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  • BoSacks Speaks Out: A David Carey Retrospective

    BoSacks Speaks Out: The first time I remember meeting David Carey was, of course, at one of the trade shows. My memory is that it was at a cocktail party and it was just before the launch of Portfolio Magazine. He was then and always has been congenial and thoughtful in all our personal conversations. I have always admired David's leadership. I am constantly asked in my travels what publishing houses get it "right" in the current market place. My answer has always been David and Hearst. 

    You may say that it is easy for the big guys to do well. Not so. Kodak, Bear Stearns, Enron, Ford Edsel, New Coke just to name a few colossal failures from giants who could have/should have known better. No, it's not easy being at the top of a giant cooperation. When you are that big a leader, you have to be cautiously aggressive, and that is no easy task.

    I've always been an entrepreneur and for me, taking aggressive risks is part of the job definition. That methodology takes on new meaning when thousands of employees stand and fall by your decisions. It is not for the weak of heart. Bravo to David and his next bold moves!

    As an aside, I have always taken great pride that David has publicly stated on more than one occasion, that he reads this newsletter every day. That has nothing to do with my admiration, but it doesn't hurt either.



    Those who are victorious plan effectively and change decisively. They are like a great river that maintains its course but adjusts its flow.
    Sun Tzu

     

    Looking back at the venerable career of an industry leader.
     

    by Bob Sacks
    Posted September 15, 2018
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  • BoSacks Speaks Out: On the Scariest Chart in Mary Meeker's Media Slide Deck

    BoSacks Speaks Out: On the Scariest Chart in Mary Meeker's Media Slide Deck

    Anyone who has seen a "Bo-talk" knows that I always spend some time and a few slides with Mary Meeker's work and analysis of the media industry. It is not the be-all and end-all of data analysis, but it is something to understand and acknowledge as we proceed. The charts you see below that track print and ad buys since 2010 to the present are exactly what I have brought to my audiences and with the same conclusions for the last seven years.

    What is not mentioned here but is worth noting is the fact that many magazines are bucking the obvious trends and are doing quite well. As I also suggest in my talks, aggregates only tell part of the story. Averages being what averages are, 50% of the titles are above the trend line. As I said in my last lecture at Minnesota Magazine & Publishing Association a month ago, "I postulate that the 4% of time spent with print are valuable and precious minutes off the grid. Our strength is the total focus that print provides.

    The question is, can we convince young media buyers of the quality and worth of precious minutes off the grid?

    Does science matter in making media decisions?


    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.  


    With print the expectation is built right into the product as linear and fixed with no possibility of "surfing" beyond the next page. This firm foundation is in the background of your brain. Those particular expectations make for different reading experiences.

     Here is the science of what we know:

    1) Paper stimulates a stronger emotional response.

    2) Paper is more action-oriented than digital, because its physical format stimulates mental processes that guide consumer behavior.

    I think a case can be made that reading on the web requires a modern kind of discipline to actually finish the article you started to read, whereas in print there is no place else to go but finish what you picked up to read. Not everybody finishes every article regardless of the substrate. But to get readers to finish anything containing words requires good writing, good editing and a compelling subject.It is addictive content properly constructed and distributed that brings success to any magazine in print or on the web. It is that simple . . . and that hard.

    FOR THE COMPLETE ARTICLE CLICK HERE

    by Bob Sacks
    Posted June 21, 2018
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  • A Response to Baird Davis'  Protecting the Newsstand (Part 2)

    A Response to Baird Davis' Protecting the Newsstand (Part 2)

    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 [1]. 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

    by John Harrington
    Posted May 16, 2018
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  • Protecting the Newsstand Channel - A Modest Plan (Part 1)

    Protecting the Newsstand Channel - A Modest Plan (Part 1)

    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

    by Baird Davis
    Posted May 16, 2018
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  • BoSacks Speaks Out: Saving Our Precious Newsstand

    BoSacks Speaks Out: Saving Our Precious Newsstand

    If you know that there is danger in the bushes, that's a good thing, right? Isn't it best to know what confronts you whether in a business or personal situation? In most cases I would say yes. But apparently not the magazine business when it comes to magazine sales figures. Don't get me wrong, I fully understand the discomfort of the data and the ripple effect that publicizing that data across to members of our community and associated sectors can have. Bad news generally begets continued negative momentum.

    Here is what I'm getting at. I think it is time for an honest discussion about the current state and future possibilities of the American magazine newsstand. As a frequent attendee and speaker to media trade shows across the country, I constantly talk with publishers about our business and many times about the newsstand.

    Just yesterday a friend/publisher e-mailed me the following, "The newsstand system is becoming increasingly irrelevant to most magazine publishers. Big publishers now create covers more with the goal of getting clicks and social-media buzz than selling copies. I can't say that I disagree with them. The newsstand system is a shit show of incompetence and inefficiency." Do you agree with my friend? 

    And this is just one of the many skeptical notes I have gotten concerning the remote possibility of publishers saving the once beloved newsstand.

    I state today that I am not a skeptic. Well, actually I am, but not on this subject. My first business partner, Andy Kowl, was the first person to explain to me that business abhors a vacuum. If there is room to make a buck, a buck will be made by entrepreneurs finding the holes in any commercial system. In this case, I suggest if the newsstand that we know implodes, someone somehow will fill the vacuum created by the implosion and deliver magazines to a new "newsstand" and make the proverbial buck in the process. But I think that would be, at least in the beginning stages, very inefficient and costly and take years for a rebound in sales and outlets. It can be done, but should it? Can't we fix the "shit show of incompetence and inefficiency"?   CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE
    by Bob Sacks
    Posted April 10, 2018
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  • BoSacks on AMMC 2018: MPA Steps Up Game, WPP Chief Dodges Ad Fraud Question

    BoSacks on AMMC 2018: MPA Steps Up Game, WPP Chief Dodges Ad Fraud Question

    Once again the largest players in the magazine media industry gathered for the annual plumage display. Everybody is excited to be there including me. I annually and happily re-meet so many old friends accumulated through a lifetime in the industry that it is a joy to be there among my comrades. We share old war stories and new thoughts of the current conditions of our media empires. 

    Linda Thomas Brooks, President and Chief Executive Officer of the MPA, opened the event with a thoughtful message she received once directly from the Dalai Lama. It was as mystical and as far reaching with simplicity as you might expect. "Keep working on it." You see, at first you go: what? And then the simple complexity settles in. Yes, no matter what it is that's going on, just keep working on it till you find an answer. Linda's application of that for the industry was, "there is no one answer," just keep working on it. And how right she is. 

    There was a time in the magazine industry when almost every publisher large and small worked from extremely similar business plans. We were all in the highly definable, easily explained, magazine publishing business. Now-a-days I'll bet there are no two business plans alike. The complexities and unlimited diversity of information delivery platforms in the magazine media business makes every business exploration for revenue uniquely different. CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE

    by Bob Sacks
    Posted February 13, 2018
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  • Bosacks Speaks Out: Time Inc. Can't be Saved by Nostalgia

    Bosacks Speaks Out: Time Inc. Can't be Saved by Nostalgia

    Bosacks Speaks Out: Odd things happen at odd and sometimes inconvenient times.  For me, although this newsletter always gets out no matter what, sometimes when breaking news happens, there are days that are more convenient than others. 

    This week I am in Houston visiting a family member in hospice, so since the Time Inc. story broke, I have not had the luxury to read all the prognosticators’ prognostications about the meaning of Life (pun Intended) as I usually would have. So, if what I am about to briefly say has been said by others, well that just means two of us had similar observations. 

    There seem to be many publishing professionals stressing and wringing their hands at the sale of Time Inc. to Meredith.

    First, let me say that few businesses can be successfully run on the fumes of nostalgia. We all loved the old Time Inc. for what it was and what we thought it could have become. Now both the “what” and the “could” are in the past and have been for some time. The magazine industry is thriving and reinventing itself in the here and the now. For many reasons Time Inc. currently is not reflective of where we as an industry are going, but only where we have been.

    I applaud the multitude of digital moves made by Time Inc. of late, and had they been spun off as totally independent projects many or all could have flourished and still might.  Mostly there is too much historic baggage and too many legacy mistakes, and so we have the sale of the decade. But magazine giants have always risen to peaks and eventually evaporated in corporate smoke, usually with a whimper not a bang.  TV Guide comes to mind as do Curtis publishing and many more.  Giants in their day, now distant industrial memories.

    When I worked for McCall’s magazine in the 1980s, Time Inc. was a Co-owner. Those were the great years when Time was the undisputed leader of the entire magazine industry in all respects.  When is the last time that could be said of Time Inc.? I miss the industry leadership and their profound, always on-going experimentation in the magazine business and the supreme search for the efficiency of the product.  Time Inc. deserves its place in the halls of media Olympus, but like Zeus and the gang, they are but rumblings of distant nostalgic thunder, fond to think about but forever gone. 

    by Bob Sacks
    Posted November 29, 2017
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  • BoSacks Speaks Out: Where will you and your media business be in five years?

    BoSacks Speaks Out: Where will you and your media business be in five years?

    For the record I'm on many blogs, threads and various news chains. One of them a few days ago asked a typical but still important question. Where will ebooks be in five years?  That, of course, started me pondering several things about the magazine media business. Where were we five years ago and where are we now? And is that perspective an accurate forecaster for the next five years or ten for that matter? 

    In five years - Ok, shoot me if it is ten - most successful publishing businesses and technologies will morph almost beyond recognition from our traditional heritages with the exception of the one technology that won't be changing any time soon, and that is that words have to be read on one substrate or another. 

    Let me start with this: in five years, or yes perhaps ten, the media universe will have continued its trajectory away from organic substrates. I ask all the other pundits claiming an affection for print: what will stop the current trends?  Nothing really. But I agree with these same pundits that print will always have a special place for some of those who are willing to pay for it. Those printed products that do remain in five or ten years, will be very profitable. Those special interest niche magazines and digitally printed focused publications will have great longevity. As I have said many times, the print survivors will be considered as a luxury item and not an inexpensive commodity product.  CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE

    by Bob Sacks
    Posted November 20, 2017
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  • BoSacks Speaks Out: Is this the End of an Era for the Magazine Industry?

    BoSacks Speaks Out: Is this the End of an Era for the Magazine Industry?

    BoSacks Speaks Out:  I know the author of What does the departure of four top editors say about the future of magazines, Cable Neuhaus. The two of us had dinner a few years ago in New York City, where we exchanged ideas. He is smart, experienced and has great perspective, much of it from longevity on the publishing playing field. He writes a great heartfelt missive here about the magazine business. He says: 

    "In short, magazines have been my love and my livelihood nearly all my adult life. It affords me zero pleasure to observe their slow, steady decline. I cherish them, but I cannot look you in the eye and pretend that those of us who make and joyously consume magazines are not an abysmally small club these days." 

    My friend Cable and too many others mistake a change in dominance for death. Loss of dominance is not equivalent to death-it just feels that way.  I believe that there are ever-present super opportunities here today and an on-going era of great publishing expansion.  That would be the expansion of the media world, delivered by multiple methods to various devices, only one of which is paper. Here is where the disconnect comes from. In the old days - and what guys like Cable and I remember - the traditional publisher owned and controlled his own medium. Whether it was printed paper or on the airwaves, the traditional revenue stream was paid for by the advertiser. The advertiser needed that rare and hard to achieve platform of a large readership that traditional publishers provided.   This relationship, which used to pay for everything, has been totally and brutally disrupted. It will, of course, never return to the way it was. Fine, it's about time we got over it. 

    The truth is that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of publishers doing great these days. Admittedly not all, but Darwin allows for this in his publishing handbook. Those that adapt to the business conditions at hand have a great chance of survival, while those who can't adapt retire from the jungle. (Click here for the full article)

    by Bob Sacks
    Posted November 20, 2017
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  • BoSacks Speaks Out:  Takeaways from Digital Innovators Summit 2017

    BoSacks Speaks Out: Takeaways from Digital Innovators Summit 2017

     I have the privilege of attending about 16 publishing media conferences each year. The shows I go to run the gamut of media publishing enterprises. I attend meetings with editors (ASME), circulators (MBR), and production folk (PRIMEX). I meet with various groups of media professionals such as regional publishers (CRMA, IRMA), large publishers (MPA, IMAG), Digital Book Conferences, and International Conferences (FIPP World Conference). It is by attending these broadly different events that I gather my perspectives on media and deliver the opinions that you read each day. 

    In most of these events there is a discernable pattern. In some spiritual way most of the meetings open up with a similar chant or mantra. The audiences hum to "print is not dead, print is not dead, oh lord please agree that print is not dead." After that apparently mandatory professional obeisance, the conversations are all about digital processes, digital strategies and new digital revenues.   

    You've heard me say that I live in the future and only come to the present to give lectures about what is ahead for publishers. There is one show that I go to each year that doesn't follow that mantra trend and is as much a part of the future as I am. It is the Digital Innovators Summit hosted by FIPP and held each year in Berlin.  It is by far one of my most favorite events. The agenda there is all about successful digital methodologies currently and actively in place. If you work for a company with vision, get them to send you to DIS. It is an event that I would recommend to any company that wants to see the future of our business in action today.  FOR THE COMPLETE ARTICLE CLICK HERE

    by Bob Sacks
    Posted July 26, 2017
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