Saturday, December 16, 2006

So I’ve subscribed to a Serious Business Journal...

I read a lot but I don’t read everything, there are some things I positively don’t read and there are some that I just can’t find time for.  Although I read the Economist and FT regularly (and yes they do often seem to overlap – but that’s a different blog entry) I’ve felt for a while that I should be reading a more thoughtful business journal, something slightly academic in fact.

While there are many academic business journals most of them are unreadable - unless you have serious need to read them, in other words: you are in academia.  Probably the only time most business people read these journals is when (like me) they are studying for an MBA.  I finished my course thinking “I should keep reading on the journals” but, they are difficult to get hold of, expensive, and largely unreadable.

There are a couple of exceptions, most notably the Harvard Business Review (HBR).  This places itself somewhere between an academic journal and a thoughtful business magazine.  Compared to other academic business journals this decidedly easy reading.  However, if what I hear is true, while the HBR has a high circulation figure most copies go unread.  In other words, people subscribe to be seen to read the HBR – OK, they may simply find they don’t have the time but then why renew the subscription? 

Maybe I’m being cynical but I just can’t bring myself to subscribe to HBR.  I think its probably some form of reverse-snobbery.  Still, I felt I should subscribe to some serious journal....

During my MBA I also took a liking to the California Management Review.  Once in while I’ve wondered over to their website and thought about subscribing, but then I see the price, I remember its more academic that the HBR and ... well I don’t.

Then there is the Sloan Management Review, or as it is now know the MIT Sloan Management Review (SMR).  As with the other two I sometimes thought about subscribing but couldn’t see when I’d get the time to read, couldn’t justify the costs and wondered if it would be too academic.  Still, as with the other two I’ve bought the odd download from their website in the last couple of years.

And so it was that SMR used the oldest marketing trick in the book – and thats the Book of Readers Digest marketing.  A flattering letter, the offer of a free copy and a discount price.

The free copy turned up last month and I was pleasantly surprised.  Of the 15 or so pieces in this issue (Winter 2006 which means last January) there are only a few that interest me enough to read them.  But I found those I did read very interesting and it reminded me that many ideas appear first in these journals.  Such pieces are usually fresher and shorter than the books on similar subjects.

So I gave in.  I’ve spent the $125 to subscribe for a year.  Why did I finally do it?  Well, four factors really.

  • I think I’ll learn some new stuff, it will expose me to things I might not see otherwise.
  • The dollar is weak at the moment so it is cheap and a low risk – even if the discount price turned out to be not so discount.
  • SMR is quarterly, so I have three months to read each copy.
  • I can now get all the kudos of reading a serious management journal while being able to look down on those who read the mass-market HBR.

How will I know if the journal is worth reading in future?  Well I could use the Dr Dobbs test...

I’ve long had a theory that if your sitting on the Tube and you see someone reading Dr Dobbs then you should immediately hire them.  If someone is interested enough to read Dobbs they are going to be a good programmer.

The theory doesn’t hold the Economist or HBR.  They may be good journals but they are too common (you’d hire too many people) and they don’t set the threshold not high enough to make the reader an instant hire.

Now, lets see what I think about SMR readers in a years time...