Bosacks Speaks Out
The following data is new and fresh. There has been no time for proper analysis or deep study. It looks like newsstand sales are down -13.4%, and sell through looks to be down to 24.4%. As noted below this is a limited version of the data. It is worth noting that Hudson Atlas News is not included in these totals nor is Barnes & Nobel. There has been some discussion of the Mary Meeker 2017 data in this newsletter over the past few days, and this new Magnet data does seem to parallel that other data set. But that too is just a set of numbers. Some have said those numbers are biased. I put forth the proposition that all analysis no matter how innocently prepared is to a greater or lesser degree biased. You take what you understand and apply your own real time experience to it for meaningful comprehension.
I have many times and continue to point out that this data and other charts are an aggregate of everyone and, although they might be interesting, averages contain both winners and losers. There has always been death and destruction in the magazine business. But there have also always been winners, and I believe we need to continue to focus on the winners.
I take the position that at our peak of production in the early years of the 21st century, when our competitors were only TV and radio, we had reached a print position of irrational exuberance. We topped out because readers could/would support it. Now as we head into a more digital focused age of media distribution, it is harder, but surely not impossible, to justify an existence for print titles. The bar for success in print is now higher. The readership is now more refined and narrow. Niche enthusiast titles rule the roost and general mass market titles are fewer and fewer. Still, there is plenty of room for print titles and the paper that supports the process.
The days of irrational exuberance in print are over, but we are reaching a point of cogent maturity for publishers, printers and paper manufacturers. Print will be around for quite some time, not as a commodity, but as a luxury item worth paying for. The only catch is that what is printed has to be worthy of the commercial exercise to produce it.
Samir Husni, aka Mr. Magazine, held his annual ACT 7 conference at the University of Mississippi in late April. The program was a good round up of what is going on in publishing, what our hopes and fears, challenges and opportunities are, and what the most forward-looking publishers, large and small, are doing to create success in their businesses. And on the last day, drawing together the threads of what had been discussed and adding fresh thoughts in his usual outspoken way, Bo Sacks gave his take on it all in a presentation entitled "The Truth About Digital Lies."
Some of the current dialog about magazine publishing, Bo believes, stems from simple nostalgia, a yearning for the grand old days of the past. That's all well and good unless, by looking backward, we fail to look forward, and by remembering what once worked - but doesn't any longer - we fail to move past traditional thinking, we fail to break new ground, and we fail to challenge our own long-standing assumptions.
Because, like it or not, most of the reading public is leaving print behind. We spend more time with digital devices, where we get instant access to any and all information, than we spend with the printed word. Time spent on digital has exploded, from less than an hour in 2010 to over five hours in 2016. By 2021, nearly 90% of all internet traffic will come from smartphones.
A corollary to the reality of this shift in attention is this: attention can be monetized, but publishers are failing to monetize it effectively. The companies making money from the changes in audience attention flow are Google and Facebook. Well over half the digital ad spend goes to Google and Facebook, with no other digital publisher enjoying even 4% of the total revenues. CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE
I have several media conferences that I relish and greatly look forward to each year, and IMAG-MPA is one of the best of them. Imagine what is like for a long-time publishing enthusiast like me to be in a room filled with like-minded entrepreneurs who happen to be in the magazine business. Intoxicating yes? Here we have publishers whose companies range from $5 million to $100 million in revenues, and yet they play very well together regardless of pecking order.
The opening night was a smashing success when we all hopped aboard busses and attended opening night cocktails and dinner at TEN: The Enthusiast Network Headquarters. The TEN building is huge and row upon row of computer work stations almost as far as the eye can see, generating and executing the placement of content in the automotive media sector. TEN covers the automotive in-market and automotive after-market services. Perhaps their most famous tile is Motor Trend, but there are dozens of other media enterprises under the hood at TEN. It was quite a display of energy and success in these troubled media moments.
One of the constant threads of the whole IMAG-MPA event was kicked off by a discussion by Mike Benson, Head of Marketing, Amazon Originals. Right out of the box and continuing for the next few days from many speakers was a conversation about magazine media and video. (I wrote last week that my reaction to the video conversation was that video was of course a revenue thing but not the revenuething for the future of our business depending upon what sector your franchise is in.)
Tuesday morning, Scott Dickey, Chief Executive Officer, TEN: The Enthusiast Network, opened the main part of the conference with an interesting and sober comment. He said, "We know what it's like to be down 21%, but we also know how to survive." Bravo for such honesty in an open forum and, Indeed, TEN is not only thriving but sharing how to do so. Scott suggested that in next few days, "We will share information and we are in some way partners." He went on to say, "This big ideas showcased here is transferable to your businesses." Within reason I think that is correct. Not every idea is transferable to any and all businesses, but with creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit, most good ideas are worth "borrowing" and bending to your own enterprise's needs. CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE
My friend Esther Kezia Thorpe, whom I met in a London rooftop pub a few years ago when she interviewed me, makes some interesting observations here. But I think the survival or death of Airbnb magazine will rise or fall like any other publication: on its excellence or the lack therein and of course the uniqueness of the information provided. There are unlimited travel information opportunities everywhere in print and on-line. What separates success from failure are the rarities and qualities of the information provided combined with the format that the information resides upon. Digital is relatively cheap to produce and to sustain, and it has the advantage of being accessible literally everywhere at any time. Even inferiorly produced printed products, which Airbnb won't be, are quite the opposite as they are relatively expensive to produce and distribute. So, the chance of survivability many times depends upon the expense to produce the product. Hearst is not known for half-way measures, so I expect that Airbnb with have both editorial and production excellence. That doesn't assure success, but it does offer a reasonable chance for one.
Esther states that a possible problem for continued success is the mixed message between the two lead agents in the projects. She points out that: "A far more serious issue at the heart of Airbnb mag is the vast gulf between the two companies' views on the purpose of the magazine. Compare these two statements from Chesky and Coles on how important revenue on the magazine is to them: CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE
Bosacks Speaks Out: Call me a skeptic if you will, but I don't yet have much trust in the…
There was a time, and it doesn't seem like it was that long ago, when no matter where your company was in the hierarchy of publishing, the most common denominator to the magazine franchise was that we all published printed magazines. That is no longer the case, and the magazine industry is almost unrecognizable from its past lifetimes. For 600 years we put thoughtful ink on paper and sold it to a willing public who were in the need to know. Now as we reallocate resources and streams of income, print, although it is still about 75% on average of the revenue pie, gets little of the conversation and only a small amount of the love.
This reaction comes from just attending the IMAG-MPA conference in Los Angles. It was a great show filled with important media conversations, and I highly recommend you go if and when you can. It seemed to me without looking at my notes, that at this event 90% of the conversation was about video. This is clearly what everyone expects to be the next big thing when it comes to new revenue streams. I personally have my doubts. Will it be a thing? Absolutely! But THE thing? I am not so sure.
Success and with it the resulting revenue clearly depends upon what your franchise is based upon. Ten, The Enthusiast Network which was the IMAG host publisher in LA and which is to auto industry lovers as Bayer is to pills, is a perfect candidate for success in the auto action/instruction video gambit. I see ample opportunities for major success for them. At the IMAG conference and at the tour of their offices they demonstrated that success and power. CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE
As my long-time readers know I have a global interest in regards to the information distribution business formally known as publishing. The following article is obviously from India, but some of the dialog from India could be heard at any domestic media conference. And that is the point of sending this type of article out. Media with its multitude of nuances is global. One way or another every information distributor faces similar obstacles and successes. Keeping a world view on publishing helps me see trends that I might otherwise miss.
Speaking of missing a "print is not dying" moment, last week I sent out an article titled As Print Continues to Die, Why are Conde Nast and Hearst Launching New Magazines. That article discussed among other titles that Penthouse did away with its print edition. Both my favorite newsstand consultant and Kelly Holland, the CEO Owner of Penthouse Global Media, immediately contacted me with the correction that Penthouse is still on the newsstands and according to Kelly, "We are expanding from 10 issues annual to 12." Kelly and I had a conference call today where she briefly brought me up to speed with how they are working and revitalizing this classic brand. I didn't hear anything that couldn't work. Adult titles are one of many niche publishing areas of focus. As I suggested to Kelly, "It all sounds reasonable. The trick in any company or any niche is execution of the business plan." The caveat, of course, is that proper execution and a fair amount of luck is no easy task, but both are accomplished every day.
That, of course, doesn't condemn everybody. But there are too many examples of profit above truth to deny a strong resemblance that the accusation exists here and there. Women's magazines in particular have for a hundred years or more, fed on the needs and promoted unrealistic expectations on a very vulnerable public for a nice profit.
Take Doctor Oz for example. He has a very successful magazine. He is, as reported in Wikipedia, "a proponent of alternative medicine and has been criticized by physicians, government officials and publications, including Popular Science and The New Yorker, for giving non-scientific advice. In a Senate hearing on weight loss scams, Senator Claire McCaskill chided Oz, saying, 'The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of the three products you call miracles.' An investigation by the British Medical Journal found that 46% of his claims were misleading or incorrect." Yet Doctor Oz has a very successful magazine.
I've been told that the good doctor's magazine "The Good Life" has editorial content that is free of any miracle medical cures. That is fine, but it is not free from the mascot protagonist about whom it has been stated that "46% of his claims were misleading or incorrect." It's not free from a spokesperson that faced an angry congress "for giving non-scientific advice."
I suppose it's possible to say that publishers are just giving the public what it wants. But I struggle with validating a TV personality who, as suggested by the British Medical Journal, has distributed malarkey for profit. It is worth repeating for the third time that this magazine is wildly successful. So none of the observations above matters either to the public or the balance sheet. FOR THE FULL ARTICLE CLICK HERE
The Goldmine distribution story is a great lesson for every publisher and gives me some fond memories of publishing times past. My first two publications, one in New York called "The Express" and one in Arizona, called "The Mountain NewsReal" were from a media species then called the underground press. I was in my early twenties and we had no rule books or mentors, so my partners and I just made up "procedures" as we went along. One of the things we explored was not only publishing an alternative newspaper but also alternative distribution. Our papers were distributed not on newsstands, but in retail outlets, hair cutters, bars, clubs, college dormitories, rock concerts, head shops, and a dozen other non-traditional publication outlets.
The same theories held true later for us at "High Times" magazine. In the beginning no wholesaler would distribute the controversial title, so we needed to create alternative distribution outlets other than traditional newsstand. We did so to great effect and extremely high sell through numbers.
It is the non-traditional aspect of this story that modern publishers should consider. The old newsstand outlets are diminishing, with rare exception. Each sales report is down by double digits from the year before. It seems to me that creative new distribution outlets like the ones that Goldmine found are the way to offset some of the lost circulation. I know that many niche titles today do this very thing; they distribute their publications where their readers are rather then where their readers aren't.