Bosacks Speaks Out
We are at an interesting crossroads in the magazine industry. Not all business plans are, if you will pardon the expression, on the same page.
There is a large set of business focused on the of selling of magazines on the newsstand. There are thousands of people and hundreds of businesses dedicated to the shipping, selling, coordinating, and returning of magazines in the retail supply chain. Their salaries depend on the success of the newsstand.
It is a complex process that thousands have devoted their careers to. In this mix not only are the newsstand organizations, the supply subgroups, but also actual magazines that live and die on the newsstand alone as their main source of revenue.
Then there is another group. I affectionately call them the Olympians. The Hearst's, The Conde` Nast's, Time Inc, and the Meredith's. They, too, sell magazines on the newsstand. But their business model is no longer, as it once was, contingent on that part of the industry. They have their own business plans that from the outset weren't about protecting or sustaining the newsstand business. CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE
I go to a dozen or more media conferences each year. Many I speak at and others I report on as a media analyst and journalist. I always hope to learn something new or hear different perspectives. I have seen the best and the not so great. Having attended the good and the bad, it is fair to say that I have a broad perspective on the subject of conferences and their worth to the attendees. After all, if there is no real intrinsic value to the "customer", what's the point?
That being said I recently attended for the fourth time FIPP'S Digital Innovator's Summit (DIS) which is held each year in Berlin. It is by far one of the best shows I attend each year. I always look forward to it, because I walk away with greater insights into our business then when I arrived. Where some shows are about industrial cheerleading, this show is about practical insights and new media methodologies. This meeting had more than 600 attendees from over 30 countries. Just having the opportunity to meet and chat with these publishers from around the globe is a meaningful experience in and of itself. But there is much more to this event then schmoozing with peers.
There is nothing at this event that is not near perfect. The organization, the setting, the clever timing of the speakers, and the overall rhythm of the show is smooth, filled with professional insights and enjoyable. I'm not sure how they gather such excellence in presenters, but other organizations could learn a thing or two by observation and replication. I know as I write this that it sounds like hyperbole on my part, but it ain't. I don't lightly travel to Germany for three nights and then quickly return unless there is a strong reward, and here there is.
Leo F. Buscaglia (1924 -1998) was a teacher at the University of Southern California in the late 1960s when one of his students committed suicide. This so greatly affected Professor Buscaglia that, in his pursuit for meaning of the sad event, he formed a non-credit class titled Love 1A. As you might expect, there were no grades for Love 1A, because how could you possibly fail someone in this class on that subject?
He became a cheerleader for Life, and he was most closely associated with the topic of love and human relationships, emphasizing the value of positive human touch, especially hugs. He once said, "Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around."
You might ask, what this has to do with media and especially my review of the PRIMEX Conference held in New York City two weeks ago? Well, it was the professor who came to my mind when my good friend Daniel Dejan, who is the Print & Creative Manager of Sappi Fine Papers, opened the event. I know a world full of nice and wonderful people, but I'd have to rack my brains to find a man or woman with more glowing love for life and humans and the pure joy of creativity. I know Daniel quite well, so it was no surprise that his presentation that day was "The Haptic Brain/Haptic Brand and the Neuroscience of Touch." And, as Professor Buscaglia said, "... too often we underestimate the power of a touch..."
So here we are again with some dreary numbers and a continuation of print's adjustment from King-o-the-Hill to mere but honored participant in the multiverse of the world's communication network. Last year I gave my perspective on the subject, and it still holds true.
I have many friends who are publishers and many friends who are printers. Most of these compatriots, that I know, despite the generally negative numbers, are doing well, and some are actually thriving. That's the funny thing about aggregate numbers - even if the overall analysis is bad or even terrible, and it is, it doesn't mean a damn thing if your printing plant or your publication is doing well. So there ya have it - the only meaningful bottom line in this period of stressful monetary communication wars is, how are you doing?
As the printing pond gets smaller and smaller, which it obviously is by any standard of reporting, what is left by Darwin's publishing laws of supply and demand should become increasingly more expensive and therefore more valuable. All you have to do is to survive the current Armageddon and put out the most outstanding products possible for those who are still addicted and still hungry for printed reading products. Give the readers what they want, on the substrate that they want, and when they want it at that moment in time. Simple really. Just be beyond excellent in every part of your enterprise.
Here is my take on PubWorx LLC, the joint venture to combine circulation, procurement and production functions by Condé Nast and Hearst Magazines. Distilled down to their lowest common denominator production departments are about great efficiency and superior quality, probably in that order, but variable depending on the particular organization. The skills include shrewd procurement and a great proficiency in manufacturing and distribution. On the other hand, circulation is still less a science and more akin to alchemy, but many circulator's will no doubt dispute that concept.
The conjoining of the two companies makes perfect efficient sense to me. Again with a probable dispute by some professionals who read this, production departments just make interchangeable widgets. We put ink or pixels in the exact right place and fling them hither and yon around the globe. It doesn't really matter if we are making one widget or a hundred. Our job is to coordinate at the most reasonable price with the best possible quality in that price range, and "ship" on time and with great regularity.
The production process is agnostic to content. We don't really care what it is and so can combine and ship an unlimited number of disparate titles from unlimited companies. As Archimedes sort of said, Give me a production staff smart enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.
Full disclosure: I may or most likely may not be the normal reading consumer on the internet, and for the record I do use ad blocking software. Without it my day on the web was increasingly a painful, slow and a terribly intrusive experience. Also for the record, and most importantly, I am willing to pay for the reading material I want and need. I pay for the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and Texture (formally known as Next Issue Media) among several others. In fact, it is no secret that most of my working day is either reading on the web or writing about what I read. So I am something of an expert about the on-line user experience.
Here is my take on the situation. Ad blocking is serious business brought upon us by our own misuse of trust given to us by the reading public, the trust we had correctly build up over the last 100 years as the guardians of publishing and of print. I have always felt that the publishing community and the rest of the advertising internet infrastructure has from the outset abused the privileges of permission on-line. I don't want to be tracked by companies that want not only a large slice of my wallet but also the uninvited intrusion into my mind and how I'm thinking and where I am at any given moment. I am also offended that these unsought intrusions that slow down my web experience with bloated and unwanted downloads. FOR THE COMPLETE ARTICLE CLICK HERE
There is a recent article titled Print vs. Digital: Another Emotional Win for Paper, that came across my info-radar today. Articles like these are always popping up. They are interesting to me, because science must do what science does, question everything. As a geek-at-heart, I am all for the pursuit of knowledge. I sometimes think that all good production people are geeks, but that is a story for another day.
There are several things that must be pointed out in this article. The headline is click bait appealing to paper lovers and trying to confirm what they think they already know. However, the data here is not as overwhelming for the paper lovers as the headline suggests. The biggest issue is the supposed edge in the emotional response to paper as opposed to digital. To me that is much more generational than a universal law of astro-advertising.
The main thing to remember here is that in a very meaningful way none of this digital-does-this-and-paper-does-that-science will matter as we proceed further. Why, you wisely ask? Because, we aren't ever going to go back to being a major paper transmitting society. CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE
A few months ago I had a conversation with AIM's president and CEO Andrew Clurman. Andy said, "Today's operative words at AIM are diversification and proliferation. We are continually finding seams within the verticals we're in of unfilled audience interests and needs."
BoSacks Speaks Out: My friend Samir Husni has penned a short essay and complaint about "numbers" used in our industry for purposes of industry review and analysis (See below). He bemoans the way some media reporters publish stats on the number of new titles in each quarter, and he wishes that they reached out to him for his extensive collected number of new launches. I suggest that his collection of data is very large, unique and probably the most definitive.
It is true that the numbers we read in the trade press are varied and terribly inconsistent. From my perspective as an industry insider, it has always been fun to see the numbers and the constant surplus of new titles. That being said, I am using Samir's essay to launch my own observations about data in our industry in a week of many numbers which, although interesting to read, are for the most part irrelevant and misleading.
Let's start with the number of new titles in each quarter. As counterintuitive as it may seem, the number of new titles has nothing to do with the vibrancy of our industry. (See chart.)
Skyrocketing number of magazines in red and plummeting total circ in yellow. (Thanks to Dr. Joe Webb for the chart)
In fact, the number of new magazines we make is a red herring to our actual vibrancy. The only stat that matters is how many magazines we sell, and those numbers have been dropping since 2007 to a loss of over 50% in newsstand sales and, depending upon who you talk to, 18% in subs.