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  • Publishing Pandemic Roundtable: Looking Forward to the Next Act

    Publishing Pandemic Roundtable: Looking Forward to the Next Act

    I Used to Be Somebody:
    Looking Forward to the Next Act
    By Linda Ruth
     
    Carl Landau, founder of Pickleball Media and publisher of the podcast and newsletter I Used to Be Somebody joined the Pandemic Roundtable—Joe Berger, Sherin Pierce, Samir Husni, Bo Sacks, Gemma Peckham, and me—to talk about what to do after you finish doing what you’ve been doing all this time.
     
    Joe: You used to own and run the popular Niche Publishing Conference for the magazine industry, and sold your company a couple of years ago, so I’m very interested in hearing what you have to say about second and third acts.
     
    Carl: Yes, I sold Niche Publishing to Second Street Media a year and a half ago. They are a platform for contests—they bought us for our database of 18,000 publishers. I worked for them part time for a year to help with the transition—which was a peaceful one. The year gave me my first opportunity since my paper route when I was 14 to have a part time job. It was refreshing.
     
    After that, my wife and I planned to travel. Then COVID hit.
    This left me thinking about what to do with my time, experience, and energy. And my mind turned to podcasting. Eight years ago I did a podcast—Events: What Wakes You up at 3 am. It was a lot of fun, and garnered some interest, but I had a full time job, and really couldn’t sustain it. What I enjoyed most about it was building the audience.
     
    And I love podcasts; I listen to four or five of them every day. You’ll find that media companies selling for a lot of money are podcast forward. Several that produce podcasts have sold for over 200 million. Now there are hundreds of thousands of podcasts, and smart companies looking for growth areas turn to them as another way to build audience.
     
    Sherin: Podcasts are great because they’re so portable. You can be out for a walk and learning about a subject.
     
    Joe: The podcasts that are successful—where does their money come from? The events they throw? Advertising?
     
    Carl: Sponsorship. Some podcasts have audiences of millions. That’s bigger than mainstream news. I just sold my first sponsorship, starting in March, after 12 episodes. My first weekly episode came out in October.
     
    For me, the demographic that is most interesting is the Baby Boomers. There are 80 million of us. Ten thousand people a day turn 65. And that will continue another 5-6 years. For baby boomers, there are at least 25 podcasts about money, by financial advisors. I was more interested in what boomers might do for a second act.
     
    Twenty years ago, you were done at sixty. Now continuing on is the rule, rather than the exception.
     
    Linda: Do you think that’s because of the nature of the people turning sixty, or because Social Security has been pushed back?
     
    Carl: I think it’s a combination. We’re also living a lot longer. If you’re going to make it into your 80s, that’s a lot of post-retirement time on your hands.
     
    Bo: Does what happens vary by industry? In publishing we have a consistent pattern of getting rid of institutional memory. When you turn 65ish—you’re gone. You make too much money and you get to save the company’s bottom line. It is a historic pattern.
     
    Carl: I see that everywhere, in every industry. An amazing amount of wealth and intelligence is concentrated in this group—and yet it is mostly ignored by the media.
     
    I Used to Be Somebody is for people who had successful careers and now want to do something entirely different. I like to get emotionally involved with them, find out who that person is, what they’ve done. That’s my format, and it’s how I engage my audience, which has grown in this short time to almost 1300 subscribers.
     
    Joe: Your company is called Pickleball Media. Should we be looking for a pickleball magazine to come out sometime soon?
     
    Carl: There is one. Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the US. Close to 5 million people play it, and no one’s heard of it! If it weren’t for pandemic, it was going to explode this year. This is what’s really helped me in this transition. Getting out of the familiar thing I’ve been doing for 20 years has energized me incredibly. I’ve been doing all this new stuff, podcasts, pickleball, and learning new things. It’s been really fun having this year to explore these opportunities. And that happens a lot with the people I interview. One big time lawyer took up photography and poetry. Those are the stories I explore in my podcast. It’s been really inspiring talking to these people. Having a podcast gives a forum you can talk to people you’d never have otherwise met.
     
    Linda: Could you distribute podcasts for other people?
     
    Carl: I wouldn’t, but there are lots of people who do it. There are so many opportunities, so many directions to go in. There is room for another event in the field, focusing on teaching people how to do podcasts, how to sell sponsorships. Right now I’m teaching older people how to listen to a podcast. So far I’ve taught 40 people, and it’s helped them a lot.
     
    This is a field that costs next to nothing to get in.
     
    Sherin: What you need is good equipment and a good story.
     
    Carl: That’s right, and the equipment costs like nothing. You can get a good microphone for eighty dollars. I use Zencastr to record for $20 a month and it’s like I’m in the same room with my guest. Between the prep, recording, and editing, one episode takes 8 hours to put together.
     
    I use Lidsyn for distribution and that’s $20 a month, and it gets you on Apple, Spotify, and 20 other platforms. They provide a report, too. I Used to Be Somebody is already in 60 countries. We have over 60 people in India alone that listen to my podcast. 
     
    Joe: How would somebody begin their second act?
     
    Carl: I’m the jump in the pool sort. My wife is more the ease into it sort. You could do it either way. But some people, if they jump in too soon, feel that they haven’t given themselves enough time to get a sense of what they could do. And a lot of times they end up doing the same thing they were doing—which is not what you want to end up doing.
     
    Go within your network, talk to your friends. Ask them what they could envision you doing that you’re not doing, maybe haven’t considered. These are the kinds of things that come out in my interviews; it’s why interviewing is the most fun. It can take six or eight before you get comfortable. The way to bring it to life is, don’t worry so much about what your questions are, but make it a real conversation.
     
    Bo: It’s worth pointing out that you have a magic way of engaging. You did it in the Niche conferences, where you got people to engage with you and, most magically, got them to engage with each other. I saw that same methodology in the podcast.   

    CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE

    Linda Ruth
    Posted January 18, 2021
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  • BoSacks Speaks Out: 2020- A reflective review of where we were and what we were thinking

    BoSacks Speaks Out: 2020- A reflective review of where we were and what we were thinking

    January 3rd 2020
    BoSacks Speaks Out: Welcome to 2020, a new decade and, in Star Wars terms, a new hope. About this time of year there are always a plethora of articles that forecast and focus on the near and far future of our media businesses. When that happens I find myself looking back, not for nostalgic purposes but for a foothold of perspective. I find it is often best to understand where you came from to have a good sense of direction as to where you need to be and how to get there. Good questions are how did I get here and where do I adjust my plans to move forward? What is working and what is not? In my last holiday message of 2019, I offered a "Be Here Now" approach appropriate for both business and personal objectives…
     
    January 13th 2020
    BoSacks Speaks OutFriedrich Nietzsche once said, "There are no facts, only interpretations." That comes mighty close to our understanding of the magazine industry today, at least when it comes to the various reports we constantly read on the subject.
     
    Too often some industry prognosticators confuse what is happening to "the big guys" to be representative of the entire publishing industry. It is not. There is a complete disconnect between mid and modest titles and the Hearst's, Conde's, and New York Times of this world. What Conde does is irrelevant to any other publishing house large or small. It is a fiefdom with its own set of rules, agendas, and methodologies. Whatever game plan Hearst or any other large publishing house has is nothing like yours or your competitors. It is a brave new world out there, and it is adapt or die time…
     
    January 16th 2020
    BoSacks Speaks Out: LSC announced the closing of its manufacturing facilities in Strasburg, Va.; Glasgow, Ky.; and Mattoon, Ill. The closing of the three printing plants is expected to be completed by July 2020.
     
    These plants were legendary magazine plants, each with its own personality and style. I had the privilege through my career at various points to have hustled many a magazine through each facility. I have fond memories of the employees and various management teams. Spending time in those printing plants and learning from talented employees was the bedrock of my career as a director of manufacturing. I have always been thankful for the experiences…
     
    January 27TH 2020
     
    Special people and special companies deserve a shout out of thanks and gratitude from time to time. In this case, I want to bring to your attention the tireless work of John Mennell of MagazineLiteracy.org and Joel Quadracci of Quad Graphics. In my book they are unsung heroes performing necessary acts of kindness valiantly even though behind the scenes.
     
    MagazineLiteracy.org supplies recycled printed products, new magazines, and comics to literacy programs around the country. From their web site comes the following statement: “Why are magazines and comics so special for literacy, you might ask? Promoting literacy establishes a lifelong reading habit. Studies show that holding reading materials in your hands increases learning. Magazines and comic books become familiar and not intimidating. They educate and inspire. Magazines and comic books in hands and homes foster ownership and build self-esteem.”…
     
    John went on to say, “With these and other Quad supported efforts, we’ve moved over a million magazines." John pointed out that "Joel and his team have been so generous, and never flinching, allowing us to have an enormous impact and showing us what’s possible as we reach for meeting our full promise.”
     
    Well, doesn’t that story make you feel good? My thanks to Joel and John for doing this meaningful and impactful philanthropy and for promoting genuine kindness on such a profound human scale. Magazines can help those in need, and perhaps literacy can help to end poverty.
    Click here to contact Magazine Literacy
    Recycle your magazines and comic books for literacy. 

     

    March 18th 2020

    I’m not sure where to begin. As a man in his 60s with asthma, I sit here safely in self-imposed isolation in the center of Charlottesville, Virginia, frustrated and worried about my family and friends, and like everyone else hoping for effective leadership for all of us from our governments both large and small.
     
    I can only briefly try to express my sorrow for those lives already lost and for those yet to come in unknown numbers. The loss of life I expect will be so staggering, so overwhelming, so incomprehensible, as to be at first numbing and then painfully dwarfing anything in the experience of all our lives except for military wars. I hope I’m wrong, but I think not…
     
     
    March 23rd 2020
    BoSacks Speaks Out: What publishers can learn from The Independent’s growth story I'm having a personal déjà vu publishing moment. It's not that the situation is the same; It isn't, not even close. But the effect for me and this newsletter is strikingly similar. The stock market crash of 2008 occurred on Sept. 29. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 777.68 points in intraday trading, and the publishing industry took it on the chin. Although the industry has made tremendous positive progress, the print world is decidedly less than it was before 2008. The resulting publishing effect for me was the sending out of negative but necessary industry news for an extended period of time. It had to be done then, and I believe it has to be done now. With the new and more powerful globe-changing event, the Covid-19 pandemic, I believe we need to stay as informed as possible about all perspectives. That is what I always try to do – Keep you informed…
     
    April 20th 2020
    BoSacks Speaks Out: Reports from the Publishing Pandemic Roundtable: My friend and circulation consultant Joe Berger had a great idea a few weeks ago of getting together a team of publishing professionals to have weekly zoom conversations about what is happening to our industry from a ground floor perspective. We have had publishers, professors, consultants, and this week a printer. We didn’t know how our meetings would evolve, but we deemed them a good idea with benefits for all. So far we have had two reports of our conversations captured by Linda Ruth, who is a circulation consultant, and distributed to you in this newsletter.
     
    At a time when most American businesses are struggling to survive during this challenging time, we need to stay alert and flexible with the still-evolving changing economic conditions. Hotels are empty, retail outlets are closed, and restaurants, bars, and eateries are struggling to exist with carryout or delivery orders…

     

    April 29th 2020
    In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs or ideas at the same time. In 1936 F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."
     
    I'm not saying I have a first-rate intelligence, but I do have two thoughts that are rolling around in my head. They are that the publishing industry isn't in peril, but many of its employees may be…
     
    July 13th 2020
    Last Friday, David Leonhardt wrote an article in the New York Times titled “It’s 2022. What Does Life Look Like?” It was subtitled, “The pandemic could shape the world, much as World War II and the Great Depression did.” It ran somewhat parallel with my essay last week that the pandemic has placed us in a time machine. We either accelerate to match the speed of change, or we get run over by it and replaced by something else…
     
    July 15th 2020
     
    There was a time when I was a monthly columnist for Publishing Executive Magazine. Each year my editor asked me to do a tips and tricks article offering suggestions for a healthy and successful publishing career.
     
    One of the core elements I always suggested was that knowledge is power, and industry knowledge is employment power. If you can speak knowledgeably of the entire media process, you are a more desirable candidate for the job you have or, perhaps even more importantly, the job you want to have. Understanding what the other departments do is of vital importance. Inter-departmental communication and knowledge facilitate the teamwork of successful and efficient organizations.
     
    I bring this up today, realizing that networking may be hard or near to impossible for an extended period of time due to COVID 19 and the increasing use of zoom meetings. If forecasters are correct, those industries that can now work mostly from home will continue to work from home. That puts a strain on making new industry friends and makes it harder to share industrial knowledge.
                         
    Additionally, in-person meetings and in-person conferences may, in large part, be a thing of the past. If that is so, it strikes a dagger in the ability to network. The loss of networking is a loss to both the industry and our careers…

     

    July 22nd, 2020
    BoSacks Speaks Out: In many ways the readership and the topics of interest covered in this newsletter have tracked the profound changes in the magazine industry very closely. In the early days of this newsletter, subscribers had several specific areas of publishing interest they could subscribe to. One of the popular subscription options was all about paper. In the late 1990s, there were over 2,500 people who were solely interested in the paper industry and subscribed to that list.
     
    Do you know that in the old days of the 1980s and perhaps the 1990s FolioMagazine had a monthly column about the paper side of our business? Did you know that the MPA would hold a special session at every annual meeting to talk about paper in the large open session?
     
    Now we are in 2020, and we sell near 50% fewer magazines than we used to produce a decade or so ago. The obvious consequence is that we buy less paper.
     
    The article Verso shutdown would have devastating impact on forestry trucking, construction industries demonstrates clearly the ripple effect of our selling fewer magazines on the related supply chain vendors. 
     
    July 29th 2020
    BoSacks Speaks Out: Sometimes I have to put the bourbon aside and deliver a sobering report to the industry. I do this because I love the magazine media industry, and I don't want anyone to misinterpret the facts and actual conditions of our industry. 
     
    In turbulent times, turbulent things happen. What I have to report tonight is a reflection of the turmoil of the times we live in. I was asked by those in the know not to say what I am about to tell you, and I would have kept that promise, but we live in an instant messaging age.
     
    A person I do not know tweeted today that Folio: Magazine is no more. Because of that tweet, I feel I am relieved of the responsibility of keeping my silence…

     

    August 4th, 2020
     
    BoSacks Speaks Out: There is a brief comment in the article How to shift towards a paywall that I sent out last night. It is an oft repeated expression throughout the industry that “We have to face it: people hate ads.” I beg to differ on that point. What people hate are bad ads and bad advertising campaigns. People hate intrusive ads that follow you everywhere tracking advertising…
     
    Perhaps it is counting on an algorithm for success rather than creativity that is at the heart of advertising’s problems today. Could it be that corporate consumer surveillance has replaced innovation and imagination? I think so…
     
    August 12th 2020
    BoSacks Speaks Out: Most of us naturally track our industry and know the score of what the plague and the media tech platforms (FANG) are doing to us. It is a toxic combination not only for our health but also for our careers and our business wellbeing.
     
    I follow our industry very closely and read of layoffs and closures almost every day. We all read about them and absorb the data as shots from a sniper one information bullet at a time. The article Advertising Slump During Virus Crisis Hits Media Jobs brings it into focus as a shotgun blast of intelligence right to the heart of our media industry. The entire global media workforce is shrinking. The plague and the media stress are a wide-spread phenomenon.
     
    We are all hoping for a relatively fast vaccine and an equally speedy economic recovery. When that happens, media will get back on track and rehire, reinvent and reestablish itself, but perhaps not as it was. We have all learned to do more with less. That is one of the new permanent conditions we will live with long after the new normal solidifies. Some of us might never work from an office again. Being self-employed I haven't worked from an office since 1996. This will be a change in lifestyles for many media professionals.

     

    August 28th 2020
    BoSacks Speaks Out: How Ad Fraudsters Are Thriving During the Covid-19 Crisis
    I have been a digital futurist for the publishing industry since the early 1990s and probably before that, depending on when you start counting my industry predictions. I still believe in the future of digital as THE most efficient and effective communication tool yet known to man. But my prognostications have always been tempered with pragmatism, as I am what I call a pragmatic optimist.
     
    The web and all that it contains, the good and very bad, will be with us as far as one can see into the future. But while reading the article How Ad Fraudsters Are Thriving During the Covid-19 Crisis I was thinking, "How did it come to this?" Which is what King Theoden asked in the Lord of the Rings movie, The Two Towers. Now I ask the same question – How did it come to this? How can the advertising business lose $42 billion dollars in ad fraud while at the same time fraud-free, safe and proven magazines continue to lose ad dollars every quarter? How can there be so much excess revenue that an industry can lose $42 billion and do very little about it?
     
    September 9th 2020
    BoSacks Speaks Out: On the Publishing Industry and the Technologic Growth of Magazines
     
    Five years from now, we won't be worried about the effectiveness of Zoom calls because it will be an antique process. I'm not saying the next few years will be easy; They won't be. Hell, the next year alone promises to be a COVID backbreaker for many. What I am saying is that in five years, our jobs and methodologies will have morphed into something new. It has always been that way, only now it happens faster than ever… 

     

    September 28th 2020 
    BoSacks Speaks Out: Disruption and Leadership during a Pandemic
     
    …To paraphrase my friend Andy Kowl: Many people think a leader sees the future. The truth is simpler: leaders see around corners and through obstacles.
     
    With all the multiple disruptions happening in today's marketplace, there is absolutely no room for complacency and nostalgic dogma. You and your company have to rethink the unthinkable. You have to challenge all your assumptions and see through the obstacles.
     
    As Sun Tzu said, "In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity." Hearst is taking the challenge. The Atlantic is changing the rules. And you should do the same. This advice is for the personal you and the collective us. We are all increasingly living through a new period of experimentation, innovation, and entrepreneurism that the world has never seen before.
     
    To endure and prosper, your business environment must contain constant reinvention. It is a chaotic time where if you don't replace your current businesses, someone else will do it for you.
     
    November 6th 2020
    BoSacks Speaks Out: Preparing for the post-literate consumer
     
    There are many assumptions in the article Preparing for the post-literate consumer that, although possibly correct, miss an obvious conclusion: that new generations, if nothing else, multi-task like no other set of generations before.
    The author states:
     
    “You'd be forgiven for believing that we've forgotten how to read. Judging by our popular culture, we're becoming a post-literate, oral society, one whose always-dominant visual sense has overwhelmed our reasoning to the point where 72% of consumers now say they prefer all marketing to be delivered via video.”
     
    We are not post-literate. We are multi-literate. We have added several visual mediums to our reservoir of communication pathways…
     
    December 21, 2020
    I suspect by June of 2021 we will see start-ups galore and new publications popping up everywhere hopefully reemploying our lost and furloughed team members. In retrospect the roaring 20s of the last century is easily now more understandable, and I expect the same lust for life to be demonstrated everywhere in our new normal of a future. The exuberance of survival can be most intoxicating and long-lasting…
     
    We can’t go back in time to change what has happened, but we can proceed for a more hopeful and better tomorrow. Paraphrasing Omar Khayyam, the pen is in your hands and 2021 is yet to be written. It is now time to write your own future to the best of your abilities. Be creative, be imaginative and be courageous…
     
    That being said, I send you all a big safe hug and the hope that you are surrounded by love, family and continued friendship.
     
    I wish you all peace, sensibility, and a joyous and healthy new year
     
    BoSacks
    -30-

     

    BoSacks
    Posted December 30, 2020
    (0) Comments

  • Publishing Pandemic Roundtable with Jerry Lynch, President of MBR (Magazines and Books at Retail)

    Publishing Pandemic Roundtable with Jerry Lynch, President of MBR (Magazines and Books at Retail)

    “We have opportunities available to no one else”
    By Linda Ruth
     
    Winding up 2020, and our year of, our group—Joe Berger, Samir Husni, Bo Sacks, Sherin Pierce, Gemma Peckham, and me—hosted Jerry Lynch, President of MBR (Magazines and Books at Retail) to talk about what we’ve come through, and what lies ahead. Jerry Lynch talked about his faith in our industry, the unique opportunities available to us through ecommerce—and a big announcement he is almost ready to make.
     
    Joe: We’ve spent the year reacting to the challenges that COVID threw at us; it seems, in general, we do a lot of reacting. Is there a chance for us to not be such a reactive industry?
     
    Jerry: The challenge is going to be figuring out where retail, as a result of dealing with Covid is going to go, where it will end up, and when.  Contrary to what you’d expect, we don’t fully know what’s going on. Consumer habits have changed, and some of those changes are going to stick, but perhaps not all of them. Some of the things that businesses put in place as the result of the pandemic might have to be unwound as consumers start to change again. And additional opportunities will arise.
     
    Meanwhile, we’ve had some positive changes; mass market and grocery are the classes of trade that have done best for us..
     
    Bo: People have to eat. Of all the necessary resources available to the public, grocery is paramount. We have to eat 3 times a day.
     
    Sherin: The club stores, Sam’s and BJs have done well too, although Costco has stopped carrying magazines. Why is that?
     
    Jerry: Costco has a unique way of judging performance. Magazines don’t fit nicely into their way of operating, and the resulting metrics don’t allow our performance, in my opinion, to be judged properly.
     
    The timing of their decision—we had hoped the removal of magazines was temporary--did bump up against COVID, as well. We have some ground to regain there. Some retailers removed checkout entirely, seeing it as a distraction at the front end when they needed to move customers through for safety reasons. We’ve seen some good consumer feedback around the category, and that’s giving us an entry point back in.
     
    Bo: People trust magazines more than any other medium.
     
    Joe: What is the role MBR has in presenting magazines at retail?
     
    Jerry: We see our role as overarching. Our involvement would be along the lines of providing good research, helping craft the story. COVID set us back.
     
    Sherin: If a retailer walks away from magazines, as, for example, Home Depot did, do you strategize with wholesalers how to get them back on distribution?
     
    Jerry: We do try to come up with a concerted effort, but remember that it’s driven by retailers in terms of who they want to talk to. That’s primarily the wholesalers and larger publishers. Our role would be to help coordinate, to make sure we’re delivering the same key messages having to do with the benefit of the entire magazine category in the store.
     
    Sherin: The Old Farmer’s Almanac had a direct relationship with Home Depot before anyone else, then the wholesalers got involved and turned it into a category issue. When, after years, the whole chain was lost it was a big hit.
     
    Jerry:  Many times a decision about the category comes from higher up,  executives other than the buyer of magazines.  Those decision-makers may not have enough information or the correct information which doesn’t allow for a good understanding of the category. Where we can We work with the merchant to ensure they have the right information to take to upper management to help make our case.
     
    Bo: My experience in our industry says there is great need for improvement, training and experience. How savvy are the buyers?

    Linda Ruth
    Posted December 20, 2020
    (0) Comments

  • Publishing Pandemic Roundtable with Jim Bilton publisher of MediaFutures-

    Publishing Pandemic Roundtable with Jim Bilton publisher of MediaFutures-

    “We Forget How Exciting Our World Is”
     
    On Wednesday, almost a full year after the onset of our pandemic, nine months from the first Pandemic Roundtable, hosted by Joe Berger and attended by Bo Sacks, Samir Husni, Sherin Pierce, Gemma Peckham, and me, we met again to review the state of our industry. Our special guest was Jim Bilton, the publisher of the annual mediafutures market analysis and the wessendenbriefing, the 7x newsletter covering print and digital trends and analysis.
     
    While the scope of his business is international, we were particularly interested in hearing about trends in the UK, where his business is based, and how they relate to trends in the US and the rest of the world. Our conversation took us to the continuing strength of print, the re-dedication to print on the part of key retailers, and the excitement that our audience still finds in the world of print.
     
    Jim: I was interested in reading in a past Roundtable about the direction Barnes and Noble is taking. That is such a huge part of your market; we have nothing like that in the UK. WH Smith was formerly number one in the UK, but they expanded into travel, which seemed a good move at the time, that has backfired; now magazines aren’t their main thing, stationery is. Tesco, a supermarket chain, leapfrogged over WH Smith. 
     
    Barnes and Noble is interesting because of its connection, through James Daunt, to Waterstones. But the size of the store format couldn’t work in the UK, where the rents are so high; we don’t have the big out of town malls to the same extent as in the USA. The interesting aspect, to me, is what Krifka said about focusing back on bricks and mortar, on print, and moving away from a strong digital focus.
     
    Joe: We’re interested in getting your perspective on the effects of the pandemic on UK publishing, and where you expect it to take us from here.
     
    Jim: During lockdown magazines did worse than newspapers. Sales dropped by 30% YoY, although they came back, and overall are now down about 17%. The travel sector fared much worse, of course, going into virtual hibernation initially and are still now about 80% down.
     
    Here many UK publishers overreacted and slashed draws more than they needed to. Supermarkets held up; and independents have a bigger share than ever before. And there’s a background issue about the health of print—in terms of physical health; copies have been taken out of waiting rooms and shops because of health concerns and people have been made to feel uncomfortable about browsing at the magazine racks. This obviously hits impulse sales and discovery at retail.
     
    Samir: In the US, we’ve seen a big increase in people of color on magazines; are you seeing the same trend in the UK, and is it helping or hurting sales?
     
    Jim: Yes, we are seeing the same trend, but the impact on sales is difficult to size given everything else going on in the marketplace. One launch I can point to is Cocoa Girl magazine, celebrating Black girls. We’re generally seeing lots of small launches, specialty launches, and a bit of a trend from digital to print.
     
    Bo: Last time I was in the UK most publications had cover mounts(Polybagged magazines with attached products of one sort or anohter) ; is that still a trend?
     
    Jim: Yes, though not quite as much as before. There’s a big sustainability issue, and issues having to do with returns. Publishers are learning to move premiums closer to content, so they relate more directly to the content of the magazine. The same has been true of events—although of course that’s less of an issue now. But we haven’t realized how exciting our world is to our readers. Everyone’s got a wine club; but audiences want the unique content a publisher has to offer.
    Another trend we’re seeing is publishers varying cover price depending on content and pagination.

     
    Linda Ruth
    Posted December 14, 2020
    (0) Comments

  • Publishing Pandemic Roundtable- For Magazines, Barnes and Noble is Holding Up Nicely

    Publishing Pandemic Roundtable- For Magazines, Barnes and Noble is Holding Up Nicely

    Krifka Steffey, Director, Merchandise, Newsstand at Barnes & Noble, Inc. returned for the second time to deliver an update to the Publishing Pandemic Roundtable—Joe Berger, Samir Husni, Bo Sacks, Sherin Pierce, Gemma Peckham, and me.
     
    And the news she brought was this: despite the year we’ve been having, Barnes and Noble is holding up nicely. Currently sales are only down 26% year over year. Stores are open. People are shopping.
     
    This is not to say that the pandemic has been without impact. Some stores still have shortened hours; fire and flooding impact retail space. Some publications went on hiatus; others may not come back.
     
    Krifka: : Since January Barnes and Noble has lost 500 titles, representing $25 million in retail sales. Some of those titles were coming from the UK. We lost the entire TEN Portfolio, that was a huge number of titles and Retail Sales Dollars for us. Oprah magazine, despite rumors of closing, is still publishing, but they’ve changed their frequency from monthly to quarterly.
     
    Samir: it was the media who said they were going away, but from Day One the publisher said they were going quarterly. I visited a few stores, where I found a hefty magazine selection. You do see a decline in foreign titles, although some of the mainstays—British Vogue, Italian Vogue—are still out there.
     
    Krifka: Imports are an interesting situation. Future Publishing stopped printing for a number of months, their publishing schedule in terms of number of titles has gone way down. The cost of gearing up again may prevent some of the smaller ones from opening.
     
    Sherin: A more severe lockdown is coming in England.
     
    Joe: When a big service title goes from monthly to quarterly with a higher cover price, what do you see in terms of overall units?
     
    Krifka: Ultimately the retail dollars is what we’re focused on—and with those changes they perform better for us. The lower priced titles are by and large the ones that our customers subscribe to. Coastal Living, for example, went quarterly, and we saw increased unit sales.
     
    Sherin: In a sense the media did magazines a favor by threatening scarcity. People are showing more devotion to their favorite titles. The Old Farmer’s Almanac, for example, is way up year-over-year; in some chains as much as 80%.
     
    Joe: So lower frequency, higher prices is a good thing.
     
    Krifka: The monthly turn of titles is so quick, it doesn’t allow us to get the full sales benefit of each release. At one point we had NO new product and still were selling 50% compared to prior year. We were selling titles several months old. We were just moving too fast. Magazines are luxury, and they deserve the opportunity to be seen.
     
    Samir: They are a luxury and no longer an impulse buy. It’s a decision—you are going to spend $20 to buy this magazine. When I pick up a copy of GQ or Vogue, a subscription card—the dandruff of the industry—drops on the floor saying, you stupid Samir, you are paying $9 for one issue, and you can get the whole year for $10, and get a canvas bag along with it!
     
    Joe: But you’ll have to wait 12 weeks for it to show up.
     
    Samir: But they’ll send you back issues too. Even the one you bought and send your card in from. Until we get rid of guaranteed circ there is no solution.
     
    Sherin: No advertiser pays the full rate card, so rate base should be obsolete anyway.
     
    Bo: The upper tier of our business is still on rate base. The top 5 aren’t going to change; it’s working for them. The rest of the industry has no intention of having a rate base.
     
    Samir: I picked up Bicycling and Runner’s World. American magazines have finally discovered Black people, they are on the cover of all the magazines. Even the upper tier publishers are starting to change the way they are presenting their magazines to the public. Krifka, have you seen this? Will the trend continue?
     
    Krifka: It is unprecedented the number of covers featuring Black Americans—every category, even fall fashion. We’re not seeing any kind of drop in sale as a result. Sales if anything are gaining. Oprah, Vanity Fair, with Breonna Taylor—they are sell outs.
     
    Linda: What can you tell us about your new distribution strategy?
     
    Krifka: We’re in contract negotiations now regarding our distribution split between ANC and Media Solutions. Working with the two wholesalers will have the effect of forcing collaboration. Our industry badly needs some stability, and so far, everything’s looking promising.
     
    Linda: Publishers are receiving two sources of POS data, which are not in compatible formats, and it creates a challenge tracking sales in the chain.
     
    Krifka: This might be an opportunity for MagNet—they do receive our data. This would be a chance for them to merge the two together, creating a single source of reporting.
     
    Samir: How are the fall fashion magazines doing?
     
    Krifka: Doing well, trending lower than last year, but we’re seeing some typical buying behaviors. For a while there was an odd mix with anomalous titles spiking. Now it seems to be normalizing. We’re still seeing strong performances in football, fall fashion, the Economist in the midst of everything. I’ve heard coloring had a resurgence—but not at Barnes and Noble. Puzzles, though, are doing great. Cooking did OK, but closer to its usual level, we’re not showing a big spike in the category such as it showed in the grocery class of trade. Breathe, from the UK, has popped up into the top 5. Specials at $14.99 doing well too, and not pulling sales from the parent title. Transportation has fallen off a bit. But we’ve lost titles across the board and in strange places, so even the frequency changes have created change. But our top titles have come back to being the top titles.
     
    Samir: What about children’s magazines?
     
    Krifka: We’ve been focusing on pulling new kids and teen magazines in for years now—it’s important to start people reading in the category as early as possible. There isn’t a lot in there—Many of the new titles in in the kids section are imports. But in the UK they attach a toy to everything—the print part tends to be flimsy, so it isn’t exactly where we would like it be with the quality of the magazines. I believe the publishers struggle with who the buyer is and don’t look to see what is trending so they don’t take the chance. Centennial Media has done very well with Fortnite magazine and looking at trend publishing. 
     
    Joe: Many of those mags are not on the newsstand, and have small print runs.
     
    Sherin: The Old Farmer’s Almanac for Kids is also growing this year, double digits over the last issue; its biggest retailer is Lowes
    Joe: We need a buyer’s cooperative for them
     
    Sherin: We’re going to partner with the independent publisher we met with a few weeks back, who does cooking for kids.
     
    Samir: Who does the planograms for the mainlines?
     
    Krifka: As the title mix has been changed so drastically since January of this year, the mainline planograms and assortments for each store now need to be updated. For example, if there are fewer men’s magazines, they need less space on the mainline, and the map of it needs to change. Look out for more expansions in the new year as we rework to maximize the publishing we do have. Additionally my team, as we always have, is working with our publishers on new content ideas- be it stories in current books or brand new Bookazines as well as Exclusives that you will only find at B&N. This supports our leadership’s plan to return to being specialist booksellers. For example, each store will have a Bookseller who is a social media specialist so they’ll be able to go round the store and find what’s new and interesting and amplify its display. More local buying on the book side as well, so each store will become more unique as assortments are developed locally.

    Linda Ruth
    Posted October 05, 2020
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  • Pandemic Publishing Roundtable: An Industry-Wide Celebration

    Pandemic Publishing Roundtable: An Industry-Wide Celebration

    John Mennell is throwing a party, and we are all invited. In fact, John says, he wants every industry stakeholder—every printer, shipper, distributor, retailer and publisher—to join him in celebrating literacy.

    John joined the Publishing Pandemic Roundtable--Joe Berger, Samir Husni, Bo Sacks, Sherin Pierce, Gemma Peckham, and me--on Wednesday to talk about his vision.

    Joe: Tell us about what you do. Where does this vision come from?

    John: It’s modeled after food banks; I have a history with this model, and I thought, it’s important to feed people’s bodies, and we also have to give them the opportunity to feed their minds. So I got the idea of adding literacy banks, and literacy newsstands to the current foodbanks. The idea is to support existing programs with literacy materials.

     Joe: How is the Covid crisis impacting your program?

     John: Demands on food banks are exploding, just trying to feed all the people. And Covid is moving the pickup to curbside. So that was a setback for ready access to our literacy newsstands inside food pantries. For example, there is a food bank network in Columbus that feeds 600 families per day. We’d been on the point of putting three literacy newsstands into this Columbus location for weekly families, walk-ins seeking emergency food, and for a children’s corner; but at the rate they must fulfill the curbside needs, they have only 38 seconds per car. We asked ourselves: how can they include our literacy distribution --

    Joe: Maybe by pre-packing?

     John: --and that’s the exact solution we came up with. Like packages of food from a deli counter, we’re including pre-packaged bundles of consumer and children’s magazines along with the food packages.

     Sherin: Are you able to get unsolds from the wholesalers?

    Sherin: They can get a tax writeoff

    John: Our ambition is to get them from every link, to rescue every expired copy throughout the supply chain. We get them from publishers, from consumers, and we’re in a pilot program with Barnes and Noble to retrieve their expired copies. We’re starting with stores in Columbus Ohio and rural Alabama; eventually we’ll have ability to rescue these magazines nation-wide.

     The other major source of magazines are consumers. They have bought the magazines they love, kept them in their collection for many years, and they want to share them because they love the idea of supporting children and families. They can’t bear to see these magazines destroyed.

     And yes, there are ways of writing off the costs, and currently there is a huge opportunity cost to NOT providing magazines. When we introduce ourselves to the local Barnes and Noble, the staff is so happy to find readers for the expired mags rather than having to destroy them. Expired magazines no longer have a monetary value, you have to pay to dispose them. By passing them on, we create supply chain value and give the product a new life by creating new readers, a new audience for these precious publications. We are creating readers who will grow up with these brands.

    This is in the interest of every industry partner at every point in the distribution channel. By providing copies to at-risk children, we are creating tomorrow’s readers. And I am convinced that a consumer who is inspired to purchase a gift subscription for an at-risk child, for a job-training program, for a kindred spirit, that consumer will forever be connected to the magazine through the good they have achieved. The possibilities for connection are endless in every interest group. Getting these publications into at-risk homes has enormous positive impact on developing readers and no negative. 

     Sherin: It connects them to the magazine, and also to the advertiser’s brands.  The brands you are accustomed to as a child, they stay with you. It gives the advertisers a reason to participate as well.          CLICK HERE FOR THE COMPLETE ARTICLE

    Find out more at https://magliteracy.org/
    Linda Ruth
    Posted August 22, 2020
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  • BoSacks Speaks Out: The untimely and Sad death of Folio: and Publishing Executive

    BoSacks Speaks Out: The untimely and Sad death of Folio: and Publishing Executive

    BoSacks Speaks Out: Sometimes I have to put the bourbon aside and deliver a sobering report to the industry. I do this because I love the magazine media industry, and I don't want anyone to misinterpret the facts and actual conditions of our industry. 

    In turbulent times, turbulent things happen. What I have to report tonight is a reflection of the turmoil of the times we live in. I was asked by those in the know not to say what I am about to tell you, and I would have kept that promise, but we live in an instant messaging age. A person I do not know tweeted today that Folio: Magazine is no more. Because of that tweet, I feel I am relieved of the responsibility of keeping my silence.

    The demise is unfortunate but understandable. Our industry is under extreme duress, and so too are trade organizations that track our industry. Clearly, FOLIO: needed serious revenue to complete their journalistic task of monitoring and educating our industry.  The logical choice before COVID 19 was for them to focus on the conference and awards business, a decent plan if not for the pandemic. Their plan was one that many publishers leaned towards to replace lost advertising revenue—a good idea except for the fate forced upon us by an epidemic.

    What happened?  Part of the answer for FOLIO: was vendor consolidation. In the mid-2000s many companies were spending serious dollars with FOLIO:, and there were in those days dozens of printers trying to reach the print publishing industry. That revenue stream went from lucrative to zero almost overnight. Other sectors of the industry also dropped out of sight. Gone were the fulfillment companies, telemarketing companies, and investment banks. Gone too was the revenue from the many reprint companies. Add to that the shrinking number of media companies. Years of magazine closures and layoffs left fewer brands and fewer people to enter the awards business and attend their events. 

    It is all a reflection of the realignment of the content distribution business formally known as publishing.

    I must at this point add that Publishing Executive Magazine, the other magazine publishing trade publication, has stopped tracking the industry and is no more. Their site has not published anything new since mid-June. The only conclusion is that they are gone too, and the excellent staff displaced to new possibilities.

    It costs a lot to host the staff necessary to track an industry. I believe that both publishers had a chance to make it in these crazy times and be prosperous if not for the pandemic. Now both are gone.

    What does it mean? Everything and nothing, is my answer. The world will go on, and the publishing industry will go on too. Eventually new organizations and new trade publishers will grow and arise from the ashes of the old publishing community. You've heard me say a dozen times that entrepreneurs hate a vacuum. When the dust settles, there will be a huge trade vacuum that needs filling.

    We are on a strange road toward what will be. It has twists and turns, dips and mountains yet to climb. Yet when we get to wherever we are going, if we will look back quickly, we will see nothing but a straight and level path to how we got here, wherever that new destination is. That is the way of life and business. The road is only evident when you arrive and not a moment before.

    Someday we will all look back on this period of technological and pandemic turmoil and smile. Yes, I think we may quite possibly smile. We will laugh because we survived multiple tsunamis that the world had never seen before and persevered.

    There are more ways than ever to consume media and more media than ever to consume. I see that as a good situation. I will only worry if and when people stop reading. If they don't' stop reading, then there is an opportunity for our industry to sell relevant thought for a profit. If there is a profit to be made, then that is an ideal place for a thoughtful and inquisitive publisher to be.

    A few weeks ago, I reported that it seems apparent that COVID has placed us in a time machine, a machine that accelerates whatever was happening before. If your business was in decline, that decline is now accelerated. Sadly our trade magazines have suffered under the stress and conditions of the unforgiving time machine.  My heart and best wishes go to the staffs of FOLIO: and of Publishing Executive magazine.


    BoSacks
    Posted July 29, 2020
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  • Publishing Pandamic Roundtabe with UK Publisher Jim Bilton PART TWO

    Publishing Pandamic Roundtabe with UK Publisher Jim Bilton PART TWO

    BoSacks Speaks Out:  This is part two of our Publishing Pandamic Roundtable with 
    Joe Berger, Samir Husni, Bo Sacks, Gemma Peckham, and Sherin Pierce and was joined by Jim Bilton.
     
    Jim Bilton is the Managing Director of Wessenden Marketing. Jim puts together a comprehensive monthly newsletter about the media supply chain with analysis of ongoing trends and observations. He has offered our readers a free issue, and I suggest you get one to see what is happening in the UK. I assure you you will walk away better informed with useful information you can use here domestically in the US. Just drop Jim a line at   info@wessenden.com 
     
    Part Two 

    Jim Bilton: Our UK supply chain comes in for a lot of criticism because it's perceived to be a messy fudge that nobody really controls it.  There is an old adage - there's half a link to many in our supply chain - but it's knowing which bit to take out. But that fudge has created a funny stability.  We are midway between France and Germany who have really structured supply chains, where publishers have a legal right to distribute. And the Wild West of America,  where you flipped and you flipped on your wholesale structure, your retail terms and pay-on-scan all at the same time and handed over control to the retailer.  So, why have UK publishers been so scared of SBT?  Is it because of the USA.  Your complete package of absolute madenss all came together at once.  So, what the UK has been trying to do is to find non EPOS based ways to reduce shrink and to try and streamline in-store processes in a more collaborative way. But we've got the added complication of newspapers and magazines going through the same chain. And they've got totally different dynamics.

    One of the issues - because absolutely everything is on the table now during the pandemic - one of the big issues is whether to unstitch newspapers and magazines. Again, we're different in the UK. We have a very strong national newspaper market which is obviously based on 7 day a week deliveries – magazines are 6 days per week.  So, there are things we can do in the UK, like daily sales based replenishment of magazines, which we can do because magazines piggyback on the national newspapers. Which the national newspapers hate!

    The national newspapers are a fairly aggressive bunch in everything that they do - editorially, circulation wise, everything.  And they've got a different system in two ways.  Firstly, they negotiate terms direct with retail.  Secondly, they are on a per copy handling fee, not on a percentage of cover price. They made that flick years ago. Magazine publishers are still on a percentage of cover price and they hide behind wholesale. So whenever retail comes and says we want to move off of 25 percent, magazines say that’s nothing to do with us. It's those nasty wholesalers who set terms. You've got to negotiate with them.

    So, you've got two products that are completely different in their pulse rates.  National newspapers clearly just go straight in, straight out, whereas magazines are about copy allocation, about storage, about ring-fencing copy for sales based replenishment and so on.  Yet the fear is that if you pull the two apart, they'll be a massive explosion. And there are economies of scale of both going through the same network,  So one of the Plan B's - or perhaps it's Plan C! - for the national newspapers, is that they deliver direct from their regional print sites to retail, and in some locations, direct to the consumer.

    Sherin Pierce: They come right from the printer?

    Jim Bilton: That’s one possible model for the future.

    Sherin Pierce: Magazines still come through the wholesaler then?

    Jim Bilton: Currently yes.  Both newspapers and magazines currently go through the same wholesale network. There are a number of hub-and-spoke houses so there are smaller magazine-only houses and there are big hubs that handle newspapers. So, it's a funny mix. News UK has always been the most disruptive newspaper publisher and they do direct-to-retail through their own operation in London, at a loss everybody assumes. But if News UK got together with one of the other big newspaper groups and they shared their print sites around the country - that's one of their options, to pack, label and deliver straight from a satellite printer direct into retail.

    Joe Berger: Who owns the magazine wholesale companies in the U.K.? Does it have anything to do with the magazine publishers or retailers or just independent companies?

    Jim Bilton: They’re independent companies.  And there are only two companies left – Smiths and Menzies.  Which has pros and cons in all sorts of ways.  Being a wholesaler is not a growth business that you’d mortgage your house to get into.  So, there has been some talk about publishers buying out or supporting the two wholesalers in order to preserve a robust route to market.

    Samir Husni: Aren’t the U.K. newspapers, the national ones, becoming more like magazines in terms of their style, their coverage, their writing and the analysis? It feels like whenever I get my hands on a copy, I am reading a magazine rather than something that tells me what happened yesterday.  I always give the example of the UK newspapers as how the future of newspapers should be. It's more like a magazine on a daily or weekly basis.

    Jim Bilton: There is a view that weekly is the ideal print frequency.  Sunday was always our big weekly read day.  Yet Saturday has become the new Sunday. Sunday, which had all the big supplements, has now shifted to Saturday. And Saturday is a stronger day of sales than Sunday. So, all the big supplements and big reads come out over the weekend. And if you look at the individual days during the week, there are some really weak days. Interestingly, the Financial Times is one newspaper that has some very high peaks and troughs in sales during the week. You wonder whether it could go digital-only on, say, two days a week, which some of the American regionals have done?

    Samir Husni: Not a single newspaper that has kept its frequency is doing good. People are in that habit, they don't want to think about it. Do I have a paper today or not? Especially if they were used to a daily paper. But my other question is what's happening with Condé Nast and all the other media companies? I see it was the Me Too movement this year, then Black Lives Matter after Covid. Any of that taking place in the U.K. or are we the only ones?

    Jim Bilton: Yes.  These are big issues in the UK too.  Perhaps not as extreme as in the USA.  Remember that we are very British and tend not to go around shooting people too much.  So, these are big issues.  But to be honest, for media companies the really big issue is working from home. That's the massive change for publishing companies in where and how they operate.  Lots of people do not want to go back to working in an office every day.  Particularly in a big city like London.  The reality is how do I get into the office? Where am I going to sit when I get there?  Will I have to queue for the toilets? Are they going to be gender-specific toilets or not?  It’s these practical pragmatic issues that are on people’s minds at the moment.   CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE

    BoSacks
    Posted July 02, 2020
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  • Publishing Pandamic Roundtabe with UK Publisher Jim Bilton Part ONE

    Publishing Pandamic Roundtabe with UK Publisher Jim Bilton Part ONE

    BoSacks Speaks Out:  Two weeks ago our Publishing Pandamic Roundtabe of Joe Berger, Samir Husni, Bo Sacks, Gemma Peckham, and Sherin Pierce was joined by Jim Bilton. Jim Bilton is the Managing Director of Wessenden Marketing. Jim’s knowledge of the UK and the European media supply chain is amazingly complete and thorough. This is admittingly a long but interesting and worthwhile conversation that I have broken up into two parts.  Jim puts together a comprehensive monthly newsletter about the media supply chain with analysis of ongoing trends and observations. He has offered our readers a free issue, and I suggest you get one to see what is happening in the UK. I assure you you will walk away better informed with useful information you can use here domestically in the US. Just drop Jim a line at   info@wessenden.com 

    Bo Sacks: Jim, did I read correctly in your last newsletter that the Travel sector was down 91 percent?

    Jim Bilton: Actually it is 97 percent. WHSmith's Travel division only kept shops open at hospitals.  Everything else worldwide, they closed down. They're beginning to open back up again and their High Street operation is also starting to come back. The health of WHSmith is a big deal for UK publishers – they account for around 14% of total magazine sales.  But their whole business model has been turned upside down by the pandemic.  A year ago, they were being praised for their smart strategy – investing in Travel, which has included some big acquisitions in the USA, and squeezing costs out of their declining High Street operation.  Now everything has flipped.  The High Street is the main way of keeping cash flowing through the business until Travel can come back on stream.  They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Joe Berger: Is this an example? This also showed up on my LinkedIn feed today. Weirdly enough, Hudson Retail just opened up two new stands in LaGuardia at Terminal B. I would guess, seeing as how there's nobody around, it's pretty easy for them to do all the work. This is a store called Madison Avenue Market, and it does have a fairly good size mainline rack and a fairly good availability of paperback books. But the rest of the store, as you can see, is just full of every other kind of tchotchke in the universe. This is another look at the Madison Avenue Market. And again, notice in a traditional Hudson retail store, this area around here will be covered with magazines. That's gone. Here's the outside of the Madison Ave. Market.

    Bo Sacks: So, the reason they may be there at all is that the terminal is newly opened. They may have been legally committed to be there and open rather than actually wanting to be there and open?

    Joe Berger: Probably. I would imagine that's the case. So, anyway, that's life here in the States with with us Zoom neophytes and all of the weirdness with our with our wholesale system.

    Jim Bilton: Have you had a hard lock down over the same kind of period that we had? It was week 13 that we started.

    Sherin Pierce:Yes, I think maybe in New York it was early.

    Joe Berger: You might have a week or two earlier than here in Chicago. But I believe it was that New York locked down on a weekend. And Monday morning, our governor here in Illinois said, OK, everybody, stop it.

    Sherin Pierce: In New England, we locked down on March 27.

    Gemma Peckham: The last day open was March 17, which I think was a Thursday. And then we took Friday off and we haven't been back since.

    Jim Bilton: And in the U.K., any shop that sells newspapers is classified as an essential retailer, selling an essential service - news.  Magazines have ridden on the back of that.  As a result, we lost only about 10% of our retail universe at the peak of lock-down.  Yet that’s just the number of outlets, irrespective of their size.  A chunk of that 10% included some big multiples – the biggest being WHSmith.  The nightmare scenario is that WHSmith never fully comes back on stream again.

    Bo Sacks: Italy declared any place that sells publications as essential.

    Joe Berger: Well, not here in the States.

    The other questions that I've been finding fascinating, and I put it in our pre-meeting notes, was, we're obviously very interested in the parent company of Barnes & Noble and how things look for Waterstones. And does this company that's now invested in B&N have the financial wherewithal to bring this chain back to life and make it a better Publishing corporate citizen?

    Jim Bilton: Waterstones is a actually a very small magazine stockist. It has a very limited range. Not all their stores have got magazines.  So, they're a bit of an irrelevance in our magazine business. But they seem to be doing the same kind of thing as B&N, which is to self-heal the print products. They go into the storeroom. They don't go straight back on the shelf. And the Waterstones’ outlets generally are a lot smaller than B&N. So, they're not reorganizing in a fundamental way as they don’t have that much space to play with.  Coming back to WHSmith, space is their issue too.  In their High Street business, they’ve been squeezing more and more margin out of their shops.  They shove the gondolas closer together.  The gondolas go up in height.  Some of their smaller shops are really horrible places to shop in - claustrophobic.  All this makes socially-distanced shopping a real challenge for them.

    Bo Sacks: Is that a new situation or did it exist before Covid?

    Jim Bilton: Oh, no, they've been doing it for years. They've been squeezing all the time. They've been performing the absolute impossible. As their top line has gone down and down and down, they still manage to squeeze more and more profits.  Their High Street trading profit margins are now well into the double digits, which is a staggering achievement! Their star category is now stationary – high margin and taking up more space in-store.  Their book range is tightly edited – with a focus on best sellers and  travel and juvenile.  Yet it’s newspapers and magazines that they’re still known for.

    They're also into electronic items - peripherals, headphones, earbuds - that they're plonking in the front of the store and they're playing around with other things too. They'll do limited ranges until they sell out. They sell umbrellas. They push chocolate in your face at the tilI.  I remember a few years ago when they started down this route, one of their store managers told me that when he started, he’d joined a quality retail operation: “Now it’s turning into Woolworths”  CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE

    BoSacks
    Posted July 02, 2020
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  • Pandemic Publishing Roundtable – with Jane Friedman, Publisher, Professor, Lecturer, & author of The Business of Being a Writer

    Pandemic Publishing Roundtable – with Jane Friedman, Publisher, Professor, Lecturer, & author of The Business of Being a Writer

    By Linda Ruth

    This week, to talk about the effect of the Pandemic on books, Jane Friedman, author of The Business of Being a Writer, joined the Pandemic Roundtable—Joe Berger, Samir Husni, Bo Sacks, Gemma Peckham, Sherin Pierce, and me.

    Jane began by talking about how surprisingly resilient book sales have turned out to be. Compared to early 2019, 2020 sales are only down half a percent year over year. But bookstores themselves aren’t seeing the same resiliency. Sales in bookstores were down 33% in March, with more sales happening online, on Amazon, in Target and Walmart, and in other accounts that are not exclusively books.

    In the same time period, dollars declined a bit more than units. This reflected the increased purchase of juvenile fiction and nonfiction; this category has a lower price point. The sales of ebooks as opposed to print also lowered the overall dollar volume. But that too has stabilized.

    Joe: What percentage of book sales come from the independents?

    Jane: That’s around 5%. These stores are still important in terms of their influence, they are courted by publishers and seen as tastemakers, but they’ve been hit hard, with overall sales down by a third so far. The migration of book sales online has been a challenge for independent bookstores.

    Sherin: Our book distributor is asking for delayed billing for the independents to help them get back on their feet.

    Joe: Hasn’t there been an increase in the number of independent bookstores, though? It’s one of the bits of good news we hear.

    Jane: That’s misleading, in the sense that they’ve been tracking more types of stores as part of the category—used books, antiquarians, the Half-Price chain. So numbers of indies are up, but it doesn’t mean they’re robust.One huge happy story is the initiative James Patterson launched for indie bookstores, donating $500,000 to keep them going.

    BoSacks: Have prices of books come down as a result of market conditions?

    Jane: It would make sense in this environment. The big 5 have lowered some ebook prices but they haven’t promoted the discounts well, so it isn’t as widely known as it should be. Also, as a temporary measure, when the Pandemic hit, they cut the price on library licenses and made it easier for libraries to acquire digital materials.  

    Sherin: The library market is complicated—the big publishers are shortsighted in not marketing to them in a systematic way. It would help educate our population, elevate everyone in an affordable way.

    BoSacks: What genres are doing well currently?

    Jane: That’s morphed as the months have passed—originally it was children’s education, then it shifted to entertaining, cooking, baking. Anything in home, DIY, gardening, cooking, home repair—it all has taken off in April and May. Adult fiction was initially depressed but has now returned to normal with an emphasis on escapist fiction, like crime/thrillers.

    Joe: So people like me reading pandemic/dystopian fiction are outliers.

    Jane: Well, there was an upsurge in titles like Camus’ The Plague. Also classics have spiked—people are taking advantage of this time to finally read all of Ulysses.

    Gemma: Anti-racism books have been selling out.

    Jane: Yes, that’s correct, 15 of the top 20 on Amazon. An image has gone viral of all the books you’re supposed to read, and people are buying them.

    Joe: What is the feeling about the new management of Barnes and Noble?

    Jane: There is so much hope. People want the chain to continue. They’ve had 4 or 5 CEOs in 5 years. James Daunt is a respected figure in the bookstore world, although there is some criticism of how much Waterstones [in the UK] pays employees. No one knows how the chain will recover.       

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    Linda Ruth
    Posted June 06, 2020
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