Bricks, cement and roof-cladding - not the kind of subjects you will see covered in the average consumer glossy, but the kind of material that gets readers of construction titles furiously turning pages.
Titles like Construction News and The Builder may seem dull as the proverbial dishwater to the uninitiated, but for those working in the building industry they are influential channels for news and advertising.
The JICBUILD 2000 survey, which provided data on the building industry and readership of building titles, showed that the market is divided into:
- 20,295 architects,
- 17,259 architectural technologists,
- 12,165 quantity surveyors,
- 4,873 building surveyors,
- 8,733 building services engineers,
- 9,539 housebuilders and
- 26,824 general building contractors
A flick through some of the latest issues of building magazines reveals in-depth news coverage, interviews with market opinion formers and countless advertising opportunities, from colour spreads and column sponsorships to classified recruitment ads.
"The construction industry is very healthy," says Graham Harman, managing director of Emap Construct. "It is in its ninth consecutive year of growth and is outperforming the GDP. It is a good place to be."
Tony Arnold, publishing director at The Builder Group, agrees that the market is in good health. "If you compare construction to most other industry sectors, it has fared better. We are at record levels of paid subscribers and our advertising yield is at the highest it has ever been."
Indeed, the success of Building has been recognized by the Periodical Publishers' Association, which has voted it business magazine of the year twice in the last four years. It has just been shortlisted again.
The concrete evidence
It is a lucrative market and to prove it, here's some concrete evidence: Emap estimates that the display market in construction titles is worth £13.2m, with recruitment worth £17.5m.
There is a vast array of titles in the building marketplace, from mass-market titles like Building and Construction News to more niche operators such as World Cement and Show House. The ABC has 13 titles listed under building - with dozens more listed under "architecture" and "public works, construction and civil engineering". You can see the circulation of these titles in the tables below.
There is a mix of weekly and monthly titles, providing up-to-date news and in-depth buying information respectively.
There are more than 150 titles that can be loosely included within the term "building", but most industry observers say there are about a dozen "core" titles with a broad remit that is not specific to a material or type of work.
The scale of building job is a key definer of a title's audience. For example, New Civil Engineer, the official magazine of the Institution of Civil Engineers, targets people who work on massive-scale projects (a recent issue looked at the £130m redesign of Zurich airport.)
But whatever the scale of readers' business, Construction News publishing director Graham Anderson says they are reading the magazine to get advice on "how to do the job better". The sheer volume of small building businesses means that legal and accountancy advice is also an important part of the mix.
Almost all titles are distributed via controlled circulation and paid-for subscriptions, but a small percentage is sold on the news-stand.
In recent years, the magazines have been forced to adapt their offer as the target audience has changed.
As The Builder Group's Arnold explains, architects are no longer ruling the roost.
"Ten years ago, the belief within the industry was that the architect was king. This has moved on now. There is much more teamwork. These people now jointly decide building materials and equipment they will use," he says.
Richard Dray, publisher of Quantum Business Media's Building Products, adds:
"It used to be that, by and large, the architect was unquestionably the dominant professional in the process of specifying products for your average building project.
"Planning a press schedule for a building product manufacturer or supplier was, therefore, a reasonably simple task, with a relatively limited selection of architecturally biased titles available. But over the course of time, the process of building design and specification has evolved to often rely as much on other professionals as it does on the architect.
"Refer to any of the major readership research documents from the last decade or so and you will see that many deal with the question of who in the specification 'chain' is responsible for product selection and purchase. All of them illustrate that the borders of responsibility between job functions are increasingly being broken down.
"Today, therefore, very few manufacturers and suppliers can get away with aiming an advertising schedule exclusively at the architect."
Essential sources of revenue
The market has grown to encapsulate a whole host of websites, some of which are essential sources of recruitment revenue. Emap's ConstructionPlus site is returning a healthy profit to the business.
Events are also popular and profitable. Emap has a bi-annual trade show called Interbuild.
The Builder Group's Building Awards, which attract an audience of 1,500 people to London's Grosvenor Hotel, reward the achievements and innovations of the leading companies in the building industry.
And the importance of recruitment advertising in the building and construction press is highlighted by Anderson. "It is a highly mobile industry and it moves on all the time. Our readers want to know where their next job is coming from, so recruitment is a key circulation driver.
"They also buy a magazine because it contains items that are useful and relevant to their business," he says.
The market has not managed to dodge the well-publicized media downturn, but a strong recruitment market has kept the best titles healthy, according to Emap Construct's Harman.
"The market is beginning to see some slight worries, but this is among the peripheral titles and those that rely on display advertising," he says. "Any publication that is reliant on one or two revenue sources is going to be finding it a little tough. You have to be more than a publisher - you have to think about the whole range of marketing solutions that you can provide."
Hence, publishers with titles that have associated websites are thankful for the alternative source of revenue when the chips are down with display.
This is an opinion shared by Arnold, who feels there is some consolidation ahead in the market. "I do fear for the magazines that only have one revenue stream," he says.
For advertisers, the building and construction press is an ideal channel for communicating the virtues of building materials, transport and plant hire.
Alan Williams, marketing director for Volvo Construction Equipment, says construction titles form the backbone of his ad spend, with only a small amount of money diverted away from them into direct mail.
Too many titles?
He says there there is a "broad church" of titles - possibly too many he suggests - that provide access to his target audience of key opinion formers and purchasing decision-makers.
He says Construction News is probably the most widely known brand - and also the most influential. But he uses a cross-section of titles including Contract Journal and Building Trade & Industry.
"From our perspective, we sell high value equipment. More than directly driving sales it is about brand awareness and positioning," he says.
"There is also the after-sales support for people who have just bought one. Seeing it in the press makes them feel good about their purchase."
To offer advertisers such a targeted audience, building titles spend a great deal of time honing their distribution. They cannot simply send out copies to anyone and everyone.
Advertisers want a guarantee that they are hitting a specific target audience.
One of the major talking points in the building market in recent times has been reader research. Up to the year 2000, there was a survey - sponsored by all the major building publishers - called JICBUILD, as mentioned earlier in this feature.
This is no longer published following the decision by The Builder Group to commission its own independently researched NOP survey.
Market share is seen as a major selling point in the building market, but most publishers agree that it should not be at the expense of ABC data.
In many ways, construction titles sum up the qualities of B2B publishing. The PPA's research states that business publications are regularly used by 87% of decision-makers - more than any other medium. For a building firm with a product to advertise, this is a vital audience to hit.
Magazine Total ave net circ
Construction Manager (Builder Group) 31,715
PIR Construction (Harrison Belmont) 30,005
What's New in Building? (CMP Information) 28,559
Building (Builder Group) 25,402
Housing Today (Builder Group) 22,376
Inside Housing (Inside Communications) 22,030
Housebuilder( Housebuilder Publications) 19,782
The Builder (McDermott Publishing) 17,107
Housebuilder & Developers Datafile (Parker Ellis) 14,733
Magazine Total ave net circ
New Civil Engineer (Emap Construct) 55,831
Contract Journal (Reed Business Information) 28,391
Construction News (Emap Construct) 27,224
The Structural Engineer (Inst of Structural Engineers) 19,401
Building Trade & Industry (Mac-Brooks Publishing) 15,305
Magazine Total ave net circ
Building Products (Quantum Business Media) 29,133
Building Design (CMP Information) 27,027
Property Week (Property Media) 25,439
RIBA Journal (RIBA Journals) 25,121
Architectural Review (Emap Construct) 22,793
Architecture Today (Architecture Today) 21,423
*Construction Manager, PIR Construction and What's New in Building? are also classed as architecture titles by ABC