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
There was a time when you couldn't pick up a media trade journal and not have almost half the conversation about the paper industry. At the same time magazine manufacturing costs for print titles (there was no other option) were approximately 60% of the cost of doing business. In today's marketplace there is very little "talk" about paper, the one and only substrate for printed magazines, although we as an industry do have lots of dialog about "what is a magazine" or "how long magazines will be around."
As a case in point, I had a very challenging conversation - one of many - while on my trip cross country. My friend who is in our business took the position that magazines won't be around much longer. It is possible, even probable, that he was testing my opinions and was taking a contrary position just for fun. Nonetheless it was an exciting conversation. He showed me charts and graphs about our industry that were steeper in the negative than Mount Everest. I pointed out that those charts are an aggregate of everyone and, although they might be interesting, averages contain both winners and losers. There has always been death and destruction in the magazine business, but there have also always been winners, and I believe we need to focus on the winners. CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE
Every year I look forward to Mary Meeker's annual Internet Trends report. I suppose it's just a thing us futurists like to do for fun. For me trend analysis is a key factor in making decisions both large and small, and I'm always looking for the repeating patterns in life and in business. The report is always filled with fascinating data and, of course, trend analysis. One of the prized slides that I have closely tracked is the % of Time Spent with Media Vs the % of Advertising Spending in that particular media. Now as much as I like this report and I think it has important and meaningful data, I am not completely convinced that some of the conclusions in this particular slide are correct.
Here is what I mean, print now gets only 4% of time spent with any media. Mary Meeker's conclusion is that there is/should be an equivalent amount of ad spend to the amount of time spent with that media. There may, in fact, be some sort of correlation between the two data points, but I think the type of media in question should also be considered. The experiences of media to media are in fact very different. Print is not like radio and radio is not like TV and for sure print is not like digital.
This is not the whining observation of a bibliophile, but rather an experienced media professional who has tracked the industry for over 4.5 decades. It's my conclusion that the amount of attention/time spent doesn't necessarily mean that ad spending should be an identical % number. How does one measure the quality and richness of time spent? Where is that chart? CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE
We are at an interesting crossroads in the magazine industry. Not all business plans are, if you will pardon the expression, on the same page.
There is a large set of business focused on the of selling of magazines on the newsstand. There are thousands of people and hundreds of businesses dedicated to the shipping, selling, coordinating, and returning of magazines in the retail supply chain. Their salaries depend on the success of the newsstand.
It is a complex process that thousands have devoted their careers to. In this mix not only are the newsstand organizations, the supply subgroups, but also actual magazines that live and die on the newsstand alone as their main source of revenue.
Then there is another group. I affectionately call them the Olympians. The Hearst's, The Conde` Nast's, Time Inc, and the Meredith's. They, too, sell magazines on the newsstand. But their business model is no longer, as it once was, contingent on that part of the industry. They have their own business plans that from the outset weren't about protecting or sustaining the newsstand business. CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE
Leo F. Buscaglia (1924 -1998) was a teacher at the University of Southern California in the late 1960s when one of his students committed suicide. This so greatly affected Professor Buscaglia that, in his pursuit for meaning of the sad event, he formed a non-credit class titled Love 1A. As you might expect, there were no grades for Love 1A, because how could you possibly fail someone in this class on that subject?
He became a cheerleader for Life, and he was most closely associated with the topic of love and human relationships, emphasizing the value of positive human touch, especially hugs. He once said, "Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around."
You might ask, what this has to do with media and especially my review of the PRIMEX Conference held in New York City two weeks ago? Well, it was the professor who came to my mind when my good friend Daniel Dejan, who is the Print & Creative Manager of Sappi Fine Papers, opened the event. I know a world full of nice and wonderful people, but I'd have to rack my brains to find a man or woman with more glowing love for life and humans and the pure joy of creativity. I know Daniel quite well, so it was no surprise that his presentation that day was "The Haptic Brain/Haptic Brand and the Neuroscience of Touch." And, as Professor Buscaglia said, "... too often we underestimate the power of a touch..."
Here is my take on PubWorx LLC, the joint venture to combine circulation, procurement and production functions by Condé Nast and Hearst Magazines. Distilled down to their lowest common denominator production departments are about great efficiency and superior quality, probably in that order, but variable depending on the particular organization. The skills include shrewd procurement and a great proficiency in manufacturing and distribution. On the other hand, circulation is still less a science and more akin to alchemy, but many circulator's will no doubt dispute that concept.
The conjoining of the two companies makes perfect efficient sense to me. Again with a probable dispute by some professionals who read this, production departments just make interchangeable widgets. We put ink or pixels in the exact right place and fling them hither and yon around the globe. It doesn't really matter if we are making one widget or a hundred. Our job is to coordinate at the most reasonable price with the best possible quality in that price range, and "ship" on time and with great regularity.
The production process is agnostic to content. We don't really care what it is and so can combine and ship an unlimited number of disparate titles from unlimited companies. As Archimedes sort of said, Give me a production staff smart enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.
There is a recent article titled Print vs. Digital: Another Emotional Win for Paper, that came across my info-radar today. Articles like these are always popping up. They are interesting to me, because science must do what science does, question everything. As a geek-at-heart, I am all for the pursuit of knowledge. I sometimes think that all good production people are geeks, but that is a story for another day.
There are several things that must be pointed out in this article. The headline is click bait appealing to paper lovers and trying to confirm what they think they already know. However, the data here is not as overwhelming for the paper lovers as the headline suggests. The biggest issue is the supposed edge in the emotional response to paper as opposed to digital. To me that is much more generational than a universal law of astro-advertising.
The main thing to remember here is that in a very meaningful way none of this digital-does-this-and-paper-does-that-science will matter as we proceed further. Why, you wisely ask? Because, we aren't ever going to go back to being a major paper transmitting society. CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE
A few months ago I had a conversation with AIM's president and CEO Andrew Clurman. Andy said, "Today's operative words at AIM are diversification and proliferation. We are continually finding seams within the verticals we're in of unfilled audience interests and needs."