BusinessWeek magazine is the latest major publication facing an uncertain future amid a deep advertising slump that's draining its main source of revenue.
McGraw-Hill Cos., BusinessWeek's New York-based owner, sounded the alarm Monday by announcing it's "exploring strategic options" for the 80-year-old magazine. The phrasing is often corporate code signaling a sale or some other significant shake-up is coming.
A McGraw-Hill spokesman didn't immediately return calls seeking comment.
Like other print media, BusinessWeek's ad revenue has been sliding as the longest U.S. recession since World War II causes companies to clamp down on their marketing budgets.
The downturn has been even steeper for newspapers and magazines because advertisers are also shifting their spending to less expensive alternatives on the Internet, where much of the media's audience has moved in the past decade.
The upheaval already has knocked out a BusinessWeek rival, Portfolio magazine. Conde Nast Publications Inc. pulled the plug on Portfolio in May, just two years after launching the upscale business magazine to challenge BusinessWeek, Forbes and Time Warner Inc.'s Fortune.
Even with one less competitor around, the more-established business magazines are reeling.
BusinessWeek's advertising sales during the first six months of the year plunged by 33 percent to $78 million, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. Meanwhile, Fortune's ad revenue has plummeted 36 percent to about $85 million while Forbes' ad sales have fallen 25 percent to about $119 million.
At least BusinessWeek has been holding on to its readers even as advertisers left. The magazine's U.S. circulation averaged nearly 936,000 for the six months ending in December 2008, a slight improvement from the same period in 2007, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
But McGraw-Hill appears unwilling to stomach the advertising losses with its other lines of business hurting too.
The New York-based company also publishes textbooks and owns Standard & Poor's, a credit rating agency sharing in the financial services industry's pain as banks try to rebound from a meltdown in the mortgage market. McGraw-Hill predicted in April that its companywide revenue this year will fall by 4 to 5 percent.