BoSacks Speaks Out: Niche Conference 2024 Review and Notes

By Bob Sacks

Sun, May 5, 2024

BoSacks Speaks Out: Niche Conference 2024 Review and Notes

Fellow wordsmiths and purveyors of distributing the written word buckle up!

2024 could be the year we either all hold hands and skip towards a media utopia, or, perhaps, we trip over our shoelaces in a hilarious scramble for meaningful survival. The ad market's doing the Macarena, inflation's giving our wallets a wedgie, and consumer spending habits are about as predictable as a toddler on a sugar high.

But fear not, my friends. Within this chaotic mosh pit of challenges lie many opportunities, some new and some old.

We just gotta be nimble as ninjas and inventive like duct-tape enthusiasts at a MacGyver convention.

Speaking of conventions, The Niche Conference in Chicago last week was a shining beacon in the media storm. First, let me say that the name Niche is a little misleading.

This conference is for anyone in publishing media, large or small. I heard many ideas, concepts and process reforms that would have been just as helpful for members of Hearst or Conde Nast employees as it was for the Niche attendees. Hey corporate magazine media alumni you should be here, too. There I said it and I’m glad I did.

Anyway, the point is, the resilience of the publishing industry was on full display. We may be facing a year that's more unpredictable than a choose-your-own-adventure novel, but hey, at least we'll be facing it together.

Now, let's grab our metaphorical bootstraps (and maybe a flask of bourbon for emergencies), and get ready to write a new chapter in the saga of media successes.

Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives - choice, not chance, determines your destiny.


Let's be honest, who didn't see Ryan Dohrn pulling off another stellar event? The man's got more conference-organizing magic than David Copperfield.

This year, though, he upped the ante. He opened the Chicago conference with a surprise set of celebrities. Forget keynote speakers – because we were in Chicago, we got the freakin' Blues Brothers! It was a surprise, and everybody enjoyed it. It really was a clever stunt to start the day and the conference. Talk about a mic drop moment.

Christine Shaw, CEO & President of Naylor Association Solutions opened the conference with her keynote titled 7 lessons learned from my years in media.

Here are a few notes I wrote while listening. Notice my previously mentioned resilience in her message.

·Change or become irrelevant. The store Blockbuster was set as an example of resistance to change.

There is always going to be change. You must be open to change.

Think of your competition in two ways. Who do you currently compete with and who are your future/new competitors?

·Invest in your talent. Train them and invest in new learning skills.

·Do not tolerate poor performance – be clear on why when you let them go.

·Invest in learning and upskilling your staff.

·Data is king – what isn’t measured isn’t managed.

·What are the insights of the data? if the data is accurate, believe it.

·You can create the outcome you want with correct use of data.

·Operate fast - Focus, accountability, speed, transparency.

·Technology always wins.

After the keynote there were 5 breakout sessions. If I could interject, I wanted to go to them all and obviously had to pick just one. I get why It is done that way, allowing attendees to pick and choose what interests them. But if you think about it, I missed 4/5s of the conference by attending one break session at a time. I’m not complaining, just observing.

Next I chose the breakout session with my longtime friend Eric Shanfelt, Founding Partner, Nearview Media. Is Google a Publisher’s Friend, or Enemy #1?

Good question.

Eric Started with, “With friends like these who needs enemies?” But on a case-by-case study Eric was positive on some google initiatives and decidedly negative on others.

·Google search – google wants to be an answer engine. Their existence is based on our content.

·California journalism protection act – similar to online news act in Australia Google stopped delivering news to California citizens.

·If you don’t do your content correctly, you will lose clicks.

·Google Gemini – gives you answers and where the answers came from.

·Google has a news initiative – mission to help publishers with their digital efforts.

·Google postmaster tools – gives insight in your Gmail reputation.

·Google news showcase – invitation only program. Only selected publishers get paid to participate.

·Google analytics – gives insight into what works and what doesn’t work.

Google ad manager – what is your unique differentiator.

For my next Breakout Session, of course, I chose the newsstand discussion in the PUBLISHER STRATEGY TRACK: Unlocking the Black Box of Magazine Distribution Revenue by Jeffrey Williams, CEO, Magazine Publisher Services

Jeffrey says that there is big money in larger scale magazine distribution, but most publishers don’t know how to harness the power within this revenue model.

To be honest I didn’t and don’t agree with all his assumptions, and some of them to me were controversial.

But dialog and differences of opinion are healthy for any industry. He didn’t use slides so what I have here are my pecked out notes all from a verbal delivery.

·The subhead line of his talk was “Retail magazine distribution… and its discontents, Aka single copy sales, aka – The sucking maw of unprofitable effort and misspent resources.” That is quite an opening statement.

·He said that before 2008 you could almost sell anything on the newsstand.

·Somewhere around then, SIPs were first developed as a unique newsstand item. They have now taken over the single-copy sales channel and become ubiquitous. In this, I totally agree.

·Then he shared that every Walmart used to have 30 feet of magazine racks and now they have 8 to 12 feet of a rack in the stores.

·He suggested that single-copy sales have dropped 7% every year for a decade. I have said many times that Industry averages and how other titles are doing is bullshit. The only thing that matters is how your book is doing. Each magazine rises and falls in its own independent niche, and no sector represents an entire industry. 

·He offered that the cover has to stimulate the reach for the magazine on the newsstand. This parallels something I learned at Bill Communications, a B2B publisher. For B2B publications, the kitchen table is the newsstand, and the cover has to be so compelling that it screams to the reader, pick me up. Just like the newsstand for B2C publications.

I found this both interesting and controversial. He suggested shifting the accounting for titles and making the newsstand a marketing expense instead of a revenue stream. Now that it is marketing money, how do you spend it wisely? That might work for some titles but clearly, not for all and not for most.

If you go to enough conferences, as I do, you get to make friends with other speakers and, of course, attendees. At noon we were back in the main conference room for a new Keynote speaker. And who should grace the stage but my good pal Andrew Davis, a.k.a. Drew.

Now, let me tell you, Drew could give a triple espresso a run for its money. After sitting through what feels like a gazillion talks and just as many conferences, I can safely say Drew’s in a league of his own.

He’s the kind of guy who’s not just smart and hilarious, but also has enough pep to power a small city—or at least outbuzz any over-caffeinated squirrel you’ve ever seen. He is a whirlwind of ideas and insights when he takes the stage. His talks are a blend of high-energy delivery and hilarious anecdotes, but it’s his genius-level insights that leave the audience buzzing. Drew isn’t just about the laughs; he’s about sparking transformative thinking.

When Drew and I team up after the events, usually at a bar, it’s like mental fireworks show—our brainwaves zipping and zapping with the kind of electric synergy that could light up Times Square. It’s a cerebral ping-pong match where every volley is a stroke of genius, and the only thing getting smashed is the mundane.

It’s less a meeting of the minds and more of a brainwave rave. I’m not saying I’m up to Drew’s level, but when we are together, we do have so much fun dissecting ideas and industry fallacies.

In this Keynote, Andrew Davis explained how to use AI today without destroying valuable audience relationships. He introduced “the AI Decision Matrix”, a simple framework designed to help you implement AI that works like magic and avoids the pitfalls of AI sorcery.

e shared the creation of Digital Doppelgängers. That would be an AI tool to automate all that is automatable. Your Digital Doppelgänger is your AI-powered creative collaborator. Your virtual twin. They're your brainstorming partner, confidant, writing counterpart, and strategic advisor.

Your Digital Doppelgänger isn't just AI.

They are IA - Intelligence Augmentation.

They don't replace your skills.

They enhance your talents.

(Of course, they have the power to destroy, too.)

The very same afternoon Drew Davis spoke again in the main conference hall. This time with the topic of Driving Customer Loyalty Through the Roof: The Loyalty Loop

It turns out one of the most effective ways to grow our business isn’t filling a funnel with low-quality leads. Instead, the idea is to treat your loyal clients as your most valuable asset. Drew explained that The Loyalty Loop leverages your existing clients (or subscribers) to drive a steady stream of highly valuable, high-margin, new business. Drew showed how to build anticipation, harness the honeymoon period, and drive inspirational moments that result in new business, re-think the way you win over new clients and transform the way you service the customers you already own. Embrace the Loyalty Loop!

We spend a lot of time telling our clients how different we are. But conduct an online search for the services we provide, and you’ll quickly find that you and your competitors all sound the same. It’s time we stop telling people we’re different. Start showing them you’re different.

The loyalty loop

·The journey starts - A moment of inspiration

·A trigger question what to buy – prime Brand

·Then we move into active evaluation

·Next is the Moment of commitment

·Next the loyalty loop

·Work on a series of micro-moments with your customer.

·We need to craft our loyalty loops and raise anticipation.

·Maximize the honeymoon


·Remove friction.

·Scale camaraderie.

Yes, you should have been there, this description lacks so much of what Drew had to offer.

On a final note regarding the TECH TALKS TRACKS on New & Emerging Technology Tools & Tactics for Revenue: I am deeply rooted in production. I might as well have manufacturing roots and leaves. Understanding the intricacies of systems and pinpointing efficiencies is crucial for me.

In the current landscape of publishing our digital service providers equip us with the essential systems to not only survive but also thrive.

This is precisely why I make it a point to participate in sessions related to emerging technologies. In this regard, I consider myself somewhat of an anomaly. I made it a point to attend both Tech Talk tracks, yet; regrettably, they were significantly underattended.

While there are undoubtedly various topics and vital learnings to be had elsewhere, the tech talks represent the advent of the future in the present day.

Many of the attendees would have greatly benefited from focusing on the processes and technology of the future.

Listening to these companies was like striking gold; the time invested paid off in spades with valuable insights gleaned from the speakers. - Broadstreet is an award-winning alternative to Google Ad Manager built for niche publishers

OMEDA: Delivering an Audience-First Publishing Model

WoodWing: Streamline Your Production – New Tools & Ideas Used by Successful Media Companies

AdOrbit: Decoding Tomorrow’s Advertising: Lessons and Trends from 2023

Quintype: Newsroom-Inspired Strategies for Digital Magazine Publishers

AdCellerant: Pre- and Post-Sale Tools to Sell and Retain More Digital Ad Dollars

As a recap of my recap of the Niche Conference, it was yet another terrific event. I don't have the space to cover all the speakers, but I look forward to learning more at the next conference.

I guess proof that I’ve been in the industry for a lifetime is knowing so many people at the show. I knew 90% of the vendors and sponsors of the show on a first-name basis.

It was great seeing so many old friends. Many thanks to Ryan and the Niche family staff, who did a great job.

Ryan did have one more trick up his sleeve at the end of the show. If you remember he opened this Chicago conference with the Blue’s Brothers.

The surprise – the next, and 20th, Niche conference will be held in Las Vegas. So, of course, an Elvis Impersonator sang Viva Las Vegas from the back of the conference, though the crowd and up to the dais. Good job, Ryan.

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