Bosacks Speaks Out
BoSacks Speaks Out: Most of us naturally track our industry and know the score of what the plague and the media tech platforms (FANG) are doing to us. It is a toxic combination not only for our health but also for our careers and our business wellbeing.
I follow our industry very closely and read of layoffs and closures almost every day. We all read about them and absorb the data as shots from a sniper one information bullet at a time. The article Advertising Slump During Virus Crisis Hits Media Jobs brings it into focus as a shotgun blast of intelligence right to the heart of our media industry. The entire global media workforce is shrinking. The plague and the media stress are a wide-spread phenomenon.
We are all hoping for a relatively fast vaccine and an equally speedy economic recovery. When that happens, media will get back on track and rehire, reinvent and reestablish itself, but perhaps not as it was. We have all learned to do more with less. That is one of the new permanent conditions we will live with long after the new normal solidifies. Some of us might never work from an office again. Being self-employed I haven't worked from an office since 1996. This will be a change in lifestyles for many media professionals.
There are pluses and minuses. Between not commuting and lunches alone, I have saved a fortune in everyday expenses in the last 24 years. One of the minuses is the lost real-time relationships with co-workers and friends. The occasional drink together after work. But there is tremendous freedom working from a home office, and it can be accomplished from anywhere on the planet with a working internet connection.
As an example, in the last ten years I have been on the road for 920 days and visited 10 countries and 174 cities, some of them multiple times. (Data from Tripit.com.) In all that time, I have never missed my publishing news cycle.
So, when we start the new part of our careers working solo, it can be an enjoyable experience. We just have to get through our tales of two careers.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us …” Charles Dickens
Is it possible that Dickens was prescient and from the 1880s was forecasting the publishing business of the 21st century? How better to describe the current conditions of our industry in this COVID crisis? Is this not the best of times and the worst of times imaginable? Does not the media industry reflect a tale of two cities – one of prosperity and one of deprivation? We have parts of our industry that are doing well, while in other sectors, there is great angst, job loss, and contraction.
Do you know that Dickens’ second to last paragraph in A Tale of Two Cities also forecast the modern magazine industry?
“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out.”
Dickens is correct we will rise from this abyss with experimentation, innovation and determination. We will continue to entertain, educate and provide for the needs of a reading public. I am confident this observation is part of the still evolving new normal of business models created and adjusted on the fly through a global pandemic.
Yes, our industry will never be the same. We will never be the same. But I think a strong case can be made that it will hopefully and eventually be a better, more stable, and once again a beautiful place in which to work.
BoSacks Speaks Out: There is a brief comment in the article How to shift towards a paywall that I sent out last night. It is an oft repeated expression throughout the industry that “We have to face it: people hate ads.” I beg to differ on that point. What people hate are bad ads and bad advertising campaigns. People hate intrusive ads that follow you everywhere tracking advertising.
There are plenty of ads people like and enjoy.
Here are just a few of my favorites in no particular order:
Nike: Just Do It.
Absolut Vodka: The Absolut Bottle.
Apple – “1984”
Wendy’s – “Where’s the Beef?”
Coca-Cola – “Meet Joe Greene”
Old Spice – “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”
Always – “Like a Girl”
Those were great ads, and I doubt they were hated by too many consumers.
Perhaps it is counting on an algorithm for success rather than creativity that is at the heart of advertising’s problems today. Could it be that corporate consumer surveillance has replaced innovation and imagination? I think so.
It seems little has changed and that it is obviously worse since 2016 when I wrote this still relevant article:
We are now deep into a relatively new and unresolved media phenomenon. I think it's fair to call it the "21st Century Ad Wars." There are four armies or protagonists in this war. They are the publisher, the advertiser, the ad blockers and, of course, "the mark." Oh no, I mean the coveted consumer.
The two most important factions in the battle for revenue romance are the advertisers who have the product for sale and the consumer who has the money and might want the product. The publisher is there to act as a conduit between the two primary flirters. The ad blockers on the scene with the proposed not-always-honest intention to protect the consumer. As Shakespeare said prophetically about the digital process, "what a tangled web we weave."
All was well in hand in the analog print days of yore until the web arrived and sales and advertising in printed products went south. So the Publishers, eager to reclaim lost revenue introduced new paths of monetary rewards and created along the way ever increasing intrusive and self-destructive projects that eventually broke the bond of trust with the reading public. That trust on the web is now long gone for most. Did all advertisers and publishers take the low road? Absolutely not. But enough web practitioners did to completely dirty the waters for all. Swimming with the sharks isn't always a pleasant experience, and you quickly learn not to trust anything swimming nearby.
The advertisers and the publishers abused their privileged position and actually started to think of the consumer as a mark, there to be taken advantage of in every conceivable way possible. Unwanted tracking, bloated advertising destroying the digital experience, and a general overarching abuse of the developing channels of communication. You might as well add to that mix the volatile hidden inclusion of downloading malware willingly or not into the public and consumer domain.
I see this as an unwinnable technologic trench war with one and only one path to digital peace in our time. The solution is for content to be worth paying for. Here is my question. Is your content worth the consumer paying for its full and fair value? If not, why not? Did I hear you say they won't pay enough for it and that you have to subsidize it with advertising? Yes, that was the path of the past and in an analog world was accepted by all - the publisher, the advertiser and the mark. That is one of the reasons that print is still the best ROI. The rules are fully understood by all, and the ads aren't bloated and ready explode upon command.
Here is the thing - and this comes from a long-time-and-still-practicing digital futurist who still sees digital as the predominant way people are and will be reading - digital is succeeding in grabbing most of our attention and eventually digital advertising will probably succeed, too. But that success won't take away from the experience of reading print.
The haptic or touch experience between print and digital is mainly a different feel, a different sensation and, perhaps above all else, a completely different expectation. Print doesn't offer distractions other than the words and thinking on the page, while the digital experience intends to and does offer distractions galore. I think a case can be made that reading on the web requires a modern kind of discipline to actually finish the article you started to read, whereas in print there is no place else to go but finish what you picked up to read. I'm not saying that just because we read a printed product we always finish it. In many cases we don't. That is also demonstrably true for the digital experience, only more so.
That is where I concluded my 2016 article, which brings me back to my question. Is the problem counting on an algorithm for success rather than creativity at the heart of the problem today? Could it be that corporate consumer surveillance has replaced innovation and imagination and has thus brought on the concept that people hate advertising? Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
BoSacks Speaks Out: Sometimes I have to put the bourbon aside and deliver a sobering report to the industry. I do this because I love the magazine media industry, and I don't want anyone to misinterpret the facts and actual conditions of our industry.
In turbulent times, turbulent things happen. What I have to report tonight is a reflection of the turmoil of the times we live in. I was asked by those in the know not to say what I am about to tell you, and I would have kept that promise, but we live in an instant messaging age. A person I do not know tweeted today that Folio: Magazine is no more. Because of that tweet, I feel I am relieved of the responsibility of keeping my silence.
The demise is unfortunate but understandable. Our industry is under extreme duress, and so too are trade organizations that track our industry. Clearly, FOLIO: needed serious revenue to complete their journalistic task of monitoring and educating our industry. The logical choice before COVID 19 was for them to focus on the conference and awards business, a decent plan if not for the pandemic. Their plan was one that many publishers leaned towards to replace lost advertising revenue—a good idea except for the fate forced upon us by an epidemic.
What happened? Part of the answer for FOLIO: was vendor consolidation. In the mid-2000s many companies were spending serious dollars with FOLIO:, and there were in those days dozens of printers trying to reach the print publishing industry. That revenue stream went from lucrative to zero almost overnight. Other sectors of the industry also dropped out of sight. Gone were the fulfillment companies, telemarketing companies, and investment banks. Gone too was the revenue from the many reprint companies. Add to that the shrinking number of media companies. Years of magazine closures and layoffs left fewer brands and fewer people to enter the awards business and attend their events.
It is all a reflection of the realignment of the content distribution business formally known as publishing.
I must at this point add that Publishing Executive Magazine, the other magazine publishing trade publication, has stopped tracking the industry and is no more. Their site has not published anything new since mid-June. The only conclusion is that they are gone too, and the excellent staff displaced to new possibilities.
It costs a lot to host the staff necessary to track an industry. I believe that both publishers had a chance to make it in these crazy times and be prosperous if not for the pandemic. Now both are gone.
What does it mean? Everything and nothing, is my answer. The world will go on, and the publishing industry will go on too. Eventually new organizations and new trade publishers will grow and arise from the ashes of the old publishing community. You've heard me say a dozen times that entrepreneurs hate a vacuum. When the dust settles, there will be a huge trade vacuum that needs filling.
We are on a strange road toward what will be. It has twists and turns, dips and mountains yet to climb. Yet when we get to wherever we are going, if we will look back quickly, we will see nothing but a straight and level path to how we got here, wherever that new destination is. That is the way of life and business. The road is only evident when you arrive and not a moment before.
Someday we will all look back on this period of technological and pandemic turmoil and smile. Yes, I think we may quite possibly smile. We will laugh because we survived multiple tsunamis that the world had never seen before and persevered.
There are more ways than ever to consume media and more media than ever to consume. I see that as a good situation. I will only worry if and when people stop reading. If they don't' stop reading, then there is an opportunity for our industry to sell relevant thought for a profit. If there is a profit to be made, then that is an ideal place for a thoughtful and inquisitive publisher to be.
A few weeks ago, I reported that it seems apparent that COVID has placed us in a time machine, a machine that accelerates whatever was happening before. If your business was in decline, that decline is now accelerated. Sadly our trade magazines have suffered under the stress and conditions of the unforgiving time machine. My heart and best wishes go to the staffs of FOLIO: and of Publishing Executive magazine.
BoSacks Speaks Out: There was a time when I was a monthly columnist for Publishing Executive magazine. Each year my editor asked me to do a tips and tricks article offering suggestions for a healthy and successful publishing career.
One of the core elements I always suggested was that knowledge is power, and industry knowledge is employment power. If you can speak knowledgeably of the entire media process, you are a more desirable candidate for the job you have or, perhaps even more importantly, the job you want to have. Understanding what the other departments do is of vital importance. Inter-departmental communication and knowledge facilitate the teamwork of successful and efficient organizations.
On November 1, 2001 in that year’s Tips and Tricks article I fleshed out in some detail the following list.
1. Excellence matters, but not as you might expect.
2. Marketing yourself is part of your career goal.
3. Staying current is not nearly enough.
4. Be positive.
5. Network, network, network.
6. Have a plan.
7. You have a career, not a job.
What strikes me today is number 5 on that list. I wrote the following almost twenty years ago.
Network, network, network.
“People usually think about networking when they start looking for a new job, but in reality, it is your responsibility to your career to network every day. Networking is the correct path to a base of industry knowledge that is invaluable. You will make important friends, become knowledgeable about what is happening in other companies throughout the industry and just as important as everything else, you will become visible rather than anonymous.”
That was twenty years ago, I bring this up today, realizing that networking may be hard or near to impossible for an extended period of time due to COVID 19 and the increasing use of zoom meetings. If forecasters are correct, those industries that can now work mostly from home will continue to work from home. That puts a strain on making new industry friends and makes it harder to share industrial knowledge.
Additionally, in-person meetings and in-person conferences may, in large part, be a thing of the past. If that is so, it strikes a dagger in the ability to network. The loss of networking is a loss to both the industry and our careers. There is no technical replacement for the power of the schmooze. And that is a loss not only to each individual but to the totality of the industry. Cross-pollination of ideas happens when people schmooze and make new career friends.
Perhaps my personal vintage makes the loss of the ability to network seem a more significant loss than to some other generations, but at this point, I think those that have experienced the in-person meetings and association conferences will miss them dearly. Careers have been made by meeting the right person at the right time, mine included.
Another thing I wonder about, admittedly tangential to this conversation, is without in-person meetings how will specific aspects of our business be transacted. Will buying printing and negotiating with new vendors become a virtual process? Will visiting a printing plant before signing a printing contract become a zoom process? Perhaps it will. I could make a case that it would save modest amounts of money and, in some respects, could be more efficient. But I will stand on the principle that seeing a plant and its operations run is the only way for an accurate professional evaluation.
We will see many changes in the near and far future due to the pandemic effect on humans and on businesses. It is a cliché by now, but there will be a new normal and by extension perhaps a new way to effectively network and, more importantly, to schmooze.
In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs or ideas at the same time. In 1936 F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."
I'm not saying I have a first-rate intelligence, but I do have two thoughts that are rolling around in my head. They are that the publishing industry isn't in peril, but many of its employees may be. Let me see if I can explain without my head exploding.
First, the magazine industry was under stress before the rise of COVID-19. Each year advertising was down double digits, and so were magazine newsstand sales. There are, of course, many success stories out there, and that is important to recognize. You may be one of them. But when viewed as a whole, the charts and statistics were not pretty. I guess you can say there were many individual victories, but the war wasn't going well.
If you were struggling before February 6th, the day of the first reported death in the United States, there is no reason to think your chances are going to get any better. If you were doing well before, there is no reason you can't figure out a plan in the new developing normal.
Now is the time I point out that we don't know what normal is, and we haven't had our old normal since 2007. But the traditional methodologies and business plans that were in place in January 2020 are now mostly irrelevant. It also seems we have proved that our offices are quaint and irrelevant, too.
Presumptions of the new normal
To me, it seems apparent that we are in a time machine. A machine that accelerates whatever was happening before. If your business was in decline, that decline is now accelerated. If your business was doing well, the methodologies and the technology you used six weeks ago have taken a fast and technological leap. You have taken the entire process and launched it into the cloud. Sure we all worked in the cloud before, but not like this. Instead of taking years for the jump, you did it in days. One day you worked in an office, and the next day you stayed at home and worked, and you didn’t miss a beat. The cloud is your new best friend. You do everything but eat there. And for many of us, we are getting our food from the cloud.
Perhaps the toughest part for us to face is pulling the plug on the existing advertising model. It's fair to say that plug may have been removed for you.
Retraining Our Readers
We and the time machine we are in are also retraining our readers to get information from the cloud more than ever before.
One of my sponsors, the company Issuu, has 40 million publishers they work with if you can imagine that. The only way to have that many is for most to be hyper-local, but they have the middle and biggies, too. Issuu has 100 million reads per month. It isn't the only company having platforms like this, but since I have a relationship with them, I am aware of some of the details. Issuu said last week in the Publisher's Pandemic Round Table that readership is up 10-15% and climbing.
One of Issuu's clients said to me, "Basically we're looking at moving our magazines away from print to digital-only, largely as a result of the enforced lockdown making it harder to print and distribute." Multiply that comment by the thousands. Publishers are in the process of inventing the new normal.
Now here is the part when you ask me if printed magazines are dead? No, of course not. There will always be print magazines, and people who love the printed product. Mr. Magazine, Samir Husni, tells me his students prefer print. I believe him. But the majority of readership is moving to digital and we are diligently training them to do so. There will be printed magazines, but they will be expensive and extremely high quality. That is the only formula where print will work in the future.
Omar Khayyám once wrote:
"The Moving Finger writes;
and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a word of it.
The world is moving on and our industry with it. People are increasingly reading magazines, newspapers, and books online. It is a fact. The new normal happens when we have a vaccine. Until then, which is probably a year away, we will be working hard and participating in the training of generations young and old to read online.
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