Business 2.0's Long Goodbye?

There is a hole in today’s announcement from Time Inc.’s Business and Finance Network, the unit that houses Time Inc. business titles like Fortune and Money, in that the fate of longtime laggard magazine Business 2.0 continues to twist slowly in the wind.

Today’s news confirmed chatter that had been circulating for days, that the unit’s current president and longtime Time Inc. veteran Christopher Poleway would leave his post. His replacement is Vivek Shah, the well-regarded President of the Business and Finance Network’s digital arm. (A clue pertaining to today’s move came yesterday morning with a mass email that mistakenly circulated an updated press bio for Shah—and which was recalled one minute later. [UPDATE: actually, an old press bio.])

Meanwhile, speculation on the potential shutdown of Business 2.0 remains rampant, and has been written up in the previously linked New York Post piece as well as on the blog The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs in the past week alone. I spent a few days late last month chasing a tip that a 2.0 shutdown was imminent.

A reasonable guess remains that Business 2.0 will eventually cease to exist as a print publication and become a Web-only destination, with staffing scaled back accordingly. But no announcement appears to be pending and, indeed, it may be weeks or even months before one is made. A Business 2.0 transition to Web-only status has some high-level support at Time Inc., and there’s ample recent precedent for such a move. These days, magazines aren’t shut down per se—they just go all-digital. (Not that the Web is forever. In 2006 Time Inc. made Teen People a web-only publication. In April, the company shut down its Web site as well.)

Through the July issue, according to Media Industry Newsletter, ad pages at Business 2.0 were off 37.2%, with a 55.7% loss in its most recent issue alone. Ad page losses at business titles are legion in 2007—including at BusinessWeek, which competes directly with Fortune and the Time Warner Web site—but the fall-off at Business 2.0 is by far the worst in the category, and it comes atop a ad page loss in 2006 as well.

Questions are also swirling regarding the wisdom of the current strategy that underpins the Business Financial Network. The magazines are now sold primarily as a, well, network, and the titles lack dedicated publishers. The magazine brands are also subsumed online under the Web site, which is a source of some irritation for staffers at the print products.

That said, Time Inc.’s top brass frequently points to as one of its digital success stories, and Shah made his bones there. So wholesale change there may be a long shot, even though some expect key magazine brands—like Fortune—to become much more prominent online. (Under its new top editor Andy Serwer, Fortune has been on a hiring binge, snapping up the New York Times’ Richard Siklos and BusinessWeek’s Jessi Hempel.)

The fate of the current sales-side strategy is harder to handicap.

A Time Inc. spokeswoman declined to make Shah available for a phone interview today.