The end of an era at RBI (nearly)

With the disposal of Farmers Weekly, my former employer is all but out of the journalism business.

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

If you go back a decade, many of the posts on this blog were about Reed Business Information. I was employed there, in their editorial development team, and the work we were doing to bring our editorial practices into the 21st century formed a major subject of my writing.

I haven't worked there for over seven years, so clearly the rate of posts about the company has dropped to effectively zero. But I now have an excuse to make one last post about the company where I worked for 14 years. They've sold one of the titles that I enjoyed working with most:

Mark Allen Group (MAG), the UK’s fastest growing B2B publisher, is acquiring the 85-year-old Farmers Weekly from Reed Business Information (RBI) for a price believed to be some £14-15m. The deal is expected to complete during January.

With that sale, my former boss in the RBI editorial development team will probably leave RBI, as he's now editorial director of the title. And thus ends the story of that team. And pretty much the employment of journalists at what was once one of the UK's largest journalistic publishers.

When is a publisher not a publisher?

When RBI made me redundant back in 2011, it knocked my confidence, and quite badly. I'd spent a decade turning myself into an expert on all the emerging techniques and tools of digital publishing — and they were making me redundant? That felt like failure — but it's clear that I lacked the perspective needed to see what was actually happening.

(Despite that confidence knock, I promptly went self-employed. I'm not sure if that was insanity or insight.)

This news is final conformation of what I'd suspected for a long time. I was redundant. RBI was getting out of editorial in a big way, and thus, there wasn't much need for an editorial development expert, was there?

However, there's something rather chilling about this news. It means that the company that was once know as Reed Business Publishing is, essentially, no longer an editorial publisher. Its solution to the challenge of making journalism work online has been to bail out completely. Perhaps we should have seen the writing on the wall over a decade ago, when the "Publishing" was replaced by "Information", but it's clear that a company that used to be home to dozens of print magazines is done with journalism.

Well, nearly.

With the Farmers Weekly disposal, there's is, in fact, one major editorial brand left there:

The RELX subsidiary still publishes the 161-year-old Estates Gazette (bought for £59m in 1990) as part of its property information portfolio, which is why that magazine is said not to be for sale. Don’t bet on it.

Yup. It still owns and publishes the magazine I worked on for nearly 10 years. It's the only one left.

The irony does not escape me.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.