Airport-centric magazine takes flight in special niche
By Joe Taschler of the Journal Sentinel
Jan. 30, 2013
Paul Bowers got caught up in the nation’s most recent economic downturn, and he couldn’t be happier.
Bowers is founder and publisher of Airport Improvement magazine, a Brookfield business-to-business publication that serves the airport industry.
Going on five years after he established it, the magazine continues to gain altitude.
Bowers started the magazine after he was laid off from his job as a vice president at a publishing company.
“Necessity is a great motivator,” he said. “I often thought in previous years ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to have my own business.’ But I never was motivated because there was this steady paycheck working for somebody else until one day, it was gone.
“All of a sudden you’re out on the street. It’s a very humbling experience being out of a job.”
He developed a business model that was based on “contracting out everything that I couldn’t do myself. I ended up contracting for web. I contracted for all the editorial because I’m not a writer, I’m a business person. I contracted with the graphics and production, and found a printer locally.”
He found the people he needed to fit the business plan.
“It seems like there is a whole community of really talented people out there, whether you are looking at web, writers – it’s amazing what you can do,” Bowers said. “I was able to put this together, and the market has been very, very receptive to what we’ve been able to do.”
Part of the business plan also involved choosing to launch a print publication, Bowers said.
“I see so many stories about how print is dead and how publishing in general is a severely challenged industry,” he said. “Maybe if you’re riding the same horse, there’s not a lot of opportunity. But if you take a look at perhaps changing how you go to market, there are still growth opportunities.”
The type of publication, in this case a specialty business-to-business publication, is also important, said Amy F. Fischbach, president, American Society of Business Publication Editors, a trade association.
“The writers and editors really get to know the market they are covering,” she said. “Pretty much the main goal of any B2B magazine is to help their readers do their jobs more efficiently and more productively.”
Fischbach is contributing editor at Transmission & Distribution World Magazine.
Airports over airlines
Perhaps the biggest piece of Bower’s strategy was choosing the subject matter for the magazine.
“I could have focused on any one sector of the market,” Bowers said. “I chose airports rather than airlines.”
The decision was based, at least partially, on numbers.
At the beginning of this century, 10 airlines accounted for slightly more than 90% of available commercial passenger air travel in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. By early 2012, those 10 airlines, through mergers, had become five airlines controlling about 85% of the domestic passenger market.
As the airlines were consolidating, and in some cases disappearing, airports were busy and bustling.
“More people want to fly now than ever before,” Bowers said. “The label of the airline may change, but people want to travel for personal reasons, for business reasons. If you look at long-term trends, more people are flying than ever before.
“Airports have a lot more stability than airlines do,” he added. “As long as people want to fly, airports have to process these people, which means they need runways, terminals, parking, IT – things of that nature.”
Security and concessions are among other topics the magazine covers. “I feel very fortunate that my audience is receptive to what I’m doing, and I see a lot of opportunity for continued growth,” Bowers said.
Bowers said he has learned a few things in the process of launching a new business and had some advice for anyone who might be in a similar situation.
“Stay positive,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to reach out to anybody who you think is in a position to help you. To this day, I’ll never forget how others were so generous with their time and advice in terms of helping me.”
And, he said, set reasonable goals.
“You don’t have to create a brand new product like an iPhone to be successful,” he said.
“Don’t try to reinvent yourself in an industry that you have no relationships with and no experience with. Do what you know best to give yourself the best opportunity to succeed.
“You want to put the odds in your favor to the greatest degree possible.”
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