BoSacks Speaks Out: It’s 2020 What Does Your Business Look Like?

By BoSacks on July 13, 2020
Last Friday, David Leonhardt wrote an article in the New York Times titled “It’s 2022. What Does Life Look Like?” It was subtitled, “The pandemic could shape the world, much as World War II and the Great Depression did.” It ran somewhat parallel with my essay last week that the pandemic has placed us in a time machine. We either accelerate to match the speed of change, or we get run over by it and replaced by something else.
 
David writes, “It’s 2022, and the coronavirus has at long last been defeated. After a miserable year-and-a-half, alternating between lockdowns and new outbreaks, life can finally begin returning to normal. But it will not be the old normal. It will be a new world, with a reshaped economy, much as war and depression reordered life for previous generations.”
 
“Thousands of stores and companies that were vulnerable before the virus arrived have disappeared. Dozens of colleges are shutting down in the first wave of closures in the history of American higher education. People have also changed long-held patterns of behavior: Outdoor socializing is in, business trips are out.”
 
On the same day, Ad Age published an article by Ethan Jakob Craft titled “Curbside Pickup, Delivery and e-Commerce will define retail’s next chapter.
A few things of note from Ethan’s article:
 
“Curbside pickup is here to stay - When brick-and-mortar stores were ordered closed earlier this year to stem the spread of COVID-19, American retailers needed to tweak their operations to stay afloat financially. The solution for many: curbside pickup.”
 
“Brands’ secondary tech investments have been highlighted - As consumers are forced to stay home, customer-facing tech has taken the brunt of shifting shopping habits, facilitating everything from online ordering to sampling products.”
 
“E-commerce is more important than ever - Consumers have increasingly relied on tech in every aspect of their lives over the past two decades, but the pandemic may have catalyzed the use of new e-commerce tools more than any other single event in the concept’s young history.”
 
Obviously, for my readers, I have to ask what does life look like for the magazine publishing industry in 2022? Where is the magazine publishing business going, and what changes will we make now that we are all in this time machine?
 
Where are the new aggressive retail programs for the magazine business? If shopping is going to continue online with curbside delivery, why aren’t there drop-down menus for magazines as I’m buying food on my supermarket web site?
Let us be clear about this – out of sight is out of mind. If the public doesn’t see magazines, they won’t buy magazines. As a person with asthma in a vulnerable section of the population, I haven’t set foot in a retail establishment since March 10th. My situation may be extreme, but I’m not alone. Nor are my new buying habits.
 
I agree that curbside pickup is here to stay. Who out there in magazine land is pushing the envelope and making what might have happened in 5 years happen in 6 months? There is no old normal to return to. If we don’t adapt to the situation of a reshaped and eventually revitalized economy, the losses we have experienced in the last decade will not only continue but accelerate at an alarming rate. 
 
From David’s article: Weak companies will die - “’It’s only when the tide goes out,’ Warren Buffett likes to say, ‘that you learn who’s been swimming naked.’”
 
“His point is that companies with flawed business models can look healthy in good times. Out of habit, many customers continue to buy from them. But when the economy weakens, people have to make decisions about where to pull back. They often start with products and services that they find the least valuable or that they can replace with a cheaper alternative.”
Does publishing fall into the naked swimming paradigm? No, not as an industry. But, indeed, some sectors and some individual titles will not fare well in this reinvention of the retail experience.
 
I would say that the future is unknowable, but at the same time, in many cases, it is also somewhat predictable.
 
Again from David’s article: “Local newspapers will be one casualty. They were already struggling because Google, Facebook, and Craigslist had taken away their primary source of revenue: print advertising. Between 2008 and 2019, American newspapers eliminated about half of all newsroom jobs.
 
The virus has led to further declines in advertising and more job cuts — and could end up forcing dozens more papers to fold or become tiny shells of their old selves. If that happens, their cities will be left without perhaps the only major source of information about local politics, business, education and the like.”
It occurs to me that the publishing industry is not a nation and has no president. That is the yin and yang of capitalism. We are at best a group of city-states, each with its dukes and duchesses who follow their particular individual paths to survival. There are, of course, alliances without ruling power that we call associations and their meetings. At those occasional meetings, the various principalities share industry trends and ideas. Then it is back to the independent kingdom to fend off the barbarians at the gate. Because of the separate structure of our businesses, there are no substantial industry-wide initiatives. I see why there aren’t any, but there should be.
 
As we look forward to 2022, we need to remember that not every title needs to survive to justify our continued and profitable existence.
 
There are constant ebbs and flows, and not all species and titles are expected to live forever. Business people and nature experiment with tangents. Some prosper, and some don't. The success or failure of one experiment has nothing to do with the overall longevity of our continuance. But experiment we must, not tomorrow but now.
 
We should finally act together for our entry into 2022. And one of the first steps is to adjust our retail business and get our magazines first visible to the online buyer as they shop and then readily available for curbside pickup or home delivery with the groceries. 
 
If it is not now, it's never.

July 13, 2020
Categories:  Bosacks Speaks Out

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