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  • BoSacks Speaks Out: With the damage done to our democracy, where is the industry leadership?

    BoSacks Speaks Out: With the damage done to our democracy, where is the industry leadership?

    You might think I'm talking about world affairs, the current devastation from earthquakes, hurricanes, plagues, and the real possibility of nuclear war. Those real-time crises make what I'm about to talk about seem pale and insignificant, which in comparison, they indeed are. I would be talking about world affairs if this newsletter reached the appropriate subscriber leader list to add Bo-clarity into the conversation. But to the best of my knowledge, here at Precision Media Group's central headquarters, while we don't have leaders of countries, we do have most of the leaders of the media industry.

    Yes, it is true, we get the best of the best when it comes to corporate giants who could make a difference in the greatest threat to our industry – zero trust by our customers rising from the deep underbelly of the digital media beast.

    Something has been bothering me for quite some time. It is the tame phrase "social media." The name social media sounds benign, doesn't it? It is not. It is a calculated, intrusive, and evil business model. It is not a harmless enterprise. It is detrimental social engineering for profit, not benign social media, and it is socially destructive. If you look at it as intentional, malevolent Social Engineering, it takes on a new and more destructive persona.

    As reported by Bob Hoffman last week:
    "According to Roger McNamee, author of "Zucked" and early investor in Facebook, speaking about social media this week, "We've had extraordinary damage done to democracy, public health, public safety, and people's ability to make their own choices...Yet policymakers have done nothing, absolutely nothing."

    I don't think McNamee's point about the "extraordinary damage done to democracy, public health, public safety" is hyperbole; it may be an understatement.

    Again from Hoffman, “According to The Markup, 33 of the nation's top 100 hospitals have a Facebook ‘pixel’ (a tracking device) on their websites that sends Facebook the IP address of anyone who goes to one of these sites.”

    “According MSN, ‘the intricate web of data collected by fertility apps, tech companies and data brokers might be used (by police) to prove a violation of abortion restrictions.’”

    “The Washington Post says, ‘Google's unprecedented hoard of information puts it in an even more powerful position. It gives concrete meaning, at a much wider scale, to years of privacy concerns: Innocuous personal data it holds is now evidence. It could lead to criminal charges.’"

    “The Post goes on to say, ‘The company (Google) received nearly 150,000 requests for user data from US law enforcement in the first half of 2021...and it handed over information on users in 78% of those cases. An estimated 26 states are expected to ban or heavily restrict abortion, and prosecutors will almost certainly go to tech companies, such as Google and Facebook...to seek the evidence they need to charge people who help provide the procedure.’"

    “For years, those who couldn't see beyond their own noses couldn't understand how ‘’I have nothing to hide’ was so fucking stupid. In an environment in which marketers know everything about us and governments try to know everything about us, everyone has something to hide. We just don't know what it is.”

    But wait, there's more. We not only have to fear Social Engineering but also our media advertising industry. Why does the advertising community "trust" what is obviously a global confidence game? Well, as Willie Sutton said, "Because that's where the money is."

    Fake humans, click fraud, fake ad placement, paying for ads never seen, fake web sites that look real but aren't, grabbing an obvious overabundance of loot. Not to mention the theft of our very selves. Our whole lives and families' interests are bundled for sale not to the highest bidder but to any bidder.


    The online advertising ecosystem is impossible to understand much less control under the current conditions we find ourselves in. There is no competent leadership anywhere, and I'm compelled to add the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) is nothing but a joke.

    Where is the industry leadership? I used to think the US government could be the answer to regulate this problem. Forget that pipe dream. Too many senators have demonstrated evident stupidity about the Internet. It's ridiculous, but the lawmakers who have the power to regulate technology have no idea how technology works.

    Do you remember when Sen. Orrin Hatch asked Mark Zuckerberg how Facebook is able to sustain a business model while running as a free service? I'm sure Zuck stifled an internal chuckle and was barely able to keep a straight face when he responded, "Senator, we run ads." "I see, that's great," Hatch replied. No, there will be no shining knight from the Capitol to save the day.

    Part and parcel with the fraud, how is it that we all ignore the privacy rights of hundreds of millions of people? Not their rights, our rights.

    Facebook's lies, duplicity and personal intrusion by hidden surveillance systems all go unchecked. Do you know that Facebook tracks you through third parties whether or not you are logged into Facebook? As Bob Hoffman pointed out some time ago, "And the pièce de résistance -- Facebook's new data policy asserts that they track you even if you don't have a Facebook account."

    There is an abundance of data that shows that magazines are more trusted than any other delivery vehicle. They are rated and respected by readers for top quality and accuracy in reporting.

    Yet, in review, print which is trusted by all parties loses market share every year, while obviously fraudulent and intrusive digital advertising rises to new heights every year.

    Advertising and social engineering is the Big Brother we were all warned about. Its mission is nothing short of personal surveillance for a profit. The information on us is stored, sorted and turned against us as an algorithm. And if the algorithm is good, we will march to it.

    Now is the time when I should make some sort of demand or plea for us to band together and transform the system. Nope, that isn't going to happen. There is too much greed and too much money for this to change any time soon. How does this rectify? Is there hope in this digital morass?

    This brings me back to the real world of politics and publishing. We desperately need businessmen with a clear moral vision for the future instead of a multitude of opportunists who see nothing but financial gain through market fraud and industrial personal corperate surveillance.

    Do I think things will change anytime soon? No. But I hope so because I am and always have been an optimist. What do you think? Am I taking this too seriously or not seriously enough?
    BoSacks
    Posted October 25, 2022
    (0) Comments

  • BoSacks Readers Speak Out: On Magazine readers prefer print, Optimal article length, podcasts

    Re: Magazines In 2049: A Mr. Magazine™ Preview.
    Interesting predictions- it shows just how fast technology moves and how difficult it is for most humans to grasp the pace of change. Where will we be in 40 years time? The point about focusing on paid subscribers and committed readers was spot-on. For too much of the 1990s, there was a focus on driving rate-bases, chasing advertising dollars at the expense of quality readers. It’s good to see that many media companies are now focusing more on recurring subscriber revenues.
    (Submitted by an Editor)
     
    Re: Magazine readers prefer print
    I have a lifelong love affair with print. I struggle with using a kindle. Need the printed page. My clone-nephew and grandson aged-1 agree!!!
    (Submitted by a Professional)
     
    Re: Magazine readers prefer print
    A favorite gift for children is still magazine subscriptions. It's so exciting for the kids when something comes in the mail just for them!
    (submitted by a Circulation Consultant)
     
    Re: Magazine readers prefer print
    The most interesting thing about the data is that even younger readers prefer print magazines — even while news consumption is clearly moving towards digital. I think that’s because news is more of a “get this info into my brain” pursuit, while a magazine is a different kind of experience. The paper quality, the images, the layout, and even the ads are all important.
    (Submitted by a Publishing Consultant)
     
    Re: Magazine readers prefer print
    We have seen a resurgence over the last two years of people under the age of 35 interested in producing and distributing a print magazine on newsstand. Some as young as 25! The most frequently cited reasons…digital burnout. #powerofprint #print
    (submitted by a Circulation Consultant)
     
    RE: Publishing Industry Sales Rose by $3 Billion in 2021
    Pretty impressive for a "dying" industry!
    (Submitted by a Circulation Consultant)
     
    RE:” Media should study these consumer trends to prepare for future
    My prediction is that metaverse-like technology will move away from a focus on another, virtual life we can live in, and focus more on augmenting the real world. There will be a market for the former -- especially for gamers -- but the big market will be for the latter.
    (Submitted by a Publishing Consultant)
     
    RE: Optimal article length: The relationship between word count and engagement
    I have a hard time taking this study seriously, for a couple reasons. First, it doesn't differentiate between types of articles. Surely there is a difference between hard news, celebrity gossip, and practical how tos. Second, it looks like they're measuring "engagement" by time on page. There has to be more to it than that. I might persevere and read your 4,000-word article, then think, "that could have been five bullet points" and never come back.
    This study seems like an application of "what gets measured gets done." IOW, they can measure time on page, so that becomes a stand-in for "engagement," which is a more complicated thing.
    (Submitted by a Publishing Consultant)
     
    RE: Traffic to local news websites has plummeted. What happens now?
    Which is it, uniques or page views? Let’s be clear that page views are a function of traffic, but unique users are the measure that’s the equivalent of circ!
    (Submitted by a Direct Marketer)
     
    RE: Trusted branded content is a revenue win
    The second article in the link -- about social media success -- mentions CORE. Create once, publish everywhere. Which is turning out to be not that great of an idea, since every channel needs its own strategy, and has its own quirks.
    That reminds me of the magazine vs. e-magazine issue from a couple days ago. The idea that you can create magazine content once, then press a button and send it to both print and digital, will create a worse end product because the original content has to work in both mediums. That means it can't take advantage of the unique benefits of either.
    The second article in your link is saying something similar about (anti-)social media. If you simply repurpose things from one medium to another, you won't do as well as if you have a strategy that suits each particular channel.
    Which is a bummer, since that requires extra staff and extra work!
    (Submitted by a Consultant)
     
    Re: Print price hikes force deeper focus on digital revenues
    It’s one thing to talk about people turning to digital because it’s the preferred platform. But another to say the cost of print is driving loses. It’s really a shame as I don’t know that most magazines will survive in a digital only format. What makes magazines so unique is the focus on that one magazine without the annoyance of pop up ads and all the other on line distractions. To read a print book or a magazine requires an attention span of more than five minutes. That’s just not the case in the digital world. Digital is great for so many different things but unfortunately, it still doesn’t work for magazines or books. It’s perfect for news however.
    (Submitted by a Salesperson)
     
    Re: How 4 publishers are using podcasts to enhance their brands
    Podcasts are great, and I love them, but from a publisher's perspective, there is one thing lacking in the current podcast infrastructure -- a way to tie them in with your subscription offer. IOW, right now, if a publisher wants to offer a podcast only to their paid subscribers, you can't do that through any of the normal podcast channels. You can, of course, keep the audio files behind your paywall, but that's not how most podcast listeners get their podcasts.
    (Submitted by a Publishing Consultant)
    BoSacks
    Posted September 22, 2022
    (0) Comments

  • Publishers Pandemic Roundtable: The Data is in: The Industry Will Be All Right

    A couple of weeks ago, Joe Berger, Samir Husni, Sherin Pierce, Bo Sacks, and I met with the Mather Economics Group – CEO Matt Lindsay, Advisory Board Member Malcolm Netburn, and Head of Data Science, Luke Magerko—to talk about data.
     
    Mather Economics is a twenty-year-old consulting firm based in Atlanta, Georgia. With a focus on subscription economics, Mather has worked primarily with newspaper publishers; however, they are finding that the data and analytics they offer are increasingly relevant to magazine publishers.
     
    Joe: Tell us about some of the issues you see as important today.
     
    Malcolm: First, we've seen, as an issue of urgency, that many publishers have grown to rely on the third parties that distribute their content—Facebook, Google, and Apple. It's clear how the situation has developed, but this industry will wither if it thinks it can eat the crumbs of the large platforms. We need to build our channels and monetize them.
     
    Second, stop bashing print! Yes, publishers are in digital disruption, raising many questions, but publishers need to keep the discussion internal. Please don't talk about it to the outside world and your customers! For example, car companies Ford and Volkswagen are moving to electric—do you think they are denigrating their current offerings, and telling their customers not to buy?
     
    Third, positioning a magazine as premium is a terrible idea. I don't have a thing that's premium; I don't buy premium. It's like saying this product is for those who want to go fancy; otherwise, you don't need it. This doesn't mean you don't increase prices. If your product has value, sell at the price it deserves. Just don't call it premium.
     
    Joe: And yet, you could argue about the word "value." In the consumer world, something labeled "value" can mean "k-mart discount;" if something is labeled "premium," you'll pay the extra and want it.
     
    Samir: We are talking about two things—where you are positioning your magazine and how you are selling it. Look at the newsstand. It should be a premium product if people pay $15 for a magazine. From the same company, you'll see an offer for People for $3 for six months. This should be a crime, and you should go to jail for this.
     
    Malcolm: Identifying something as premium makes it feel easy not to purchase it. It puts it in the optional category, limiting its opportunity to sell. Sell your publication at a high price, but don't call it premium.
     
    Sherin: As Samir mentioned, positioning a product as premium and using that term to sell the magazine are two different things. Most of that language came from the subscription industry.
     
    Matt: Price point is a signal to the reader of what you're offering. That confuses people if there's a disconnect between what you're calling it and what you're charging. In other words, you can't call it premium and charge a low price.
     
    Linda: But simultaneously, you can charge a higher price and let the "premium" be implied.
     
    Matt: For years, newspapers and magazines have been underpriced to attract audiences for print advertising. Today newspapers are bringing in increased subscription revenue at a fraction of the circulation because of their higher prices. We believe this is a vital lesson for the magazine industry and strategic subscription pricing is a significant opportunity.
     
    Sherin: It's essential not to up-price just because everyone else is doing it. It would be best if you created value for your readers to keep them coming back year after year.  
     
    Joe: From my observation, most small and medium-sized publishers aren't offering low-priced subscriptions. It's the big guys that are doing it. Most of my publishers charge enough to cover costs. That pricing isn't so much a problem for vertical publishers. Their audience will pay for it. They want and need the content; it's worth it to them.
     
    Malcolm: They don't position it as premium—they cover a need.
     
    Sherin: Each issue of every publication has to give readers exactly what they want and more than they expect.
     
    Malcolm: Some other points: Data is the new oxygen. You'll have a short runway if you don't understand data gathering and use. Also, industry collaboration is underestimated as a value proposition. There are more silos than ever before.  
     
    Here is your Roundtable; you share knowledge, experience, and ideas, but many publishers don't do the same. It's insane that if you think how small the industry is, we should be able to figure out how to collaborate honestly. The pandemic has isolated us, but it's time to reverse that—all boats rise in a rising tide.
     
    Bo: There is no publishing industry. There are fiefdoms. We have never worked together, and while I like your optimism, I don't see it happening.
     
    Malcolm: There is nothing like walking to the gallows to sharpen the mind. We're at that inflection point. There's a necessity to change the equation in a significant way.
     
    Bo: I hope you're right.
     
    Malcolm: Collaboration is essential from publisher to publisher and within each publisher's supply chain. Every publisher, however small, has a set of partners. But unfortunately, they view them in isolation as a reservoir of unoptimized talent and expertise. Bring them together, and you'll create a powerful problem-solving dynamic.
     
    Sherin: I agree. If you bring together your printers, paper suppliers, and fulfillment houses—they can become the way you grow.
     
    Malcolm: How many of you have ever had a conference call where your four or five suppliers talk about a common issue? The ecosystem is more extensive than you think. Yet, you keep them as islands to themselves. To survive and thrive, open the neural network you build with these suppliers.
     
    Joe: Internally as well. Just now, I'm trying to set up a call with a company's various departments where we missed an opportunity to count copies because of a lack of intra-company communication.
     
    Samir: How do you treat your readers when they learn that the price offered, for example, to a loyal subscriber, may be different from, and worse than, the price offered to a new customer?
     
    Matt: Mather has developed a process to manage subscription revenue similar to yield management strategies used in other industries, such as hotel and transportation. We measure price elasticity by subscriber and suggest targeted renewal offers instead of giving everyone the same price, and we can measure success using A/B testing.  
     
    We've done this for newspapers and can also apply it to magazines. For Magazines, price elasticity is often a function of the reader's passion for the product. With newspapers, we've found that price elasticity is a function of age, income, and the length of time the reader subscribes. With magazines, it's based on a reader's passion for the topic or hobby, which of course, is harder to measure. But, again, we can look at digital engagement to gain insight.
     
    Bo: You test the price points by cohort?
     
    Matt: Yes, we use A/B testing, and we have demonstrated that this pricing mechanism generates much more revenue per issue than across-the-board pricing.
     
    Joe: How do you measure digital engagement?
     
    Matt: Usually, we use the frequency of visits to the site. There are several metrics for engagement.
     
    Sherin: Time on the site is critical.
     
    Matt: Our cost-effective tools can give publishers insights on engagement and price elasticity. We often act as an extension of the publisher's analytics team. We have considerable industry data to share benchmarks and recommend strategies to publishers to optimize their consumer revenue. That's part of our client relationship; we try to be a partner that works with a magazine for a long time to support the implementation of recommended actions and measure progress with testing. For example, we use one approach to put a first-party pixel on a page that matches the online activity to a known reader.
     
    Bo: You cover a lot of industries, a broad range of products and services. Will your formula work for cars as well as newspapers, for example? Is there a commonality across sectors?
     
    Matt: Our most significant client base is media, but some former clients have moved to other industries and continue to use what we offer. And beyond media, many enterprises are becoming increasingly subscription-oriented—you see it with clothing, food, wine, and jewelry.
     
    Malcolm: However you slice it, it's all about how you monetize and bring value to the consumer. The days of big ad-driven magazines are over, and digital has not yet demonstrated the same power to generate revenue; so how do we assign value to consumers across a wide variety of categories?
     
    Luke: We know we will learn from other industries that have gone before using these existing data.
     
    Malcolm: We're going to try to make that happen.
     
    Joe: So as we're walking to the gallows, there's a chance we can make a break for it.
     
    Samir: Everyone talks about the importance of data. We had data before there was even digital. So it isn't just a digital thing.
     
    Matt: Excellent point. The pace of digital deliveries is faster. A digital relationship adds to the frequency of interaction with customers. Start with the end in mind, how you will use the data, and work back from there.
     
    Sherin: And don't bother looking at data if you aren't going to accept what it tells you and if you aren't willing to make the changes.
     
    Malcolm: Speed matters, flexibility matters, but the industry will be all right.
     
     
    Linda Ruth
    Posted September 07, 2022
    (0) Comments

  • An Airport Sans Newspapers

    By Edson Atwood
     
    My cherished ritual just ended.
    Thank you, Hudson News—I mean Hudson! (Hudson News rebranded as Hudson a few years ago.)
     
    Its slogan: “We Are The Traveler’s Best Friend.” Well, not my best friend. My best friend would have newspapers.
     
    Whenever I travel for business or otherwise, I always pick up a local newspaper. I usually try to pick it up in town. If it’s a longer trip, it’s fun to read local news while you’re in the area you are visiting. You can refer to local stories to the people you are temporarily living among.
     
    But often I forget to pick up a paper in town. So, I buy a newspaper in the airport on the way out of town. And I can read it at home at a later time, as a unique reminder of the vacation or business trip, and to understand a different news narrative than I’m used to at home, albeit news as recent history.

     

    But flying out of Charleston recently, I went to a Hudson newsstand and was told they didn’t sell newspapers. I went to a second Hudson store and asked again. They said they stopped selling newspapers about a year ago and that there were no newspapers in the airport.

    I am devastated by this. How is there an airport without newspapers?

    A newspaper is the baseline for existence, for providing information needed to accomplish your day and be able to have an understanding of what’s going on in the wider world. I don’t know if other airports are also sans newspapers. It’ something I may research at a later date.
     
    People are getting their news now from apps, or websites, or posts. I realize that. But there is such a large, overwhelming volume of that content. It’s not organized, vetted, and taught. Newspapers have editors. Editors clean it all up. And print it on a limited number of pages.

     

    Not unlimited screen after screen, scrolling down and left and zooming in and over, and turning the phone vertically, horizontally, and back to vertically, all while advertisements keep popping into view. Yes, websites and social platforms have a different outlook that is reflected in their presentation of the news—of the Truth, ultimately. But as I understand it, and have witnessed it, editors try hard to be fair, to be truthful, to be honest, and transparent. They have a mission to transmit Truth to the world. That’s why I got interested in Publishing. That’s why I pursued my degree in Journalism—because Truth, or Beauty, or Understanding—should be curated—curated—and shared, by trusted sources.

    Some of the loss of newspapers in the Charleston airport may be attributable to the pandemic and the loss of foot traffic. And assuming many people who used to buy newspapers in the airport would just leave them at their seats or on the floor, maybe now there is a lot less mess to clean up, and less garbage to cart away. An understandable result of not selling paper.

     

    But still…
     
    Still, I want my newspaper in the airport. I like the feeling of turning pages and making progress from page to page, section to section. When reading a newspaper on a mobile phone there is no sense of progress, just an endless stream of news and advertisements and words and advertisements and pictures and…advertisements. You never really finish news on a mobile device. And all day long you feel your knowledge is incomplete. You are incomplete because there is more clicking and scrolling you could have done, and you will still do.
     
    When you reach the last page of a newspaper, however, you fold it up and know you are “finished” with the news. You now have a foundation of information to build upon. You go forward, perhaps pursue more news in selected areas, but you’ve graduated from News of the Day 101 and can go forward from there.
     
    I do recognize the benefits of reading the news on a mobile device. When sitting at a table eating a meal, it’s a lot easier and neater to scroll through your phone than to turn pages. As long as you can keep the ketchup off the phone, a phone is a great lunch or dinner reading device.

     

    But when sitting on a rocking chair in the house, or in a hotel lobby—or in an airport or on a plane—a newspaper is the perfect platform to deliver news, and to keep you gainfully occupied.

    People don’t actually read newspapers. They step into them every morning like a hot bath. (Marshall McLuhan quote, from The Book of Probes)
     
    I don’t think anyone would ever describe a news app like a hot bath. (It’s more like a cold shower drizzling throughout the day.)

     

    So, my trip to Charleston is over. Really over. I have no memento, no week-old newspaper sitting in my computer bag or backpack to retrieve and read through, Charleston in mind. Hudson (News) didn’t allow me that simple pleasure, to have paper in-hand to understand my environs during my trip, nor as a sweet reminiscence reading the paper when back to my normal routine at home, post trip.

    Here's an idea, at least for local newspapers. What if you took a local newspaper, and in airports and tourist gift shops, rebranded it not as today’s news in paper form, but as a postcard of a time and place you visited, that you could browse at and review at a later time? More like an elaborate news-related postcard?
     
    See what happens without a newspaper in the airport? If I were browsing my Charleston newspaper now, I would be reminiscing more about the Charleston trip. But no. There was no newspaper. And that leaves me with time on my hand to concoct retro-focused ideas to rescue the newspaper industry.
     
    Hudson—my friend—I’m available to talk.

     

     

    Posted August 08, 2022
    (0) Comments

  • Printers Can Still Thrive: Thoughts from a Survivor

    By Linda Ruth 
     
    With the print supply chain in disarray and publishers running into paper shortages, printing delays, and added fees, the Publishing Pandemic Roundtable—Samir Husni, Bo Sacks, Joe Berger, Sherin Pierce, Gemma Peckham, and I—met with Dave Pilcher, Senior Vice President at Freeport Press, to talk about what can be done.
     
    Samir: Welcome, Dave. Tell us about the printing business.
     
    David: For Freeport Press, times are surprisingly good in spite of everything. Like printers everywhere, we're dealing with ongoing shortages of people and paper. On the client-side, though, our sales are up… nearly 20% this fiscal year. We have challenges; paper is hard to get, people are hard to get -- but there's a lot of demand for print services.
     
    Joe: Are these publishers coming to you because they are new in the business, or do they want to find a new printer?
     
    David: The need for paper is driving them. Publishers are calling 10, 20 printers looking for a home where they can get paper. It's tight for everyone, but to some degree, it comes down to your relationships — with your customers and your paper companies. The printers that will survive will have the best connections — with the mills and their customers. Besides paper, labor is an additional differentiator, as it is in all industries today. Freeport has a solid capacity to manufacture print products with our current team, but we are looking for more talent to grow. 
     
    Bo: What's your sweet spot?
     
    David: For periodicals, the market is moving to lower frequency, more special-interest content, and higher quality; that's exactly what we're configured for.
     
    Bo: So many publications are stopping printing; you've seen the news from Meredith. Is the silver lining that it will make paper more available to the publishers still printing?
     
    David: Publishers like Meredith, who purchase their paper directly, have more flexibility regarding how much to print and where. If the printer purchases the paper, most publishers don't have that kind of control. In my opinion, demand for paper will continue to be high, and supply strained into 2024.
     
    Samir: New launches have declined this year. Are new launches coming to you?
     
    David: We've had a few new launches, not many. Where will you get your paper if you're a new, high-quality launch? Realistically the industry can't allocate to all of them.
     
    Samir: How do you answer people who say, if print is not dying, how come we don't have paper?
     
    David: The market has changed so much. We've met with the mills; they have staggering statistics of what is happening—strikes, shipping delays, you name it. Print is not dying, but it is changing, and publishers face new challenges. Periodical postage is going up 8.5% this summer, and you've got dramatic increases in costs for trucking, paper, and labor, yet publishers are afraid to raise their ad rates. And with so many parts, if there is a problem with one, it's a problem for the whole. 
     
    Joe: Early on in the pandemic, Bo predicted it would hasten changes that were already happening, speed them up by as much as five to ten years. Did this happen in the print and paper industry?
     
    David: Any industry will struggle if the supply chain is broken. Today there is plenty of potential but simply not enough supply. The magazine model was already broken when they started giving away subscriptions. You see where that leads. 
     
    Today's opportunity is for the high-quality, audience-focused, niche publications whose content is focused around a community and often has a membership component. 
     
    Samir: Knowing what you know, your family still invested a lot of money in new presses.
     
    David: We've invested in a new warehouse addition, some new equipment, and our people. We're the right-sized printer. The big, multiple-location printers have more paper issues, people issues, and supply chain issues. We're large enough to get the attention of the mills, we employ over 200 people, and we have enough equipment to help mid-sized and bigger publishers. So we're in a good space. And we're careful — we don't over-commit. We could run seven days a week, but we want to build our staffing first to handle increased demand. 
     
    Samir: Have we seen the end of the mergers and acquisitions?
     
    David: There is not a tremendous need to prospect for new customers now. If you have paper, customers will come to you. So printers don't need to buy a plant to obtain a competitor's customer base anymore. The only reason to buy out another printer might be for their paper allocation. 
     
    Samir: We seem to be getting more catalogs and flyers by mail again.
     
    David: We've grown exponentially in catalogs. At the high end, where you are purchasing a premium product, do you want just a link to a site? If you're spending the money and buying quality, you want a catalog. Otherwise, you can buy your product on Amazon. Catalogers use many channels – websites, apps, social media – all things digital. But putting something in someone's mailbox, there's a direct ROI. That print catalog creates sales and produces revenue. 
     
    Samir: I just finished a book about magazines from 1900 to 2020. In the early part of the last century, you had a lot of individual entrepreneurs who didn't give a hoot about the business side. Now the major publishers are led by the numbers. Do you still find passion-driven projects?
     
    David: Publishers are passionate about their message. We've said repeatedly, "It's not just a job; it's their livelihood." But publishers are asking themselves: how is the message format relevant to what I'm trying to communicate? Many are trying to grow their audiences online, but it can result in lost opportunities and lost communication. The print piece offers a durable human interaction that goes beyond another click, another screen. 
     
    Bo: After being locked in their houses on screen all day, people are finding buying a book to be an off-screen adventure.
     
    David: Ultimately, you must be good at business, but creative and passionate people will always rise to the top.
     
    Bo: You are a survivor and I'm happy to hear that.

     

    Linda Ruth
    Posted June 22, 2022
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  • The Pandemic Roundtable: A conversation with James G. Elliott president of James G. Elliott Co., Inc. a National Ad Sales Firm

    The Pandemic Roundtable, is still ongoing and meeting with industry leaders on your behalf. The roundtable comprising Joe Berger, Sherin Pierce, Gemma Peckham, Bo Sacks, Samir Husni, and Linda Ruth met with James G. Elliott who is president of James G. Elliott Co., Inc. a National Ad Sales Firm started in 1984 with offices in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. The Elliott Co. is one of the largest independent advertising sales firms for association, trade and consumer magazine media in the United States. The following is our conversation:
     
     
    JOE BERGER
    Jim, please give us some of your background, how you got to the point that you're at now, and then we'll start looking back at the pandemic, and then looking forward at what will, hopefully, be a much brighter future for all of us in the publishing business.
     
    JIM ELLIOTT
    There are two companies that I own. One is the James G. Elliott Co., Inc., which is the ad sales company. It sells advertising with a sales force located in NY, Chicago, and LA.
    The other company, Ads&IDEAS, is an advertising consulting company with its own list of clients. It also produces a newsletter—Ads&IDEAS.
     
    JOE BERGER
    So, the day after the pandemic was formally declared, what were some of the immediate effects?
     
    JIM ELLIOTT
    Well, Joe, in very short order, advertisers began to cancel digital buys because of the quick turn-around; it took a bit longer for print. As in past recessions, digital and broadcast went first and print later. And historically, when things got better, shorter lead-time media recovered quicker.
     
    SAMIR HUSNI
    So, as you look forward, a lot of things have changed. Most of your work has been with large magazine companies and those large magazine companies are dwindling. What's the plan to sell advertising, considering that the majority of magazines arriving to the newsstands or to the marketplace these days are much, much smaller magazines?

     

    JIM ELLIOTT

     

    Luckily, because we work with large organizations, many had already pivoted to various digital products. And, incidentally, not all our customers are legacy magazine companies.
     
    BO SACKS
    So, you're talking about direct to consumer?  
     
    JIM ELLIOTT—Yes.
     
    JOE BERGER
    It could also be direct to business. My wife works in B2B publishing; they're seeing a lot of their former advertisers cutting back their advertising spend and just developing their own marketing plans that they execute themselves.
     
    JIM ELLIOTT
    That's right. And all these folks—whether it be B2B, association, or consumer marketers—want to offset some of the cost. And, of course, one way to do that is via advertising or sponsorship.
     
    BO SACKS
    Would you care to address programmatic?
     
    JIM ELLIOTT
    Yes, the race to the bottom? Publishers may welcome the incremental revenue, but it comes with a big cost. Sometimes that cost is loss of direct business. This is not insignificant. It also creates issues of brand safety for advertisers, and it often results in advertising that is inappropriate to the editorial content. And then there is the issue of fraud…and emerging third-party restrictions.
     
    BO SACKS
    But let's not discount the fraud.
     
    JIM ELLIOTT—Yes, absolutely, Bo. That’s huge.
     
    JIM ELLIOTT
    Now to a new subject, we do an ongoing study of media planning and buying at ad agencies. We just released our fourth study, in conjunction with SRDS and Readex Research. It shows what is going on in the media departments, which—no surprise—have experienced significant cutbacks. And probably on the creative side also. Much of the creative product lately is pretty poor, in my opinion.
     
    SHERIN PIERCE
    Yes, right? Uninspired!
     
    JIM ELLIOTT
    I think you're going to see a resurgence of creativity from agencies; it is the way for them to survive. Creative for programmatic advertising isn’t the way forward. That is why some publishers have decided to create brand studio efforts.

     

     

    BO SACKS
    I'm not as optimistic as you are that there is a bottom, because of greed—there's so much money being made in programmatic. And it's hard to imagine that tree drying up.
     
    SHERIN PIERCE
    And the advertisers themselves who don't value direct sales versus programmatic think, “Well, I'm getting this and it's so much more affordable!” But who is really seeing your ad? During the pandemic, The Old Farmer’s Almanac got something like 20 million page views a month—it went through the roof. We would prefer to sell directly to the advertisers, but so many of them buy programmatically. They say, “It's more affordable.” It's just unbelievable.
     
    SAMIR HUSNI
    Jim, how do you answer the folks that say, “With the amount of data companies have, why do they need a third-party to reach their customers? A company like Ralph Lauren or Toyota can reach me dynamically and may give me offers and give me things? Why do they need to advertise since they know more about me than the publication, the magazine, or the website knows about me”?
     
    JIM ELLIOTT
    I would answer that Toyota has been publishing a magazine, or did heretofore, for a long time. A price message alone does not sell Toyota; you need brand advertising. An Internet price ad doesn't do that work for you. And you need to find new customers outside of Toyota’s list. Magazines have always been a way to explain and differentiate one product from the next. You have long body copy and pictures in a compatible reading environment.
     
    SAMIR HUSNI
    I say all the time that ads in magazines are not an eyesore; they belong to the brand. They are part of the real estate. Online, ads that have nothing to do with what I'm reading will pop up.
     
    JOE BERGER
    Beyond that, to go back to your original question, Samir, wouldn't part of it also just be a question of expertise? Don’t you want an agency to reach beyond what you can do on your own?
     
    JIM ELLIOTT
    When I started my career at Ogilvy & Mather, we went through rigorous training—something missing today. At that time, they drummed into us that a brand needs to use multiple media because each medium works differently. So, we would sit with the creatives and strategize. How did broadcast work with print in a holistic way? We created advertising appropriate for each medium but within a messaging overview. Today, I see online advertising, particularly programmatically generated, as price advertising.

     

     

    SAMIR HUSNI
    How do you respond to the people that tell you, “Oh, we love digital because we can actually have the data, we can document the data, but in print, who knows”?
     
    JIM ELLIOTT
    Well, I’ll refer right back to what Bo Sacks said 15 minutes ago about fraud. Do we really think Twitter is the only organization with fake account metrics? Ad Tech doesn’t deliver trustworthy measurements—they just don't. Checking everything for accuracy would be expensive; they don't have to hire staff to do this. And, by the way, there has been much written about the meaningfulness and usefulness of the data collected.
     
    SAMIR HUSNI
    Jim, why do you believe in the effectiveness of a print newsletter in this digital age?
     
    JIM ELLIOTT
    I can't tell you how many people have called me over the years who have a print copy of Ads&IDEAS. And the reason is, I'm one of the few people spending the money to print it and mail it.  We also have a digital version you can download from our website but, you know what? People read the print version.
     
    BO SACKS
    Direct Mail works.
     
    JIM ELLIOTT
    Yes, they read it. Somebody called me recently who said they’ve had the newsletter on their bulletin board for a year and a half and that they wanted to call and finally did, so I think it works just fine. Print is interesting.
    What is the job to be done here? For me, it is to have digital and print publishers call me.
     
    JIM ELLIOTT
    I remember, so clearly, something that occurred when I was a guest of Dr. Samir Husni at Ole Miss. When I was looking around the school, I saw all these kids with their newspaper, The Mississippian, in one hand, and they’ve got their Mac computers, and their iPhones with earbuds. And they're doing this all at the same time. None of these young adults were sitting there saying, “Geez, I hate newspapers or magazines”—they were just flowing through the media and their devices.

     

     

    BO SACKS
    That's very funny. It's a great observation. I was just at the Niche Publishing Conference, and I can’t tell you how many people were handwriting notes. It was striking.
     
    JIM ELLIOTT
    Bo Sacks said—and I think he was wrong only in his timing—that we were entering the Golden Age of publishing. But, Bo, I think you are going to be right soon. I think you're going to see a change now, regardless of platform.
     
    BO SACKS
    And 25 years ago, I phrased it this way, “We're in the information distribution business, formerly known as publishing.”
     
    SAMIR HUSNI
    I call the stuff on digital now, “telezines.” We have magazines, which are ink on paper, and telezines, which are online and digital.
     
    BO SACKS
    So, Jim, we're both optimistic about the future of ad agencies and media distribution, right?
     
    JIM ELLIOTT
    Yes, I think that agencies will have to make a change here but will do so. And I think distribution is an issue, but it will resolve. I'm optimistic about that.
     
    SAMIR HUSNI
    But my main problem is this—and let me know if you agree or disagree—is that you are putting your information at the mercy of something you don't own, on something you have no control over.
     
    JIM ELLIOTT
    This observation goes to the job to be done. Much of what is in print and online isn’t worth saving. And regarding the argument that you don’t own the data, you never did. You owned a reproduction of the data.
     
    BO SACKS
    I own, in theory, over 200 audiobooks. But that could just dissolve in a minute. If Audible goes out of business, changes its paradigm, or gets sold, the consumer can get screwed. And it has happened.
     
    JOE BERGER
    So, are you suggesting, Jim, that—for example—if I decided to download an NFT version, say of a National Geographic premiere issue, that it becomes my premiere issue, as opposed to buying the SIP that's sitting on the newsstand?
     
    JIM ELLIOTT
    I think we may see more of this, and maybe it's in the limited edition, right? But you're right. I think this is something to keep your eyes on.
     
    BO SACKS
    So, getting back to your observation offline about the War and what that’s doing to our youth, I think they are also realizing the value of trust and where they get their information from. That's a big step, a positive step.
     
    JIM ELLIOTT
    I think that's really important. You're still going to have the folks for whom Twitter is the only thing they look at or other social media. But I think that, hopefully, there'll be a larger percentage of people who really try to research different sources before they decide who to believe.
     
    JOE BERGER
    There was this theory—for a while it seemed—that we need to get rid of the gatekeepers. But if you want to establish trust, don't you then need to really have gatekeepers who clearly have trust, experience, and expertise?
     
    JIM ELLIOTT
    Yes, you do. And we have one sitting right here—his name is Bo Sacks. When he publishes something, he doesn't just take any article at all. He, basically, collects information from various sources that I trust when I read it, because he knows the people that he's taken the information from.
     
    SHERIN PIERCE
    What I say about trust to everyone is that you've got to earn trust. The Old Farmer’s Almanac is 231 years old and has been continuously published. The reason why people trust us is because we, first of all, went print, Samir—millions of copies in print. And the other thing is the amount of work that goes into, not just creating the content, but into the fact checking. It's a thing—the credibility and the trust, it doesn't come easily. You can't buy it; you have to earn it. Longevity can breed trust.

     

     

    SAMIR HUSNI
    Not only that, but that's also why I've been preaching to whoever's willing to listen—we have to bring editors back. All these new chiefs that we've created in the last 10-15 years is garbage—Chief Revenue Officer, Chief-Chief—we need people who are actual editors, not just chiefs.
     
    SHERIN PIERCE
    Fact-checkers, copy editors, editors, writers, and if you have a website, it's incumbent upon you to have that fact-checked as well like you do a magazine. You have to because that's part of the whole trust and brand issue. Yes, we have to.
     
    JIM ELLIOTT
    You need to include one other thing in there, and I'm not going to get political here, but you need to include real—I stress that word real—journalists back into the medium. Real ones, not talking heads.
     
    SAMIR HUSNI 
    It’s the same thing people talked about with William Randolph Hearst and Pulitzer. Journalism was never this pure thing, but in most cases, people were still able to find some journalistic outlets. As my professor in Missouri told us on the very first day of class, when a journalist gives his or her opinion, he or she is no longer a journalist.
     
    JIM ELLIOTT
    I had the honor, early on, of representing the National Review and the New Republic at the same time. One was conservative and the other was fairly liberal. We would have collective meetings, talking about advertising ideas, and everybody involved was respectful. It was remarkably collegial, considering they were on opposite ends of the political spectrum. The reason, I think, was that they respected their trade as journalists first.
     
    BO SACKS
    Well, this was great, Jim.
     
    SHERIN PIERCE
    Yes, thank you so much.
     
    JOE BERGER
    Thank you very much. Hopefully, we'll see you again soon in real life, which would be good.
     
    JIM ELLIOTT
    That would be great.

     

    BoSacks
    Posted June 09, 2022
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  • BoSacks Readers Speak Out: Why Are Book/Magazine Sales Slipping in Big Cities?

    Re: Why Are Book Sales Slipping in Big Cities?
    B&N shuttering some of their larger format stores here in Chicago is a big part of the loss of sales in Chicago for magazines. Within the urban core, it could also be the increase in the cost of housing and everything else. Yes, that’s happening in smaller markets, but probably not to the extent that it is in larger cities.
    (Submitted by Anonymous)
     
    Re: Why Are Book Sales Slipping in Big Cities?
    Regarding the PW piece about book sales in big cities, I think the article omits some factors that may also be important to the story; the analysis is not subtle enough.
     
    I really think that you have to delve deeper into the data to really understand what’s happening. Sure, we all know that in really big cities like NYC that office workers haven’t fully gone back to the office (or if they ever will), so of course you’d expect bookstores in Manhattan to show weakness, and that until fairly recently tourist traffic has been far below 2019 levels—but what about bookstores in the residential boroughs? What about suburban ones? Are they counted as part of the “big cities” or are they broken out separately? In magazine sales I’ve seen stronger numbers coming from suburban stores for the past two-plus years, and weakness in many of our big-city markets, and that is almost entirely pandemic-related. For me it’s not about NYC vs. DFW, it’s NYC vs. Westchester. 
     
    The biggest factor I think this piece does not seem to factor in is inflation. In magazine sales I’m seeing softness in 2022 that, were to chart it on a graph with the average price per gallon of gas each week would likely show strong correlation. I have to think that books are fairly impacted by it too—maybe people will visit a bookstore and, instead of buying two or three books they stick to just one (if you’re a big reader like me of course you will sacrifice other things for books—you won’t give up book buying entirely). Ironically, gas inflation is less of a factor in big cities where people are less auto-dependent, and more of a factor in places like sprawling Atlanta and DFW. 
     
    Also, regarding book sales specifically: Donald Trump is no longer our president—he lost, fair and square. When he lived at the White House there was so much energy poured by authors and publishers into books about him, his corruption, the death of democracy, and so on, that they were riding a wave that, pandemic or not, could not continue in 2021 and 2022. (Likewise, the George Floyd-related boom in books about race could only be sustained when left-leaning white people cared enough to buy them.) Now, he’s still around, still noisy, and democracy is still in danger (and would be even without him, as the GOP has gone full authoritarian, a process that has taken 50 years but is now largely complete, save people like Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney), so perhaps there will be a book boom in the period between this year’s midterm elections and the presidential one in 2024. The decline in adult book buying has been partly masked by increases in kids’ books; hopefully that trend will continue. We’ve certainly seen strength in magazines aimed at kids, all through the worst part of the pandemic and continuing today, when the still-going pandemic is somewhat less of a concern. 
     
    All of that said, there is still some merit in the idea that places like Atlanta and DFW (and Denver and Phoenix and other sunbelt cities) are enjoying population growth that was probably accelerated by the pandemic and the rise of Zoom. That crime is up (if not up to 1990s levels, thankfully), that homelessness is up (far past 1990s levels, unfortunately) and that housing prices are way, way, way up in big cities (good for those of us who own our homes, bad for young people and people of color of all ages)—these are also factors supporting the idea that a demographic shift is underway. Young people will always flock to big cities, but the middle-aged and older people tend to leave them for life-stage reasons—and it’s middle-aged and older people who buy the most books. 
     
    I don’t think there’s a very strong correlation between magazines and books. There are too many other factors causing magazines to decline, factors that are irrelevant to book sales trends. Yes, we see fewer sales in the densest cities, sales that were dependent on people buying magazines to read on their lunch hour or on the bus or subway ride home, but we still reasonably decent sales in those places. What would not sell in dense urban locations are kids’ magazines, which are strong sellers these days in suburban locations. So if there’s weakness in magazine sales in big-city stores, part of it is due to the lack of kids living in those places. Also what does not sell as well in places with high percentages of renters (e.g., big cities): shelter. This category is booming—but only in the suburbs. Likewise for cooking magazines—fewer frequent restaurant-goers in the suburbs compared to childless big city couples and singles who rarely cook. I guess what I’m saying is that right now certain magazine subject matter is selling well in certain places because of who they attract as readers—and it’s the same scenario in Atlanta (urban Midtown vs. Cobb County) and New York (NYC, particularly Manhattan, vs. NY/NJ/CT suburbs). Ditto for Seattle, Washington DC, Chicago, you name it.
    (Submitted by Anonymous)
     
    RE: The Long-Challenged Saga Of Celebrity Print Magazines
    I was doing a little research on “top magazines” and ran into a rather alarming phenomenon that I was not expecting. All the grocery stores here (Washington DC Metro Area) no longer have mainlines !!! (Giant, Safeway)….
     
    Now I will say, the checkouts were well merchandised i.e. all the kids/teen titles were together, the celebrity titles together. But I was shocked to go to 2-3 stores…large stores….and find no mainline.
     
    Wondering if others in the industry are seeing this nationally?
    (Submitted by a Director, Print Operations)
     
    Re: Apple's privacy changes are expected to wipe almost $16 billion from Meta, YouTube, Snap, and Twitter's revenues this year
    I'm feeling pretty good about my apple phone right about now. And no I don't feel sorry for those who can no longer track my every move. It's not like targeted ads were terribly useful from my point of view. (Stuff I already bought, or ads for stuff I would never buy. (not my age, sex, interest, etc.) I rarely post to social media anything that really says anything since it tells them too much about me.
    (Submitted by a Sr. Business Analyst)
     
    BoSacks
    Posted June 07, 2022
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  • Publisher’s Roundtable: Conversation with Bonnie Kintzer, the President and CEO of TMB

    What happens when you cross a venerable magazine company with a dynamic social and streaming video company? If you’re TMB (Trusted Media Brands), the answer is: energy, synergy, and growth.
     
    The Pandemic Roundtable, still meeting two years in and comprising Joe Berger, Sherin Pierce, Gemma Peckham, Bo Sacks, Samir Husni, and me, met with Bonnie Kintzer, the President and CEO of TMB, to find out what these interesting times look like to her.
     
    TMB, formerly known as the Reader's Digest Association, Inc. (RDA), is a global, multi-platform media company. TMB’s portfolio of community-based lifestyle brands includes Reader's Digest, Taste of Home, The Family Handyman, Birds & Blooms, and others. In 2021 TMB acquired Jukin Media, a rapidly growing, award-winning streaming and social video company; the acquisition brought Jukin’s new media brands FailArmy, The Pet Collective, People Are Awesome, and Poke My Heart, among others, to the TMB portfolio. In all, following the acquisition, TMB boasts 250+ million social media followers, 100+ million monthly website visits, 700+ million streaming TV minutes watched per month, and an audience of 27+ million print readers.
     
    Samir: Tell us about the changes you’ve been part of, from RDA to TMB to now.
     
    Bonnie: The acquisition of Jukin gave us a combination of two strong companies with complementary skills. And it’s amazing. People are energized by working together because they each gain from the strengths of the other. For example, we combined the data teams right away, and it’s providing new and exciting opportunities for all the employees—the print people are learning digital, the video people the discipline of print publishing.
     
    Samir: Many companies are moving from print to focus on digital. TMB is growing with both. What do you know more than other companies about the synergy of digital and print?
     
    Bonnie: We’ve always been a consumer-driven company. These are two companies that were always about the audience. If that’s your true north, you have a lot of opportunity, if you’re always thinking about what’s best for the consumer.
     
    Bo: Are your products on TikTok?
     
    Bonnie: Yes, Taste of Home, Family Handyman, and others have great TikTok videos!
     
    Sherin: Can you tell us about your video work?
     
    Bonnie: We have people watching videos 24 hours a day looking for ones that will resonate with our audience. It’s very community driven, we find and select what people are most interested in watching.
     
    Joe: Did you acquire this video experience to build up your print brands?
     
    Bonnie: We knew we had to get bigger. A small to medium sized company is going to face difficulties in the current environment. When we met Jukin it was love at first sight. Our current focus is on growth and investment, and the energy and excitement in what we can build together.
     
    Samir: Is there a downside?
     
    Bonnie: It’s intense! Waking-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night intense. We’re making a lot of bets, there is a lot to coordinate. I’ve got an incredible management team, there’s a lot of talent, a lot of focus, and we need to ruthlessly prioritize. We can’t do everything well at once, we have to choose.
     
    Joe: What new content does Jukin bring, and what can TMB do to develop it?
     
    Bonnie: The Pet Collective alone has tremendous potential for growth via websites, newsletters, and subscriptions. We are creating a ton of new and original content for our streaming channels with 2 new shows launching on the FailArmy channel this month, Your Pranks our Show and Theory of Awesome.
     
    Joe: What did you find did well in the pandemic?
     
    Bonnie: Subscriptions did great for us, as they did everywhere. And many of our brands were especially appreciated—Taste of Home, Birds and Blooms, people were at home and our content really served these people.
     
    Joe: Has the growth rate held up?
     
    Bonnie: It’s inevitably slowed, people are not cooking, for example, as much as they were the past couple of years; but we’re still up from pre-pandemic.
     
    Samir: I’ve counted 54 magazines that are older than 100 years. To what do you attribute this longevity? Can you think of any other brands in media that have lasted that long?
     
    Bonnie: I look at Reader’s Digest as the fabric of America. It’s a multi-generational brand so people stick with it from generation to generation. There isn’t a lot out there like it. Reader’s Digest readers were always a community. Readers are eager to learn, they are civic minded, they enjoy laughing. In a stressed-out world it offers even more of a benefit, and it has never strayed from what it is. It’s a compendium of some of the best articles in the country, ones that make you feel better about the world. We celebrate life, and help people enjoy theirs. Adding video to that allows us to be a community-driven media company.
     
    Sherin: It’s the same with the Old Farmer’s Almanac. It’s about the good news, the wholesome and useful. That’s what people are paying attention to. People are tired, and positivity goes a long way.
     
    Bo: That’s Bernie Mann’s secret in Our State magazine—nothing but uplifting.
     
    Joe: People are going to want to plant gardens and look at birds and cook and eat. Your topics are in that sense evergreen.
     
    Sherin: Has your readership demographic changed, maybe getting younger?
     
    Bonnie: Our digital content is read by millennials. The magazine tracks with magazine subscribers overall, people in their fifties who are getting magazines delivered to their home.
     
    Samir: People over fifty is half the country.
     
    Sherin: And they have disposable income.
     
    Samir: What’s the plan going forward? Is the integration of the two companies going to impact every brand you have?
     
    Bonnie: Our focus now is using the video clips for Readers Digest and Family Handyman. We’ll expand out from there, but at the moment we’re keeping a disciplined focus.
     
    Samir: Why are you succeeding where others before you have failed?
     
    Bonnie: I understand the industry; I’m a good listener; and I’m not afraid to change my plan if I learn something new.
     
    Joe: Do you see the industry consolidation as a potential threat?
     
    Bonnie: Bo had a great column about the consolidation that spoke a lot of truths. We’re not calling ourselves magazine companies; we’re media companies. Our magazines are important and loved, but we need to be where the consumer is and run healthy magazines. The way to run a business is to focus on what makes sense to our audience. We test our products, we keep our authenticity. We’re the only ones left in the direct-to-consumer book business, and it’s doing really well. This is a happy surprise to me.
     
    Bo: Are you experiencing struggles with the supply chain?
     
    Bonnie: We had some weird shipment stuff early on, some oddities, but we haven’t had paper issues like so many others have.
     
    Bo: Ingram is warning that prices are going to rise, probably dramatically.
     
    Bonnie: Rising costs are a challenge on the magazine side, less so on the book side.
     
    Bo: I think you could say about the entire industry: if you play it smart, there’s lots of room for growth.
     
    Joe: What opportunities do you see coming up?
     
    Bonnie: For us it’s media offered directly to viewers via the internet. It gives us bigger, better offerings to the advertising community. This is where we’re expecting our growth.
     
    Joe: Do you see opportunities for print?
     
    Bonnie:  I don’t.
     
    Joe: What do you think is holding print back?
     
    Bonnie:  The cost structure. We can’t raise prices to make up for it without losing audience. The balance between price and circulation is challenging and leading to the decline of print.
     
    Joe: What overall roadblocks do you foresee?
     
    Bonnie:  Competition. Everyone wants to be in media. The power of the platforms is extraordinary. And inflation will be a challenge.
     
    Bo: Are you scouring your archives and repurposing the classics?
     
    Bonnie:  In print, not so much. We’re creating new content and editing other people’s work from other sources; but evergreen is really important digitally, for the long tail. 
     
    Bo: We’re in at least our second digital generation, people who have grown up their entire lives in a digital world. Their perspective is different.
     
    Bonnie: Our online and print audiences are totally different from one another. This will continue to evolve. If you look at this generation and how they absorb information it is video and pictorial. It’s a very real thing, and as media companies, we need to meet them there.
    Linda Ruth
    Posted June 03, 2022
    (0) Comments

  • BoSacks Speaks Out: Thoughts on Dotdash Meredith and the “Data Industrial Complex”

    I've been getting many industry reactions from my subscribers about the Dotdash Meredith news of shutting down venerable and, to my eye, successful print publications. We are talking about taking out of service 9.1 million print editions. I try to make it a habit of not criticizing another person’s business plan unless hired to do so. And I won’t here. Dotdash has a plan, and it doesn’t matter what we think about it.
     
    They are the owners of the titles and can damn well do as they please. As I’ve said many times in these pages, nostalgia is a terrible business plan. And the closing of large circulation magazines is nothing new but rather historic.
    Here are just a few comments I have received on the subject:
     
    “After reading the stunning announcement from Meredith today, I was chilled to the bone. It’s a never-ending avalanche of bad news for print…“
     
    “I find this both inevitable, scary and disheartening.”
     
    “This is what happens when you hire a plumber to do electrical work. The subtleties of the different disciplines do not mix well. Dotdash is all about “clicks” and knows nothing about print, nor do they wish to.”
    “Killing the leading Hispanic magazine should give you a clue to where things are heading… no more scared cows anymore, just cash cows… keep on milking them until they die from starvation…”
     
    For Dotdash, a member of the Bo-named “Data Industrial Complex”
    (DIC), it is just business as usual with no appreciation of history or the impact their business moves might mean to the rest of the "off-line" industry of publishers. The closure of 9.1 million magazines is part of a diminishing publishing infrastructure.
     
    Advertisers continue to spend less on print publications; printers continue to print fewer magazine pages; staff is hard to find and keep; prices for ink, paper and distribution continue to climb. Trucks run on fuel and the shipping costs are rising rapidly too.
     
    Speaking of distribution, did you know that Walmart is decreasing its display space for magazines and that is of course not helping with the sales of magazines.
     
    My friend James Hewes, CEO, FIPP said the following recently in an interview:
    “From a business point of view, we’re in the middle of an interesting transition. The number of publishers that you can find these days who are prepared to say that they are “magazine publishers”, you could count on the finger of one hand. It is not a business that people want to be seen to be in. Now, the big secret, of course, is that they all still make a large proportion of their revenue and enormous proportion of their profits from their print business, even the ones that are digitally successful. So there is this kind of – almost a duality – in the industry, which is being pulled between two different poles. On the one hand, the print business is still so fundamentally important to the current financial status of the business. But from both an investor point of view and for the futureproofing of the business, the publishers know that they need to have a digital hat on… they need to have digital investments and show digital growth.”
     
    From James observation we go to Neil Vogel, the chief executive of Dotdash Meredith who wrote:
     
    “We have said from the beginning, buying Meredith was about buying brands, not magazines or websites,”…
     
    …“It is not news to anyone that there has been a pronounced shift in readership and advertising from print to digital, and as a result, for a few important brands, print is no longer serving the brand’s core purpose.”
     
    On the other hand, Vogel said the company plans to invest in its 19 remaining print magazines — which include People, Better Homes & Gardens and Southern Living — by enhancing paper quality and trimming sizes. Dotdash Meredith also plans to invest $80 million in 2022 in content across all brands.
     
    Vogel said the company has more than 100 open jobs in editorial, engineering, product, design, and e-commerce, some of which it hopes to fill with people whose roles have been eliminated.
     
    Vogel said during a November 5th IAC earnings call, "We're not the guys that are going to change the secular advertising decline on print.”
     
    From the New York Times:
    “The end of the print editions follows a now familiar industry trend: Many magazine companies are looking for ways to cut costs as the circulation of physical copies continues to drop and competition for advertising dollars becomes more fierce. Shape, a women’s fitness magazine owned by Meredith, stopped print editions at the end of last year. In September, the U.S. print version of Marie Claire, owned by the British publisher Future Media, was shuttered. Hearst discontinued regular print editions of O, The Oprah Magazine, in 2020.”
     
    And let’s not forget last week’s announcement that Cosmo USA is downing its frequency. In 2019, there were 12 issues, now it’s down to 8 issues. Each issue is now a themed “collection” issue. The issues will be numbered and not have a date.
     
    Where do we go from here? Answer, nowhere but onward. Magazines will continue to rise and fall as they always have done. They will be more expensive to produce and distribute, that is a given. Magazine circulations will continue to get smaller and more deeply into niches.  The smaller the niche, the better the chance for survival in an industry in flux. It is specialization that is important, readers want something that they cannot find elsewhere. Indeed, so long as you consistently produce “editorial excellence” in you chosen niche, your magazine can do well.
     
    We are indeed living through truly extraordinary times with the plagues, innovative technology, and unexpected business curves growing at unprecedented rates.
     
    I remain optimistic about the power of the publishing industry to perform and grow.
     
    The pandemic has proved if nothing else the power and value of quality journalism and the importance of trusted media. As we move further into 2022 with all the changes still ahead of us, remember our purpose. We have the power to make our customers laugh, cry, or become more knowledgeable on any and every subject and on any substrate. At the end of our efforts, we hope our work is appreciated, valued, and fairly paid for.
     
    If your company stays with print as the main product, you too can have your share of the billions of dollars that are still left in the field. 
     
    The trick will be to stay smart, agile and very demanding – demanding of your staff and co-workers – as only the very best can and will survive. It doesn't matter what the trends of the overall industry are to individual companies so long as you can continuously produce unsurpassed editorial excellence in your particular niche.
     
    What happens to Conde, Hearst and Dotdash Meredith and how they run their companies is almost irrelevant to most magazine publishers. They have their business plans, and you have yours. I say almost irrelevant because every magazine taken out of the supply chain makes it harder for the natural order of distribution cycles to work correctly. Oddly enough, volume is a key component to efficiency. The less weight/volume we ship the harder is it is for the small, medium and mini-large publishers to maintain a shrinking distribution channel.
    
    Our publishing nation will continue to grow, but most likely in directions that are still unexpected and as yet, unexplored.
    BoSacks
    Posted February 13, 2022
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  • The True History of Diversity in Magazine Publishing with Mr. Magazine

    By Linda Ruth

     

    “When you look at a newsstand today, you see more people of color represented on the covers than ever before,” Samir says. “What does that mean to this moment in publishing?”

    In honor of Black History Month, the Pandemic Publishing Roundtable—Joe Berger, Bo Sacks, Samir Husni, Sherin Pierce, Gemma Peckham, and I—have gathered to hear Samir tell us about the history of diversity in magazine publishing.
     
    Samir has been observing the gestures of inclusiveness made of late by some of the biggest mainstream magazine publishers, and meeting with boards of the magazines to discuss it. “Is it possible that we’re looking at an over-correction?” he asks. “Is it possible that we’re doing this, not because it’s what is relevant to our audience, but for other, less serious reasons? That is what some of the publishers I’ve been speaking to are asking.”
     
    Joe: I would argue that a lot of what we see is just a course correction from past lack of inclusivity. Vogue, Esquire, GQ—those have never called themselves specifically magazines for white people. They were never looking to make that kind of statement; and yet, a whole portion of their potential readership was underrepresented.”
     
    Samir: And how are the readers going to take it? Will we see a drop in subscribers and newsstand sales?
     
    Joe: Nowadays newsstand’s such a minor part of the circulation puzzle that no one really cares. With subscriptions, time will tell.
     
    Samir: Publishers tell me that because of high cover prices, magazines are less an impulse buy. People come to the newsstand with the intention of buying a particular publication; hence, the cover is less important.
     
    Joe: And they’re wrong. When people are going to spend their money on something, they want it to look good. It only makes sense to put the best foot forward to pick up marginal sales.
     
    Samir: So by creating covers with greater diversity, are publishers undermining their sales over time?
     
    Linda: Part of putting people of color on the cover is that it gets people more used to seeing them as members of the whole. It changes the way people perceive one another, and seeing people as less marginalized has the effect of making them less marginalized.
     
    Samir: So then I would ask: why did it take so long? Why is it something we’re just seeing now?
     
    Bo: We’re all about imagery. That image of George Floyd, of a white guy killing a black man with his knee on his neck, exposed all we need to know.
     
    Sherin: As did the image of Ahmaud Arbery.
     
    Bo: It was a wakeup call, and the media has responded to it.
     
    Sherin: I think it also had something to do with our Black president.
     
    Samir: That is all true as far as it goes. But genuine diversity has existed in magazines for decades, as I am going to show you. Let’s start with Jet magazine. Jet was published by the Johnson Publishing Company from 1951to 2014, sixty-three years. People will tell you there has never been a white person on the cover, but I will tell you that isn’t true. I have spent this week searching for answers, and this is what I have discovered.

    The first cover with a white person was Feb 21, 1952, only four months after the launch. Over the years there were covers of interracial marriages, and I believe John Johnson wanted to normalize this. In November of 1952, Adlai Stevenson appeared on the cover. In 1953 you have an issue showcasing cowboy fashion. It shows Roy Rogers with a little boy named Michael Jackson. Wait, I thought, how is that possible—Michael Jackson was born in 1956! Well, this was a different Michael Jackson.

    With few exceptions, there was always a Black person with the white. The first time ever a white woman was alone on cover was September 1953, for a feature about white entertainers in “negro” clubs. Jessie Young was a white woman who made her fortune and success dancing in Black nightclubs. Ten years later, in December of 1963, JFK was featured. Other than that, there were four issues with only white folks on the cover, and they were all politicians—1960, 1964, 1968 and 1972.
     
    Going back to February’s British Vogue, with their nine Black models; you hear people saying, finally we have diversity. That’s why it’s so important for us to dig into the past—this is real diversity. It was important, it was relevant to the audience; those politicians were the movers and shakers of the civil rights movement.  
     
    Linda: The models on the February British Vogue are likewise relevant because they showcase beauty and style.  
     
    Samir: Look through the back issues of Highlights for Children. You’ll see they have always had that diversity on their covers and in their pages.
     
    Joe: It’s incredible what John Johnson accomplished. His publishing building was a big landmark in Chicago.
     
    Samir: I will tell you the story of how he was able to rent that. As his magazines grew he needed more space, but at that time it was next to impossible for a Black man to rent space on Michigan Avenue. He met with the realtors, accompanied by his white lawyer, while he was disguised as a janitor.
     
    John Johnson was ahead of his time.
    Linda Ruth
    Posted February 09, 2022
    (0) Comments

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