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Bosacks Speaks Out

  • Grim Industry Averages Overlook Many Cases of Individual Success.

    Grim Industry Averages Overlook Many Cases of Individual Success.

    There is an age-old phrase that claims that one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch, meaning in un-apple terms that one wrong person can negatively affect a whole group. I was wondering if the reverse can be true. Can one person or even a small number of persons show exemplary leadership and change the bunch in a positive direction? 

    Here is what I'm getting at. The latest reports from AAM on circulation seem dauntingly negative when viewed as whole. The last AAM report was filled with sad statistics such as: of the top selling 25 titles, only three improved their sales, and of the top 100, there were only 24 that showed positive momentum. It is those negative figures that everybody is focused on, and perhaps it is understandable to do so. As an industry trend, it isn't pretty.  But what about the winners in that multitude of industry misery?  

    As reported by John Harrington of NScopy.com, the "Food Network Magazine was up 12.1% to an average of 448,734, and its dollars were $9.0 million, 15th among audited publications. Sports Illustrated grew 14.7%, an average of 68,132, and the dollars were $8.7 million, #16. Women's Health grew by one percent to 300,790, and its $7.5 million put it 21st." So, although the statistics seem to point to a whole bad batch, it is not really true for all.  CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE

    by Bob Sacks
    Posted October 16, 2014
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  • Like the Ad Industry, Publishing is Often a Load of Bull

    Like the Ad Industry, Publishing is Often a Load of Bull

    My Goodness, Rance Crain wrote a terrific, important and timely articleOpens in a new windowdirected for the advertising world. And it is just as meaningful for magazine publishers as it is for ad agencies. It's time to stop the Bull. You can take all the surveys you want, but multiples of 25X pass-a-long for every magazine you produce is Bull with a capital "B". It doesn't really happen. 

    From the article:
    "Bullshit is different from lying. Lying is willful. When you lie, you know what the truth is, but you intentionally misrepresent it. In a way, bullshit is more insidious, because people who bullshit often don't know what the truth is and don't care. We use it on consumers, we use it on our clients and we are now bullshitting ourselves." 

    As the industry moves forward with the MPA's 360 program I implore you all to avoid the bullshit. Our new effort at creating the complete magazine media picture is not necessarily the wrong thing to do, because we need to do something. But relying on fraudulent digital data, which is everywhere, is a very dangerous thing to build our evolving new media businesses upon. Claiming media reach is a dicey and sometimes meaningless expression when using digital statistics. 

    Here is just one example, Facebook itself says at least 67.65 million fake accounts were used last month. That number can go as high as 137.76 million, if the company's higher-end estimate is to be believed.  

    The criteria for ad visibility on the web is beyond a joke. Did you know that a web ad seen for one second "counts" as an ad seen? Did you know that in many and most cases a web ad run "below the fold", as in at the bottom of the page, counts as an ad seen? HUH?

    Yes, I understand the strong impetus to get away from the factual counting of ad pages that are printed. But moving our industry into the digital sweepstakes swamps of web metrics is a dangerous arena to slog through cleanly. I suspect the we will eventually all get caught in our own morass of bull.

    So here in the 21st century the major publishers no longer wish to publicly broadcast one of the two major stats that are actually verifiable - printed ad pages and actual copies sold.

    Of course, we also used to broadcast the bull of ad revenue with the ad count, but no one believed that number anyway. Everyone knew that the revenue portion of that data was full of bull-oney. At least the ad page count was based on actual printed pages. In truth, how many of those ad pages were make-goods, free, some kind of in-trade deal, or some other cross-pollination subterfuge was never actually known. But at least they were printed and verifiable as ads. And at the end of the day, I didn't/don't care how the ad got there, just that it was an ad, clearly distinguishable from the editorial. Of course, native advertising is another bag of worms, but that is a rant for another day.  CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE

    by Bob Sacks
    Posted October 15, 2014
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  • On Hearst, Mt. Olympus, Oxford, and Great Publishing Conferences

    On Hearst, Mt. Olympus, Oxford, and Great Publishing Conferences

    You would think that a guy who goes to a dozen publishing conferences a year and is also the writer/publisher of a daily newsletter on the subject of media, would find it easy to explain why the annual ACT magazine events at the University of Mississippi are so compelling. My problem is that it is hard to exactly define magic, and this special event is filled with magic and marvel. It is hosted by my good friend and industry debating partner Professor Samir Husni, who continuously attracts a world-wide concoction of diverse speakers. But it is not exactly the diversity of the presenters that makes it so special. If that was all it took, it would be easy to replicate, but nobody has an event quite like this one.

    Perhaps the most unique thing about the conference is the intimacy of the event along with the interchange with the students. As conferences go it is probably the smallest by population, yet the biggest in comradery and geniality. The auditorium is filled with 40 professional speakers and about the same amount of journalism/media students. We are an intentionally mixed group sitting randomly in the journalism school's cozy auditorium, senior publishing professionals hobnobbing side-by-side with the next and soon to be leaders of the noble enterprise we call media.     CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE

    by Bob Sacks
    Posted October 15, 2014
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  • Magazine Industry Hits Reset on Measuring Its Own Health

    Magazine Industry Hits Reset on Measuring Its Own Health

    An interesting professional sobriety hit the magazine business this week that was a long time in its maturation.  The MPA moved us off the teat of accounting for print ad pages as our franchise enabler and instead offered a solution of cross-media oversight. Concurrent with this move was the decision to no longer make public printed ad page stats.  This move attempts to take the consistently depressing news about declining page counts off the front page and to make them available only to MPA members and their affiliates.

    I understand the desire to camouflage the dissent, as the information is depressing and, I think, often times misleading. I have stated many times in this newsletter that trends do not reflect the specifics of individual titles or companies. Many print magazines are doing very well. But the overall trend of the industry continues to quickly head south.  CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE

    by Bob Sacks
    Posted October 15, 2014
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  • Is Publishing On the Verge of Digital's Watershed Moment?

    Is Publishing On the Verge of Digital's Watershed Moment?

    3 factors that will lead to digital's eclipse of print as the dominant source of magazine media revenue

    There is an odd form of delusion in the publishing world, characterized by a resistance to reason in the face of actual facts. This inability to recognize modern business trends is easy for most Millennials to understand, but hard for many magazine traditionalists to reconcile. It is the concept of print's current and future position in the grand scheme of revenue production in the information distribution industry. You see, the cause of this misunderstanding is that print is still the major source of revenue for most traditional publishers and that colors their thinking, even as paper-produced revenues on the whole continue to steadily decline.

    To be very clear, the future of our industry and our ability to make an honest living is digital. The only real question on that subject is when the watershed moment of digital supremacy will arrive. I think that when we look back at the end of 2014 we will see that that moment is happening now.

    Obviously there are many digital only publishers today who are already making a fortune in territory that was once a print-dominated field. Newspapers, news magazines, and assorted niche publications used to rule the info-sphere. Now sites like BuzzfeedOpens in a new windowVoxOpens in a new windowUpworthyOpens in a new windowFlipboardOpens in a new window, and many others satisfy the public's thirst for news as it happens. It makes perfect sense that "news" would be the first to fall to the digital axe and behead journalism as we once knew it. Over time our perception of news has changed. Now news isn't news if it is in any way not of an immediate nature. It wasn't always that way. In colonial days news took six weeks to cross the Atlantic and when it got here, it was well received as real news, true, and valuable. Now we receive news of events as they happen in real-time, which is something that no paper-sourced delivery can ever hope to contend with.

    Yet even taking those new successful news sites into consideration, the predominant method of generating revenue for traditional publishers is, for the moment, their print products. There are three main contributors to the headspace of this pulp addiction and all are easy to understand. 

    CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE

    by Bob Sacks
    Posted August 22, 2014
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  • BoSacks Speaks Out: Truth Or Consequences

    BoSacks Speaks Out: Truth Or Consequences

    A while ago I wrote the following about Native Advertising. My feelings today are a quite a bit stronger than what I wrote here, but I will stand by my older softer rant.

    Leave it to the wordsmiths of the publishing universe to dismiss the great bard's advice and call an old cabbage, a rose with a piquant odor.  There is a big debate going on in our industry and under all the fluff and misdirection, it is about lying and deceiving our public.

    This pox on our industry is called Native Advertising. What a brilliant use of words, so clean sounding and innocent. It is nothing more or less than the selling out of our souls and our integrity for less than a fleeting buck. An editor should understand advertising and how any publication works, survives and creates revenue.  But neither an editor nor a disguised editorial page should ever be advertising in hiding. Such a situation dilutes the whole foundation of our small universe and stains journalism in putrid colors. If one of your articles is suspect, the whole publication is corrupted and suspected to be what it is - a shill for promoting something and anything for a fee. It is the prostitution of an industry suffering from the lack of a spine and the lost business creativity to produce honest revenue.

    by Bob Sacks
    Posted April 29, 2014
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  • BoSacks Speaks Out: Interpreting the Sober Facts and True Conditions of our Industry

    BoSacks Speaks Out: Interpreting the Sober Facts and True Conditions of our Industry

    BoSacks Speak Out: Sometimes I just have to put the tequila aside and deliver a sobering report to the industry to offset some irrational exuberance.  I do this because I love the magazine media industry, and I don't want anyone to misinterpret the facts and true conditions of our industry.

    First, we are not dead, dying or otherwise crippled into irrelevance.  Print will be around for generations to come and be loved and cherished by many. That being said, whatever you read elsewhere, we are still and continue to be in a position of readjustment and weight loss. We are no longer the dominant player we once were. Sure there are more magazines than ever before, but that notation is irrelevant when you consider the fact that we continue to sell fewer and fewer magazines year in and year out.  And revenue, despite many singular and quite excellent print successes, continues to decline in the industry.  The pinnacle for magazines based on quantity is long gone and a decade in the past.  Click Here for the full Article

    by Bob Sacks
    Posted April 05, 2014
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  • Pulling Back The Curtain on Rate Base Inflation

    Pulling Back The Curtain on Rate Base Inflation

    For the last twenty years I have been publicly critical of the process and accountability—or lack thereof—of rate base, yet it never occurred to me to write an article about it. The truth is, I don't recall anyone writing an article about rate base from a positive or negative viewpoint.

    From my perspective, rate base is a convoluted tool designed to produce distorted circulation figures. Yes, auditing is an attempt to verify with some precision and prove to the advertisers that a certain number of people may have picked up and read your magazine. But imbedded in this arcane system is a potential for trickery and a temptation to abuse the well-meaning audit results to achieve what amounts to some meaningless readership number.

    Since I wanted to express more than just my opinion on this topic, I reached out to industry leaders from all segments of our noble franchise. Most of the people I spoke to in the research for this article focused their observations on the abundant abuse of rate base and its antiquated nature.

    I spoke to magazine media pundit and Publishing Executive columnist D. Eadward Tree and started by asking, "What is the problem with rate base?" He says, "I think we should define the problem clearly: Is it circulation audits? Rate base in general? Or inflated rate bases? I don't see a problem with the concept of rate base in general: We make a promise to our advertisers about who will see their ads, then verify that they got their money's worth by having the circulation audited. What gets us into trouble is inflated rate bases, which force publishers to do desperate, stupid things like offering $5 annual subscriptions, using negative-remit agents, and getting into trouble with the Federal Trade Commission."       FOR THE COMPLETE ARTICLE CLICK HERE

    by Bob Sacks
    Posted February 14, 2014
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  • BoSacks Speaks Out: Who or What is a publisher in the 21st Century?

    BoSacks Speaks Out: Who or What is a publisher in the 21st Century?

    I think our publishing industry is at a crossroad and we have been  approaching it for quite some time, at least since 2007 and surely since 2010, with the introduction of the iPad. Perhaps Mary Berner, CEO of the MPA, has it right when she now calls our former publishing houses Magazine Media.

    In this day and age how would you define a magazine publisher? We are no longer what we once were, because our readers and, most importantly, our revenue streams are very different.  And they, too, are continually becoming something else. What we are becoming is not less relevant, but is much harder to define and even more confusing as we proceed into the near future.

    It seems to me we are suffering from a strong identity crisis. Pre-2007 if you were a publisher you were for the most part in the print business, and the bulk of your revenue was derived from print. Now a publisher can be called a publisher just by hosting a web page, sending out a newsletter, or a blog or, of course, a printed magazine.

    The concept of magazine media does combine all the available platforms into one descriptive business type.  But changing our business identity doesn’t solve the problems of lost revenue and shifting reading patterns of our current and former consumers.Even the understanding that there is a universe of multiple platforms beyond print doesn’t help most publishers. Sure the big guys have plenty of dough to throw at as many substrates as seems prudent, and they do just that. What about the moderate to small publishers? They don’t have the money or the internal infrastructure to be so omnipresent. HERE FOR THE FULL STORY

    by Bob Sacks
    Posted January 09, 2014
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  • BoSacks Speaks Out: The Results of 50 years of Irrational Publishing Exuberance

    BoSacks Speaks Out: The Results of 50 years of Irrational Publishing Exuberance

    Assuming that we are all adults here, it is time for a frank and honest conversation about the future of print. Never in the pages of this newsletter have I proposed the death of print, not even its near death. That is not happening and will not happen any time soon. But, my goodness! we do need to collect our thoughts and maintain some sobriety. Both Samir and Mr. Dead Tree have published recent articles about this non-death. Samir calls it, "the amplification of print in a digital age."  I can live with that.  But in my judgment the exuberance needs to tempered just a bit with the flip side of reality.

    Below in a chart produced by Dr. Joe Webb is the problem as I see it. Even with all this exciting "amplification," where is the MONEY? As an industry, printed books, magazines, and newspapers have been non-stop losing revenue year in and year out since 2007. I am fine with all the brouhaha that this title and that title went from the web to print. I am ecstatic that some titles are being revived, and I think it is wonderful that there are new titles each and every year.  But the money, that revenue that feeds our children, is diminishing - maybe not for all, but clearly for many and maybe, according to the chart, for most.

    I believe there is, in fact, a bottom line somewhere where printed products as an industry will do just fine, but we aren't there yet. I ask you, is this a chart to brag by? If you saw this chart at your Wall Street broker's office, would you buy this stock to secure your family's mortgage?  I have stated many times in these pages that aggregated data doesn't reflect single titles and that there are many successes that we can and should brag about as an industry. But those are singular cases and NOT reflective of the industry as a whole. CLICK HERE FOR THE COMPLETE STORY

    by Bob Sacks
    Posted January 08, 2014
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