All change

I’ve been asked a few times in the last week or so about what is happening at Centaur Media and what the implications will be for Laboratorytalk and the other Pro-Talk sites.

To answer this we really need to untangle about three different threads, and provide a little backstory. So here goes:

Background: Pro-Talk was the brainchild of Chris Rand and Andy Pye, and launched with Engineeringtalk way back at the end of the 20th century. Engineeringtalk was initially a weekly email newsletter backed up by a website archive, but the site rapidly became the real focus of the enterprise (although the newsletter was always important).

In fairly short order, the concept was expanded to the manufacturing and electronics sectors, with (you’ve guessed it) Manufacturingtalk and Electronicstalk, and it was at about this time that I got involved. I’d just been spat out of the dotcom bubble when the start-up I’d joined, VerticalNet, had folded. I’d been European employee number 6 in what should have been the reinvention of B2B publishing, backed by a quarter of a billion dollars of Microsoft and BT finance. It failed for multiple reasons, which I outlined in a well-received article for New Media Age at that time.

When Vert entered its death spiral, one of the first people to call me was Chris Rand. Soon we’d joined forces to launch the fourth Pro-Talk site, Laboratorytalk. I’ve edited this since its launch in 2001, and just last week (29 June 2011) published the 500th edition of the Laboratorytalk weekly newsletter.

Further launches came, and by the middle of the decade there were about a dozen Pro-Talk B2B websites covering a range of publishing niches.

Pro-Talk was acquired by Centaur Media, a substantial magazine publisher, in mid-2006. After bouncing around internally for a while, the portfolio became part of a group based around The Engineer, a long-established magazine.

Moving this story along rapidly to the present day, there are three separate but interlinked issues. First is the absorption by The Engineer of most of the remaining Pro-Talk sites; second, whether Laboratorytalk will join them there; and third is the recent news of editorial layoffs across Centaur.

Engineer Source: this new consolidated website takes Engineeringtalk, Processingtalk, Electronicstalk, and Manufacturingtalk, and rolls them up into one great big web resource under the banner of The Engineer. Find it here. Source was launched on Monday last week, shortly before Centaur’s announcement of redundancies.

Will Laboratorytalk join the others within this engineering website? At this point I think it probably will, despite being an uneasy fit alongside its industrial partners. Yet only a few months ago I was leading a project to create a new and more differentiated website for the laboratory sector. Whether that project has any life left I do not know, because I withdrew from the development team after what in the music world might be termed ‘artistic differences’. Maybe it will resurface, but that seems less likely in light of…

The wide-ranging cutbacks announced by Centaur last week. About 10% of editorial staff, or around 60 jobs, have gone. Two magazines, Design Week and New Media Age, have folded their print editions and are now web-only (ironically it was NMA that published my account of the VerticalNet debacle, a decade ago). Within the Engineer group, I’m learning of some surprising cuts and job losses, and it’s probably too early to tell what the effect of these will be on the future of Laboratorytalk.

But it seems likely that, whatever that future is, I will play no part in it. I’m informed that my position as editor of Laboratorytalk is likely to become redundant, perhaps as soon as a couple of weeks from now. Officially we will enter a period of consultation in the next few days, but in reality I’m polishing my CV and looking for that next opportunity. Interesting times!

UPDATE, A YEAR LATER: In the event, Laboratorytalk was not merged into The Engineer but sold off, along with Process Engineering magazine, to a start-up company formed by Engineer publisher Sean Marshall after his own redundancy. A few months after that, to widespread surprise, The Engineer itself folded into a web-only offering. The longest published engineering magazine in the world, it was first inked in 1856. The last print issue was seen on 16 July 2012. I declined an offer to join Sean’s start-up, putting my energies into freelancing and my own launch, LabHomepage, instead.

2 comments for “All change

  1. 4 July 2011 at 15:13

    It’s a shame that the original online expansion plans which Centaur had when purchasing the Pro-Talk stable never really came to fruition, resulting in some of the websites and newsletters “bouncing around”, as you say, to this day. Best wishes for whatever you do next, Russ.

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