What is a Trade Publication?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 25 September 2019
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A trade publication is a publication which is marketed to people who work in a specific industry. Casket & Sunnyside, for example, was a famous trade publication targeted at funeral directors which developed a cult following as a result of its prominent presence in exposes of the funeral industry. Typically, trade publications have little to no interest to people who are not involved in the industry, although they are occasionally used by researchers who are interested in the standards and practices of a particular industry. There are several ways to obtain trade publications, ranging from shopping at well-stocked magazine racks to belonging to professional organizations.

A number of features can be used to distinguish a trade publication, also called a trade journal, from other types of publications. The first is a focus on a very narrow topic, such as cosmetic dental implants or supply chain management. The second is a tendency to use trade jargon, with the publication's editors assuming that readers are familiar with the terminology of a trade. A common third characteristic is affiliation with a trade organization, with many professional organizations putting out their own trade journals.


The contents of a trade publication typically include breaking news about developments in the field, along with in-depth discussions of new practices and technology. If laws which affect the industry are passed, a trade publication will discuss the terms of those laws and the ramifications for people in the industry. Many publications also include profiles of up and comers and leading lights in the field, creating a form of networking for people in the industry so that they can get to know each other.

Articles in a trade publication are generally written by leading members of the field, along with consultants who provide cross-disciplinary advice when it is needed. For example, a trade publication focusing on trucking might ask a lawyer to author a guest column on changes in laws which impact trucking, to ensure that the information is useful and factually accurate. Researchers may also choose to use a trade publication to unveil new research results.

Although trade publications are not really intended for the general public, reading such publications can be informative, interesting, and sometimes fascinating. For people who are interested in particular industries or issues, obtaining trade publications can be quite enlightening. People in the field of food politics, for example, often obtain materials which are intended for use by people in the agriculture business, using the information about standard practices provided by these publications to highlight problems with the food system. The widespread practice of using trade journals in exposes of some industries has made it challenging to obtain some trade journals, with release of such materials being limited to people who belong to certain professional organizations.


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