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
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
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.
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
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)
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
Samir Husni, aka Mr. Magazine, held his annual ACT 7 conference at the University of Mississippi in late April. The program was a good round up of what is going on in publishing, what our hopes and fears, challenges and opportunities are, and what the most forward-looking publishers, large and small, are doing to create success in their businesses. And on the last day, drawing together the threads of what had been discussed and adding fresh thoughts in his usual outspoken way, Bo Sacks gave his take on it all in a presentation entitled "The Truth About Digital Lies."
Some of the current dialog about magazine publishing, Bo believes, stems from simple nostalgia, a yearning for the grand old days of the past. That's all well and good unless, by looking backward, we fail to look forward, and by remembering what once worked - but doesn't any longer - we fail to move past traditional thinking, we fail to break new ground, and we fail to challenge our own long-standing assumptions.
Because, like it or not, most of the reading public is leaving print behind. We spend more time with digital devices, where we get instant access to any and all information, than we spend with the printed word. Time spent on digital has exploded, from less than an hour in 2010 to over five hours in 2016. By 2021, nearly 90% of all internet traffic will come from smartphones.
A corollary to the reality of this shift in attention is this: attention can be monetized, but publishers are failing to monetize it effectively. The companies making money from the changes in audience attention flow are Google and Facebook. Well over half the digital ad spend goes to Google and Facebook, with no other digital publisher enjoying even 4% of the total revenues. CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE
I have several media conferences that I relish and greatly look forward to each year, and IMAG-MPA is one of the best of them. Imagine what is like for a long-time publishing enthusiast like me to be in a room filled with like-minded entrepreneurs who happen to be in the magazine business. Intoxicating yes? Here we have publishers whose companies range from $5 million to $100 million in revenues, and yet they play very well together regardless of pecking order.
The opening night was a smashing success when we all hopped aboard busses and attended opening night cocktails and dinner at TEN: The Enthusiast Network Headquarters. The TEN building is huge and row upon row of computer work stations almost as far as the eye can see, generating and executing the placement of content in the automotive media sector. TEN covers the automotive in-market and automotive after-market services. Perhaps their most famous tile is Motor Trend, but there are dozens of other media enterprises under the hood at TEN. It was quite a display of energy and success in these troubled media moments.
One of the constant threads of the whole IMAG-MPA event was kicked off by a discussion by Mike Benson, Head of Marketing, Amazon Originals. Right out of the box and continuing for the next few days from many speakers was a conversation about magazine media and video. (I wrote last week that my reaction to the video conversation was that video was of course a revenue thing but not the revenuething for the future of our business depending upon what sector your franchise is in.)
Tuesday morning, Scott Dickey, Chief Executive Officer, TEN: The Enthusiast Network, opened the main part of the conference with an interesting and sober comment. He said, "We know what it's like to be down 21%, but we also know how to survive." Bravo for such honesty in an open forum and, Indeed, TEN is not only thriving but sharing how to do so. Scott suggested that in next few days, "We will share information and we are in some way partners." He went on to say, "This big ideas showcased here is transferable to your businesses." Within reason I think that is correct. Not every idea is transferable to any and all businesses, but with creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit, most good ideas are worth "borrowing" and bending to your own enterprise's needs. CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE