It’s hard to see the sale of Architectural Record magazine (and its sister publication ENR) to BNP Media as anything but a shift downmarket, since it joins a portfolio that includes Stone World and Floor Trends. It is Record’s second sale in less than a year, having been already spun off from its longtime corporate parent, the McGraw-Hill Companies. Record and other publications aimed at architects are not immune from the struggle of condescendingly termed “legacy” publications that teeter in the face of punishing economics. Does the fate of Record, founded 1891, matter to readers who now have so many ways to access information?
The fit of Record and BNP is not obvious: Record has a much broader news and interpretive reach than BNP’s product-oriented portfolio of publications. With Record and ENR as flagships, the product publications will gain greater visibility and credibility, and so the marriage could work out nicely. (I am not an objective observer, I must disclose, since I was a long-time editor at Record and still write for the magazine.)
Record has long been influential as a journalistic enterprise, having won a National Magazine Award for General Excellence in 2003 (the highest award given to periodicals), and that is what architects and people who believe in architecture should care about.
Under editor-in-chief Cathleen McGuigan, a veteran of Newsweek, Record has become a highly competitive, news-driven source of information. With 93,000 subscriptions, it reaches a very high percentage of the nation’s registered architects. Record’s May “money” issue reported on super-luxe skyscrapers, philanthropy and architecture, public-private partnerships, mergers, and socially inclined firms. Such an extraordinary dive into the interaction of cash and culture is undertaken by no other publication.
Though Record competes with two journalistically driven competitors, Architect and the The Architect’s Newspaper, the profession, already under siege in many quarters, needs many voices to be heard, since they all make the case for the value of architects. Architecture coverage is rapidly vanishing from non-specialist and general-interest publications. In so many cities I visit, architecture that transcends lowest-common-denominator development norms seems to have all but disappeared, with no outcry and no advocacy.
The web has enabled many kinds of electronic publishing to flourish, but with a few exceptions—like the extraordinary Places Journal—there is still almost no substantial analysis or news gathering to be found. Record editors visit the projects they write about. Setting and context really matter as anyone who takes architecture seriously knows. Most bloggers and most electronic outlets write from renderings and fact sheets available from press reps—or just crib what other online outlets are writing. So often they are wrong.
Record’s influence extends well beyond its core readership of professionals. Corporate executives, facilities managers, related professionals, and others who work with architects scout talent and note trends via Record. The magazine publishes emerging talents before they become household names—a very important function, given the few paths firms have to garner attention if they aren’t supported by trust funds.
Journalistically driven enterprises continue to face major profitability challenges. Record, and BNP are not immune. it will take tenacity, creativity, and innovation to make the merged companies solidly profitable and evolve with the ever-changing media landscape. But if Record disappears or is dumbed down, it is unlikely any publication of similar seriousness would arise to serve architects.