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.
As Content & Technology Converge, Publishers Feel the Squeeze
Is there a difference between a content company and a technology company? The answer to that question is becoming increasingly difficult to answer. In the recent past, publishers were by and large content companies. Today, with the blending of multiple content distribution formats, magazine media companies have forged new business alliances and discovered new types of competitors, blurring the lines between magazine companies and technology companies.
David Carey recently noted that, "Hearst is a content company, operating with a platform mentality...functioning as one global entity as far as content sharing." I suggest to you that only a technology company that sells content on such a vast scale can achieve the goal of that kind of global outreach.
Let's put a bunch of companies in the same sentence and see if we can divine the differences: The New York Times, Hearst, Condé Nast, Yahoo, Buzzfeed, Vox, and Upworthy. Can you distinguish the differences between these companies and their missions? If we are all fast becoming technology companies, as it seems we are, perhaps we should consider the differences and significance of online readership and off-line readership. Are we nearing a point when it will all be just readership?
It seems to me that my opinion on the changes to the ASME guidelines will be in the minority. To me it boils down to integrity: you have it or you don't.
As an industry we seem to keep diluting our once unimpeachable integrity, whittling at it here and there, until before we know it, we have none. Native advertising, ads on the cover, editors working hand in hand with advertisers -- where does it end? Oh, I see there actually is no end, just a slow whimpering slide into total duplicity. Yes, you can fool all the readers some of the time and some of the readers all the time, but you absolutely can't fool all the readers all the time.
In the end the ASME rules don't matter and they never did.
Lets face it, we have never been a "pure" industry and we have always pushed the business envelope hard for a few extra bucks. But now we don't wish to even fake it anymore.
What does matter is our self-image. Editors of old would be appalled at what we have become and allow. I hear you -- modern times require modern guidelines. I'm sure that is true. But I tell you this, there continues to be less and less that differentiates the magazine media business from multiple internet scams or from the 16 year old kid doing whatever he pleases to score with the girl next door. It may work for the kid, but not for the industry.
I think the old guidelines of the magazine industry that were in place for decades helped develop the enduring value for our franchises. We are still riding on the coattails of those old values, and the public still believes in us and our integrity based on what we did in the past. It will take time, but not as much time as took to develop that trust, for it to evaporate. Is it worth it to destroy a legacy for just a few shekels? I guess so.
BoSacks Speaks Out: On Niche Media Publishing Conference
Last week I went to Denver to attend the Niche Media Conference. As I sat there at the opening ceremony I started to wonder about the term "niche". We all use it, but do any of us know the actual meaning of the word. I didn't. The term comes from Vulgar Latin, vulgar in this case meaning "common or vernacular Latin" rather than Classical Latin. The Vulgar Latin word was nīdiculāre which means to stay in one's nest. From Latin the French used the word nicher or "to make a nest."
I tell you all this because Carl Landau has succeed in making a publishing nest at his Niche Media Conference. I must have asked 45 of the 250 attendees if they liked the event and why. Most of the people I met were returnees, and that says something right there. A few have been coming since the beginning, which I think I heard Carl say was 9 years ago.
BoSacks Speaks Out: On PRIMEX, and the Important Nuts and Bolts of the Magazine Industry
There is an unsung part of the magazine media industry that many of us rarely think or hear about, and yet a case can be made that this hard working section of the industry is the mighty engine that actually keeps us running.
We constantly read about creativity in our industry, about the art or editorial without which we wouldn't have a business. We read about newsstand issues, both the good and the bad. But the "magazine auto mechanic" who keeps the engine running is rarely in the forefront of industry discussions. Yet without a good, well distributed substrate, where would you put your creative content?
The somewhat hidden yet vital sectors of our business are the production departments. Having been a member of that elite group myself, I know the perils of the position all too well. Our job is to keep costs down to minimum and quality up to a maximum. Sounds easy, right? Other than those cost and quality conditions we only surface when things go wrong. What kind of person would actually take on that kind of responsibility? The fact that we get it right and near perfect 99.9% of the time is irrelevant when the pulp hits the fan of manufactured discontent. FOR THE COMPLETE ARTICLE CLICK HERE
We will need good leaders to provide direction in the changing publishing world.
In this column I have pontificated many times about the positive nature and direction of our industry, about the belief that we are headed toward a new golden age of publishing, and that new technologies should be considered the friends of information distributors. But there is one aspect in this new world that has me worried. It is the area of mentorship where, it seems to me, we have fallen behind and, as an industry, we have been greatly diminished.
What has happened? When and where did we lose the skill set and the will to teach the younglings? Have we so trimmed our business models that there is just no time to teach and mentor? Have we lost sight of the power of the properly groomed apprentice?
I do not know how to quantify the value of a properly mentored apprentice except through my own experience. But I know that as I moved up the corporate ladder, each of my teachers built upon the foundation of the other guild members that went before them. And I can tell you this: Having been a mentor myself there is a tremendous joy in the successful transfer of knowledge and power.
For me, Vito Colaprico (The New York Times), Lowell Logan (McCall's) and Irving Herschbein (Condé Nast) were giants in their day, and took the time to reach out to a young and inquisitive subordinate. I have attempted to return the favor to them and the industry by mentoring others, through my e-newsletter and my column in this magazine.
The Need for Leaders in a Time of Change
Without mentorship we are collectively less than we might have been. It is the aggregate of this loss that will be felt and perhaps is being felt now. Who are the leaders of your corporation? Who are the genuine leaders of this industry? I don't mean who is your immediate supervisor or who is the CEO-those are just job titles. Whom do you aspire to emulate as a role model? A generation ago, if you asked anyone in publishing who the real leaders were, the names I mentioned above would be high on the list. In the print world today, who is on the real leadership list now?
We have many problems ahead of us as an industry. We will need good leaders to provide direction. If you think about it, we are trying to prepare publishing personnel for jobs that don't yet exist. Students will be using technologies and concepts that haven't yet been invented, and they will be trying to find the solutions to problems we don't even know are problems yet.