Telecom Asia magazine dead at 29: a eulogy

telecom asia
The cover of the first issue of Telecom Asia, Spring 1990. (Image scan credit: John Tanner)

After 29 years, Telecom Asia is no more. It has ceased to be. It’s expired and gone to meet its maker. Etc and so on and things of that nature generally.

That’s a shame. And as its longest serving editor, I felt I should deliver the eulogy.

Telecom Asia was born in the spring of 1990 as an offshoot of US-based magazine TE&M (Telephone Engineer & Management, which changed its name to America’s Network in 1994). I started in August 1996 as an associate editor and finished as editor in chief in August 2016.

And I owe it all to the fact that the editor at the time, Robert Poe, was so desperately in need of an associate editor that he decided to take a chance on someone who had no experience in print journalism apart from a handful of crappy music reviews for a college newspaper, and no telecoms background at all. In fact, my only three qualifications were: (1) I was available, (2) I had a healthy interest in communications technology of all kinds, and (3) I could write complete sentences.

I was actually surprised when Bob hired me. But I played along, because it was either that or work for the Radio Corporation of Singapore playing American country music on Sundays. I like to think I made the right decision.

My plan was to stick with it for five years, after which I’d have enough experience on my CV to get a job in print journalism elsewhere. Obviously, I ended up staying a little longer than planned.

TA went through a lot of changes in those 20 years. It began life as an engineering magazine for ‘Bellheads’ – in fact, when I started working there, we were prohibited from writing anything about Internet or IP technology because it was considered non-telecoms technology (although for some reason, Ethernet LAN was acceptable).

By 1998, the magazine had shifted to an independent journalism model analyzing the industry’s top technology trends and their impact on the business. When print began its decline in the 00s, TA shifted to the web and – because web banners don’t generate the kinds of revenue that print ads did in their heyday – added events to its portfolio that eventually became its largest source of revenue.

It was an amazing run, and I got to work with some amazing people along the way. I won’t name names because, as sure as God made little green apples, I’ll forget someone. But I’ll say that the reason TA survived as long as it did was because we had an excellent and talented team of editors, production people, event producers and support staff who worked well together. And remarkably, this was true even as the staff line-up changed over the years.

And then we came to the end

So much for the past. Now Telecom Asia is history. US-based Questex has decided to kill off all of Questex Asia’s media titles so it can focus strictly on events. It will be interesting to see how they do that, since many of Questex Asia’s events were built on the backs of its media titles. But I’m sure they have a plan. Good luck!

Anyway, while part of me understands that magazines (print or digital) don’t last forever – and honestly, 29 years is a pretty good run for any title – part of me also believes that TA didn’t have to end now.

To be clear, I don’t have any inside scoop on why Questex ultimately pulled the plug on its Asia-based media titles. Or maybe I should say I don’t know why the company didn’t make a greater effort to save them.

Maybe it’s just that Questex Asia’s media business is simply another victim of digital disruption that wasn’t quite able to adjust its business model quickly enough to cope with the shifting economics of the media industry. It didn’t help that the telecoms industry that TA covered was going through its own disruptive changes, which in turn had a disruptive impact on marketing budgets.

That’s probably true to an extent. But I think there’s probably a little more to it than that. I’d probably get sued if I tell you what I really think, but suffice to say that at the end of the day, I feel that Questex decided that its Asian publications weren’t worth saving because why would they?

From a pure numbers point of view, it’s a pretty simple equation – events make money, digital media makes less money, and the profit margins aren’t providing this year’s private-equity investors as fat an ROI as they would like, so it’s a no-brainer – especially when we’re talking about a legacy brand that was inherited as part of a portfolio. After all, it’s not like they invested time, effort, heart and soul into building that media brand from scratch – so why should they care? Why bother? Growing profit margins to infinity is far more important. Better to kill them off – it’s easier and simpler.

Or is that unfair? I mean, for all I know, Questex did everything in its power to avoid this painful decision but its hand was forced by market realities. They had no choice. Man down, move on.

Sure. What do I know? I’m not a businessman, and P&L sheets make my gout flare up. I’m a sentimental old hack who would have loved to see Telecom Asia carry on well into the digital age – and I seriously believed that it would. Questex decided otherwise. Hey ho.

So all I can say now is that my heart goes out to all the people in the Hong Kong office who kept not just TA but all of Questex Asia’s titles running for as long as they did, as well as all my former TA colleagues who contributed to TA’s rise to success over the years. To each and every one of them I raise my glass. They are the heroes of this story. I’ll leave it to posterity to decide who the villains are.

Telecom Asia (1990-2019): Requiescat in pace. That’s all she wrote.

Likes
Please feel free to share

1 Comment

What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.