There is a trend in the publishing media conferences that has been growing for the past few years, and when I tell you what it is, you'll say, of course.
It's a conversation I've seen growing around the world in publishing conferences. I've heard it in Berlin at The Digital Innovator's Summit and at MagNet: Canada's Magazine Conference. I've heard it in London and Oxford, Mississippi. It was repeated in NYC at the AMMC-MPA annual event and now playing out at MPA-IMAG last Wednesday and Thursday in Boston, Massachusetts. I'll eventually tell you what this "new" revelation is, but not just yet. I want to build up to the simple epiphany.
It is usually reasonable to start at the beginning when explaining damn near anything. So, I figure I'll start with Linda Thomas Brooks, President and CEO of the MPA who opened the IMAG event. Since her arrival at the MPA, I have seen an era of advanced messaging for the magazine industry. Today was yet another step in the right direction and I suppose a tangent to the campaign: Magazine Media. Better. Believe it.
Linda's presentation at IMAG was titled Credibility By The Numbers. It was an insightful look at the making of a magazine and the carefully researched and rendered articles within.
Linda shared data on several articles from several magazines. I'll just tell you about the article that ran in Parent's Magazine called "I think there's something wrong with my child". It took two years of research with 7 moms, 1 fact checker, 2 photo editors, 1 photographer, 1 production Manager, 8 print editors, 4 digital editors, 2 copy editors, 4 psychiatrists/psychologists, and 2 lawyers. You get the point.
Magazines have credibility with the public partly due to the amount of time, research, personnel, money and energy invested in them to make them credible. No, not all magazines can afford to perform to the level of excellence of Parent's Magazine. But I will submit that most print magazines do try to the best of their ability and monetary war-chest to give their readers words and ideas not only worth reading but also worth trusting. With all the Sturm und Drang of the internet, print has over its 600-year history created longtime trust in our products. Just being in print adds the aforementioned credibility, even to some titles that don't deserve it.
As many surveys tell us, it is true that traditional media is more trusted than online media. But let's be honest the advertising agencies of the world don't seem interested in our credibility and are still deeply attracted to the digital placement of advertising dollars. And that brings me back to the trends I've seen in the publishing media conferences, literally everywhere on the planet. It's as simple as this: "Let's have the readers pay for our content." I told you you'd say "of course."
Yes, that is what we should have been doing all along. Advertising revenue should be the gravy on the meat adding just a little something extra to the dish and not the unreliable and indigestible thing it has become. Everywhere I go the conversation is about two things: giving the readers the information that they want, when they what it and, through various means and programs, having them pay for it.
Again, totally obvious, but to our industry only in hindsight. The industry has now made that turn and is doing exceeding well in many areas. All this was in evidence at IMAG and is being discussed everywhere.
This focus on alternative revenue and the creative ways publishers are achieving it is very uplifting to an industry that was struggling for quite some time.
Sure, we will still get print advertising revenue and lots of it, but it is fast becoming just one of many revenue streams and the not the sole addictive Goliath it once was.
The haptic experience between print and digital is mainly a different feel, a different sensation and, perhaps above all else, a different expectation. Print doesn't offer distractions other than the words and thinking on the page, while the digital experience does.
I could quibble over a long list of essentially minor points in Baird Davis' "Modest Plan", but the fact is the underlying message - something must be done about the newsstand - is undeniable.
Two questions hang over the future:
Can and will publishers make aggressive steps to create a manageable distribution channel? And; If yes to that, can the apparently inexorable decline in sales be halted so that a manageable channel can survive?
As I have said on many occasions, there is little history that indicates publishers are willing to embark on a cooperative effort to revamp the channel, but perhaps staring into the abyss may rattle their long-demonstrated reluctance.
As for sales, magazine retail dollar volume was $5 billion in 2007 and is likely to be little more than $1 billion by the end of 2018. For years, everyone was asked the question, "Where is the bottom?" For years, the response has been, "Who knows?" Which translates as zero, and which leads to the question, "Why would anyone commit to an effort to restructure, if the market will, like the old soldier, just fade away?
Clearly, if publishers are going to recreate the channel, they must also commit to improving the sales environment. It's a two-part project.
I will once again express my skepticism about the likelihood of publishers undertaking the challenge. However, if such an ambitious task were to be initiated, I offer my modest suggestions about what elements it might have to contain.
Baird's suggestion of establishing a newsstand public utility is right on. Players on each side - publishers and wholesalers - would have to put some ego aside, but when the alternative is the abyss, that shouldn't be too difficult. Perhaps publishers, at least some of the largest, might be able to partner in some fashion with the two remaining wholesalers . If such a utility could be established, it might operate on a modification of the a so-called "pay-for-service" model that was part of the industry discussion back ten or fifteen years ago, and it would be available to all publishers willing to pay for the offered services. CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE
The original intent of the recent newsstand articles that John Harrington and I did, at Bosacks' insistent urging, was to inspire a vigorous discussion about the often misunderstood process of selling magazines at retail. In that regard we hit a nerve - the response has been hefty and spirited. Thank you to everyone that joined the discussion.
Now that the discussion has begun in earnest I want to offer some more grist to the dialogue mill. In this note I'll present a rough-hewn plan for protecting the embattled newsstand channel. It combines ideas gained from recent reader feedback with those based on my own experience as a circulator and long time newsstand observer.
Publishers Troubling "Blind Eye" Approach
There have been many attempts at newsstand channel reform and continuous warnings, twice a year from me, of the dangers that lay ahead for the channel. All of this to no avail. The reform efforts never came to fruition and the warnings have fallen on the deaf ears of publishers.
What appears to have happened is publishers adopted a fait accompli attitude toward the newsstand; seemingly content to live with decreasing sales and higher newsstand service costs. This doesn't mean, however, that publishers weren't acutely aware of the adverse economic effects of - declining sales, reduced efficiency, increased processing costs and less service from national distributors and wholesalers. They knew there was a problem, but, as always, they seemed perplexed about what to do.
In retrospect it's become obvious that publishers seriously underestimated the effect of the dynamic changes occurring to the channel infrastructure. In 2009 major wholesaler Anderson News dropped out of the business. In 2014 mega-wholesaler Source Interlink followed suit saying the business wasn't profitable and hadn't been for a long time. These two wholesalers at one time represented nearly 50% of the magazine retail distribution volume. A total meltdown was averted in 2014 when The News Group (TNG), with support from Hudson News*, scooped up the Source Interlink leavings. In doing so they "won" the long brutal wholesaling war of attrition.
*It should be noted that Hudson News remains in the magazine wholesaling business, but in a non-competitive manner with TNG.
The result - TNG emerges at the top of the newsstand wholesaling heap, controlling 75% to 80% of the magazine wholesaling volume. Click here for the complete article
BoSacks Speaks Out: I have four Alexa devices in my home. And I use them every day. When I wake up I ask Alexa for first the local weather report and then for my personal news brief collected from news organizations that I choose from the Alexa app. My list contains, NPR, the Economist, the BBC, Associated Press and I finish it off with a little humor from The Daily Show and the Tonight Show. Not a bad way to start an informed day.
But when I read about Jamie Court, who is the president of Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit advocacy group discussing new patent ideas from Amazon: "When you read parts of the (Alexa) applications, it's really clear that this is spyware and a surveillance system meant to serve you up to advertisers." Well that makes me wonder how far this is going to go. The article below goes on and states, "That information could then be used to identify a person's desires or interests, which could be mined for ads and product recommendations."
There are so many layers to this I don't know where to begin. As a media professional who sees intrusive advertising everywhere, this is another big leap into the weaponization of intrusion ad-warfare.
When you combine Cambridge Analytica, Facebook, Google, Alexa and all the other information intrusion activists you get a very scary picture of corruptibility. Well, you should get that picture, although none of this is yet illegal. Yes, we are all targets, and there are two advertising bullseyes on the head and heart of every individual on the planet. They will pull the strings of your heart by listening to the stirrings of your brain.
And, worst of all, this is just the beginning, as Alexa was launched in November 2014 just a little over three years ago.
What do media professionals think about this subject?
I can't recall if I have ever publicly discussed membership schemes for magazine revenue. It's not a new idea and sometimes it's really just semantics. When I was young, and I bought a subscription to the National Geographic they called me a member of the Society. I can't recall if I received anything special beyond the best printed magazine of its day, other than pride of being a so-called member of the National Geographic Society, but that seemed pretty cool at the time. And then there was Consumer Reports - that, too, was always called a membership. I have always been a fan of membership enterprises. In 1999 I was the COO of a membership organization called YAPA, the Young Adult Professional Association. Our plan was to be like AARP but instead of retirees as members we cultivated college graduates, with discount programs, job guidance and of course a magazine. We raised multiple millions of dollars and died an untimely death in the dotcom doom of 2000. It's still a great idea.
But here we are in the 21st century, and membership models are a "thing" again, but unlike the traditional publishing model, which is based on a transactional relationship of you give me money and I'll send you a magazine for a year or two. The new membership plans usually contain special offers, discounts, and many times a chance to meet your favorite editors and writers at events. I guess you could call it a 360 approach. I'm sure someone else already has. As American Express has said for years "membership has its privileges." The membership approach drives an affinity with the brand.
The New York Times has Time Plus, and the Wall Street Journal oddly has WSJ Plus. Both successful membership programs.
If ever I was to start another magazine, I would explore the membership model. It wouldn't work unless the magazine and the content was something special. With unlimited content everywhere on the planet why go into a new publishing business, if what you have to offer isn't excellence itself?
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