Even the ABP published
its own history, "Adventure...in cooperative progress."
Historical studies that have appeared in scholarly
journals in the journalism/communication field have been
rare, too. These have covered media or academic journals,
the publications that many journalism/communication
instructors read. Paul Sullivan, for example, looked at the
launch of _Advertising Age_; Bruce Currie studied the
evolution of the _Chronicle of Higher Education_. These
historical treatments of individual publications are typical
of much of the historical research of the business press
done by journalism/communication researchers. Unlike the
historians who often link the business periodicals to
broader themes or developments, journalism/communication
researchers often lack that richness of interpretation.
Of course, there are exceptions. Pama A. Mitchell's
work illustrated how the business press can be used as a
primary source to explain historical developments. In a
paper delivered to the national convention of the
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass
Communication, Mitchell looked at the periodicals
covering the broadcasting and advertising industries and
found that these publications were caught up in the anti-
Communist fervor that swept the nation in the first half of
the 1950s. The editors of these periodicals felt that
Communist infiltration of television represented a
legitimate threat to national security.
These studies add much to the understanding of the
periodicals that cover the mass communication and academic
fields. However, these two fields represent only a small
segment of the specialized business press. Examining only
these types of periodicals may actually lead to a
misrepresentation of the business press. Historical
research also needs to be done on periodicals covering the
industrial, retail, transportation, construction,
science/medical, and other areas, the periodicals not
typically read or written about by journalism/communication
Research that draws upon the breadth of the business
press has been left to another group of journalism/com-
munication scholars. These researchers concentrate on the
current state of the specialized business press. Endres,
for example, worked with a cross section of specialized
business publications in her examination of ownership and
employment patterns within the industry. She found that
most specialized business publications were magazines
(usually monthlies), tend to rely on small editorial staffs
(although sold publications typically had larger editorial
departments), and were owned by corporations that issued
other periodicals (often specialized business publications).
However, she failed to include newsletters, a shortcoming
of most researchers in the field.
Dennis Jeffers looked into opportunities for women
in one field, livestock industry magazines, and found that
opportunities were improving, although discrepancies in
promotion and salaries between the genders continue.
That does not appear to be peculiar to the periodicals
covering the livestock industry. Discrepancies between the
genders in salary and job were also reported in Endres's
study of the business press journalists in a variety of
industries. While women outnumbered men in periodicals
covering certain industries, women tended to be relegated to
lower editorial positions and were paid substantially less
than the men.
One of the consistent criticisms of the business press
deals with advertising pressure. Robert G. Hays and Ann E.
Reisner looked at that question in their survey of
journalists working for farm magazines. The researchers
reported that the majority of the respondents reported
pressure from advertisers; about half reported that
advertising had, indeed, been withdrawn; and more than a
third thought advertiser pressure was harming agricultural
The studies on the specialized business press done by
journalism/communication researchers, however informative
their content, often lack a theoretical base. The study by
Greg A. Payne, Jessica J.H. Severn and David Dozier
illustrated that the uses and gratifications model works
well with the specialized business press. This study is
particularly enlightening because it pointed out differences
between how readers use consumer and business magazines.
Theoretical weakness is not peculiar to the scholarship
covering the specialized business press, however. In
general, theoretical foundations to the research into the
magazine industry have not been strong, as Marcia
Prior-Miller pointed out in her work.
Journalism/communication researchers in the specialized
business press have also failed to build links across
disciplinary lines. A notable exception is the article by
Susan Caudill, Ed Caudill, and Michael Singletary on
professional values in newspaper journalism. Building
on the research on professionalization done in sociology,
the three researchers used the classified advertising in one
business publication, _Editor & Publisher_, to chart changes
over time (or, in this case, the lack of changes over time).
Professionalization research, especially, lends itself to
the use of the business press from a wide variety of
industries as a primary source.
The shortcomings in research in the specialized
business press should be, perhaps, forgiven because of the
rudimentary state of the field. However, it is unclear why
the business press has not been studied as extensively as
newspapers, broadcasting, advertising, public relations, or
consumer magazines. It is older than many of these areas.
It remains a lucrative branch of American journalism. It
performs a service to the industries it covers.
Several explanations have been offered. First, a lack
of awareness of the specialized business press in
journalism/communication programs. The industry itself may
be known, but research opportunities in the field may not be
recognized. Part of this may be related to the professional
backgrounds of those teaching. Few have received their
professional training in the specialized business field, and
this appears to be an important factor for researchers
examining this field and possibly others as well. Certainly,
this merits examination.
Second, the age-old shortages of time and resources.
Unlike other branches of research where grants are
available, there are few foundations ready to fund
research into the specialized business press. Moreover, the
magazine instructors, the natural group to do such research,
lack the time to do so. As Peter Gerlach pointed out in his
study of magazine research in _Journalism Quarterly_,
those who publish on magazines often lack the time,
interest, resources, and expertise to do a considerable
amount of research into the field.
Third, the lack of primary sources. This especially
affects historical research into the field. Until recently,
libraries did not retain long runs of specialized business
publications. The holdings for periodicals covering
transportation, retail, service, construction, and industrial
fields have been especially neglected. Lack of sources
means that even if resarchers wanted to do historical
research in these periodicals, they would find it difficult.
Moreover, publishing companies and individual editors from
the specialized business press have seldom contributed
corporate and/or personal files to libraries. Nor have
archivists made much of a point to solicit such
contributions. Yet again, this hinders extensive research
into the field.
In spite of all these shortcomings, there are some
positive developments that might help trigger additional
research. During the past 10 years, a number of
dissertations have been written on the specialized business
press. Anthony D. Hill has written on J.A. Jackson's page in
_Billboard_ and noted how he covered the Harlem Renaissance.
Jean Russel Moss has used the nursing journals to retell the
history of nursing, plugging in a cultural interpretation of
changing expectations of women. Mary Norman Woods studied
the _American Architect and Building News_ as the first
successful architectural magazine and as part of a larger
communication revolution in the late nineteenth century.
Unfortunately, none of these has come out of journalism/com-
munication programs. Hill is a product of a theatre
program; Moss comes from American Studies; and Woods has a
fine arts background. Nonetheless, these dissertations
represent interesting interpretations of specialized
business publications covering a variety of fields.
Advances in computer technology, likewise, may be a
boon to studying the specialized business press. Because
research is done in a number of different disciplines, it
has been difficult to locate these studies, papers, and
dissertations. With advances in CD-ROM technology, however,
it has become easier to locate such materials and, thereby,
build upon the research and interpretations in other
disciplines. This should bring a new richness to the
journalism/communication research into this field. Advances
in computer technology should also trigger new research into
the business press. The ABI/Inform reference group, alone,
represents an easy access point to some 800 business-related
publications, including professional, academic and trade
journals. For academics already lacking time, this tool
represents an easy, fast way to search vast amounts of
periodicals quickly by topic, event, issue, or individual.
Its usefulness was already demonstrated by Milavsky's study
on journal and trade publication treatment of globalization.
Thus these new developments may lead to new and better
research into the business press. New studies may not
necessarily be generated within journalism/communication
programs. Departments of humanities and schools of business
are likely to continue their work on the business press.
However, advances in computer technology should allow each
area--business, humanities, and journalism/communication--
to build on the work of the other. This access should lead
to better research, research that benefits from different
interpretations, new theoretical approaches and
methodologies. And that can only lead to a fuller
understanding of a branch of American journalism that will
soon celebrate its 220th birthday.
 The South-Carolina Price-Current dates to 1774 and
has generally been credited as one of the first business
publications in what became the continental United States.
David P. Forsyth, The Business Press in America, 1750-1865
(Philadelphia: Chilton Books, 1964), 20.
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 Dennis Jeffers, "A Descriptive Study of Perceived
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in Livestock Industry Magazines," Paper presented at the
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David Dozier, "Uses and Gratifications Motives as Indicators
of Magazine Readership," Journalism Quarterly 65 (Winter
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of `Advertising Age'," Journalism History l (Autumn 1974):
 See, for example, how the term is used in the
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 Alicia Donovan was research manager for Modern
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in American, British, and German Ads," Industrial Marketing
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 Paul Sullivan, "G.D. Crain Jr. and The Founding of
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from 1966 to Date," Journalism Quarterly 52 (Summer 1975):
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annual meeting of the Association for Education in
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the Specialized Business Press," Journalism Quarterly 65
(Winter 1988): 996-998.
 K. Jeffers, "A Descriptive Study of Perceived
Impact of Gender on Working Environment and Job
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Endres, "Business Press Journalists: Who They Are, What They
Do, and How They View Their Craft," Gallatin Review 8
(Winter 1988-1989): 23-45.
 Robert G. Hays and Ann E. Reisner, "Farm
Journalists and Advertiser Interference: Pressures on
Ethical Standards," Journalism Quarterly 68 (Spring/Summer
 Greg A. Payne, Jessica J.H. Severn, and David
Dozier, "Uses and Gratifications Motives as Indicators of
Magazine Readership," Journalism Quarterly 65 (Winter 1988):
 Marcia Prior-Miller, "An Analysis of `Magazine
Type': Toward an Empirically Based Typology of Magazines and
Non-Newspaper Periodicals," Paper presented at the annual
meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism
and Mass Communication, Montreal, Canada, 5 August 1992.
 Caudill, Caudill, and Singletary, "`Journalist
Wanted': Trade Journal Ads as Indicators of Professional
Values," 576-580, 633.
 The link between the professional experience of a
researcher and the scholarly work done by that individual
needs to be explored.
 Peter Gerlach, "Research About Magazines Appearing
in Journalism Quarterly," Journalism Quarterly 64 (Spring
 Anthony Duane Hill, "J.A. Jackson's Page in
Billboard: A Voice for Black Performance during the Harlem
Renaissance between 1920-1925" (Ph.D. diss., New York
University, 1988); Jean Russel Moss, "Walking the Tightrope:
The Study of Nursing as Told by Nineteenth-Century Nursing
Journals" (Ph.D. diss., University of Iowa, 1987); Mary
Norman Woods, "The American Architect and Building News,
1876-1907" (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1983).
Author Information: Kathleen L. Endres
School of Communication
University of Akron
Akron, OH 44325
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