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Business

Editorial: I’m happy to say C&EN is hiring

by Michael McCoy
April 30, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 14

 

The drumbeat of layoffs in the media world continues. Recently, the internet media company BuzzFeed revealed that it would shut down BuzzFeed News as part of a plan to cut about 180 jobs. In the months before, online news companies including Vox Media and Insider also announced layoffs. Another firm, Vice Media, is for sale.

Stalwart news organizations aren’t immune, either. Dow Jones, the publisher of the Wall Street Journal, recently said it would lay off close to 2% of its staff of 5,500, according to stories in the Journal. And the USA Today publisher, Gannett, laid off some 600 employees in two rounds of cost cutting last year.

C&EN, in contrast, is hiring!

Now, to be fair, we are not expanding but rather working to restore our staff to full strength after several departures in recent months. One of those departures was our editor in chief, who was let go in December. I have been filling in as editor until a replacement is found, and I can report that the process is nearing completion. In addition, a new policy reporter, Krystal Vasquez, started last month; another new reporter is nearing their first day; and other positions are being filled as well.

I’m grateful that our publisher, the American Chemical Society, and its new CEO, Albert G. Horvath, are committed to rebuilding C&EN’s ranks. And one reason for their willingness is that C&EN operates under a different business model than the likes of BuzzFeed, Vice, and Vox.

Those companies were founded as for-profit online news organizations intent on challenging legacy publishers. But giving content away for free and paying the staff with advertising proceeds didn’t pan out, especially as news sites became dependent on platforms like Apple, Google, and Facebook to reach readers.

All publishers, including ACS, are struggling in the digital age. Before the rise of the internet, C&EN did pretty well. The print magazine attracted ads from companies that wanted to reach chemists and research managers who bought chemicals and equipment for labs, pilot plants, and manufacturing facilities.

But as happened for most media outlets, the internet allowed those companies to reach chemists directly, without C&EN as the intermediary. Our sales and marketing staff has adapted. Today, much of our revenue comes from advertisements on our website, as well as from more targeted products like white papers and webinars. These channels can allow companies to interact with prospective customers in a more meaningful way than a catchy ad.

Still, we can’t close the gap between revenue and expenses like we used to. Our financial situation is presented starkly in the editor in chief job posting on the website of Jack Farrell & Associates, our executive search firm: Annual operating revenues: $6.9 million; annual operating expenses: $12.5 million.

So, what is the business model for C&EN, and why does ACS support us? As Horvath noted in this space a few weeks ago, readers frequently cite C&EN as one of the leading benefits of ACS membership. The society has two key profit centers—its journal-publishing operation and the chemical information service CAS—but C&EN is arguably the ACS offering that best reminds members of why they joined.

And C&EN is also an important tool for attracting new members, especially with our online presence. In the first quarter of 2023 alone, more than 4,000 people set up accounts on our website so they could read up to six C&EN articles per month. An additional 268 people became community associates, the most basic level of ACS membership, and 48 became paid ACS members. We welcome them all.

C&EN could, and will, be doing more with newsletters, community platforms, and other products to attract advertisers and new ACS members, but these figures are still pretty good. They demonstrate C&EN’s value to ACS and help explain why we are hiring.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.

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