I was saddened to hear that the mining and metals industry’s only truly global weekly business-oriented paper publication, Mining Journal has been relegated to fortnightly, having been a weekly for over 180 years, including maintaining weekly publication through two world wars. As a former CEO of Mining Journal I feel deeply that this is a retrograde step and is a direct result of a failed attempt to transform a publishing company run by people whose hearts and souls were steeped in the mining industry to what is nowadays in effect a conference company run by professional event organisers and publishers. The publications are now seemingly primarily a means for promoting the company’s various events. Perhaps this is necessary for a specialist publishing company to stay afloat in this day and age, but its whole ethos has changed as a consequence.
Time was when Mining Journal Limited under Michael West’s guidance from the 1960-90s and then later under my own for the final decade of the 20th Century and into the beginning of the 21st, employed no less than 15 qualified and experienced mining engineers, geologists, metallurgists and mineral economists to run the publications and its various divisions – more than most London-based mining consultancies at that time. We would not take editorial staff on unless they had prior mining, geological or metallurgical industry experience. It was very much an integral part of the industry we served rather than a publishing company which just happened to have an interest in mining.
In the latter part of the 20th Century, the company published Mining Journal (weekly), Mining Magazine (monthly), Mining Annual Review and Metals & Minerals Annual Review (both once per year), Mining Environmental Management (quarterly), International Gold Mining Newsletter (monthly) which became World Gold under Paul Burton, World Gold Analyst (quarterly), Geodrilling International (bi-monthly) and the two allied underground construction titles - World Tunnelling and No-Dig International (which was subsequently retitled as Trenchless World.) In short Mining Journal Limited became a pretty significant mining and associated construction oriented publishing house. We also ran Mining Journal Research Services which undertook independent consulting work for mining and metals sector clients.
But unfortunately it was not to last. We got into financial difficulties, in a major part due to an over-generous final salary pension scheme which we were loath to interfere with, coupled with an industry downturn and difficulties in maintaining subscription sales for our flagship Mining Journal publication under competition from new free information options (although most without the comment and analytical coverage of Mining Journal) which had become available via the internet.
We thus, after much soul-searching, eventually were forced to sell out to Venture Capitalists, who launched the hugely successful Mines & Money series of conferences, but never managed to transform the fortunes of the paper publications. This was despite an apparent view that a bunch of mining engineers (the previous management) knew nothing about publishing and that the new owners would be able to double advertising income in a matter of months. If anything advertising in the key publications fell despite the new company employing three or four times the number of sales people.
Gradually all the original staff and support left for pastures new or retired. Nowadays staff turnover seems particularly high by past standards - there is only one of Mining Journal’s pre-takeover team still with the company and, as we understand it, the whole atmosphere is hugely different from the rather pleasant working environment of its independent days. A shame, but that is the way much of the service industry has developed. It’s not just specific to Mining Journal.
This is not say that the new publishers did not make some positive changes. Mining Journal itself is definitely a more attractive looking publication than in the days when we used to print on airmail paper stock to keep overseas mailing costs down. The Mines & Money Conferences and Exhibitions have at times been enormously successful – particularly the annual London event – with Hong Kong also doing extremely well, although all are currently suffering from the industry downturn.
But all this does not stop me bemoaning what I feel is the passing of an era in which a corporate ethos directed at the industry it served was paramount. Even though we were mining industry publishers if you asked us we would say we were part of the global mining and metals industry, not a part of the publishing industry with which we had little other contact. A not-so-subtle distinction which we felt held us in particular strong stead amongst our mining and metals industry readers, but obviously not so much so that it prevented the company falling into the maws of the professional publishing sector which had different drivers and values.
As a weekly business-oriented international publication, Mining Journal had a unique place in the industry. As a fortnightly I’m not so sure it will continue to do so. How long before it merges with Mining Magazine to become a monthly? Indeed how long will the publishers retain the broad related spectrum of publications? Perhaps this represents the start of the end of an era, or is this just a natural progression from the time Mining Journal ceased to be run by a bunch of mining engineers?