Wednesday, April 21, 2010

ABI Trending Upward, Remains Negative

The American Institute of Architects' Architecture Billings Index ticked upward for the second consecutive month, posting its highest number since August 2008.

Its March rating of 46.1 rose from 44.8 the previous month and 42.1 in January. Though the number represents a continued decline in demand for design services (any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings), the March 2010 number is the highest score since August 2008.

"This is certainly an encouraging sign that we could be moving closer to a recovery phase, even though we continue to hear about mixed conditions across the country," said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker. "Firms are still reporting an unusual amount of variation in the level of demand for design services, from improving to poor to virtually non-existent. This increasing volatility is often a sign that overall business conditions may begin to change in the coming months."

The new projects inquiry index was 58.5, although that is a somewhat flawed statistic since it can be attributed to more firms pursuing the same projects as opposed to there actually being more projects available.

Regionally, the March ABI breaks down as follows: Midwest (50.5), Northeast (47.0), West (46.0), and South (44.4). By market sector, it breaks down thusly: multi-family residential (47.3), institutional (46.8), mixed practice (45.0), and commercial/industrial (44.7).

As a leading indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects the approximate 9- to 12-month lag time between architecture billings and construction spending.

So the news is good, but it's too soon to say that the recession is over.


Friday, April 16, 2010

RIP, Building Design and Construction

Sad news to report this afternoon as Reed Elsevier announced today that it is closing the magazines it has not been able to sell or does not intend to keep, including Building Design + Construction. In total, Reed Elsevier will close 23 magazines.

The affected titles include many that cover the AEC space: Building Design+Construction, Chain Leader, Construction Bulletin, Construction Equipment, Consulting-Specifying Engineer, Control Engineering, Converting, Foodservice Equipment & Supplies, Graphic Arts Blue Book, Graphic Arts Monthly, HOTELS, Logistics Management, Material Handling Product News, Modern Materials Handling, Plant Engineering, Professional Builder, Professional Remodeler, Purchasing, Restaurant & Institutions, Semiconductor International, Spec Check, Supply Chain Management Review and Tradeshow Week.

The announcement comes about nine months after putting the brands published under the U.S. arm of Reed Business Information on the block again. The news was announced internally at RBI by a memo from RBI Global CEO Keith Jones.

In the memo, he wrote that RBI had successfully sold 21 magazines, representing about two-thirds of the revenues of the portfolio to be divested. But none of them were really in the AEC space (unless you count Interior Design).

In talking about the publications that will be shuttered, he wrote, "These publications have had very experienced, professional and committed teams running them in the most difficult of circumstances. However, their trading performances have been under pressure for some time and the impact of the recession and media migration in the markets for these titles is such that we cannot see our way back to profitable growth. This is very sad for all of us in the RBI community and I wish colleagues at these titles the very best for the future and thank them for their services to readers, advertisers and the company."

The news brings to a close the long saga of Reed Business Information's attempt to find a buyer for the magazines it is closing at the end of the month. We wrote nearly two years ago that it looked like McGraw-Hill (publisher of Engineering News-Record and Architectural Record, among many other publications) would buy Reed Business Information. We also wrote that Reed Elsevier wanted to divest itself of RBI in the second half of 2008, so clearly, today's announcement is the result of a long process of trying to find a buyer that, unfortunately, did not prove successful.

Among the recognizable names to AEC professionals affected by this would presumably be Building Design + Construction Editor in Chief Robert Cassidy, Dave Barista, editor in chief at Professional Builder and former managing editor at Building Design + Construction, Jay Schneider, senior editor at BD+C, and Jeff Yoders, associate editor at BD+C, among many others.

According to published reports, Reed Elsevier is not saying how many positions will be eliminated as a result of the closings. The company says it is open to discussions with potential purchasers of the intellectual property associated with any of the closed brands.

One upshot to all this is the serious negative impact it will have on AEC marketing professionals who will have that many fewer places to run their articles, position pieces, and get their firm leaders and technical professionals exposure.

It also is another sign of how significantly this recession has impacted the AEC industry since it is a lack of advertising (presumably from AEC vendors) that led to this outcome.

A sad day, indeed.
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