The haptic experience between print and digital is mainly a different feel, a different sensation and, perhaps above all else, a different expectation. Print doesn't offer distractions other than the words and thinking on the page, while the digital experience does.
I could quibble over a long list of essentially minor points in Baird Davis' "Modest Plan", but the fact is the underlying message - something must be done about the newsstand - is undeniable.
Two questions hang over the future:
Can and will publishers make aggressive steps to create a manageable distribution channel? And; If yes to that, can the apparently inexorable decline in sales be halted so that a manageable channel can survive?
As I have said on many occasions, there is little history that indicates publishers are willing to embark on a cooperative effort to revamp the channel, but perhaps staring into the abyss may rattle their long-demonstrated reluctance.
As for sales, magazine retail dollar volume was $5 billion in 2007 and is likely to be little more than $1 billion by the end of 2018. For years, everyone was asked the question, "Where is the bottom?" For years, the response has been, "Who knows?" Which translates as zero, and which leads to the question, "Why would anyone commit to an effort to restructure, if the market will, like the old soldier, just fade away?
Clearly, if publishers are going to recreate the channel, they must also commit to improving the sales environment. It's a two-part project.
I will once again express my skepticism about the likelihood of publishers undertaking the challenge. However, if such an ambitious task were to be initiated, I offer my modest suggestions about what elements it might have to contain.
Baird's suggestion of establishing a newsstand public utility is right on. Players on each side - publishers and wholesalers - would have to put some ego aside, but when the alternative is the abyss, that shouldn't be too difficult. Perhaps publishers, at least some of the largest, might be able to partner in some fashion with the two remaining wholesalers . If such a utility could be established, it might operate on a modification of the a so-called "pay-for-service" model that was part of the industry discussion back ten or fifteen years ago, and it would be available to all publishers willing to pay for the offered services. CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE
The original intent of the recent newsstand articles that John Harrington and I did, at Bosacks' insistent urging, was to inspire a vigorous discussion about the often misunderstood process of selling magazines at retail. In that regard we hit a nerve - the response has been hefty and spirited. Thank you to everyone that joined the discussion.
Now that the discussion has begun in earnest I want to offer some more grist to the dialogue mill. In this note I'll present a rough-hewn plan for protecting the embattled newsstand channel. It combines ideas gained from recent reader feedback with those based on my own experience as a circulator and long time newsstand observer.
Publishers Troubling "Blind Eye" Approach
There have been many attempts at newsstand channel reform and continuous warnings, twice a year from me, of the dangers that lay ahead for the channel. All of this to no avail. The reform efforts never came to fruition and the warnings have fallen on the deaf ears of publishers.
What appears to have happened is publishers adopted a fait accompli attitude toward the newsstand; seemingly content to live with decreasing sales and higher newsstand service costs. This doesn't mean, however, that publishers weren't acutely aware of the adverse economic effects of - declining sales, reduced efficiency, increased processing costs and less service from national distributors and wholesalers. They knew there was a problem, but, as always, they seemed perplexed about what to do.
In retrospect it's become obvious that publishers seriously underestimated the effect of the dynamic changes occurring to the channel infrastructure. In 2009 major wholesaler Anderson News dropped out of the business. In 2014 mega-wholesaler Source Interlink followed suit saying the business wasn't profitable and hadn't been for a long time. These two wholesalers at one time represented nearly 50% of the magazine retail distribution volume. A total meltdown was averted in 2014 when The News Group (TNG), with support from Hudson News*, scooped up the Source Interlink leavings. In doing so they "won" the long brutal wholesaling war of attrition.
*It should be noted that Hudson News remains in the magazine wholesaling business, but in a non-competitive manner with TNG.
The result - TNG emerges at the top of the newsstand wholesaling heap, controlling 75% to 80% of the magazine wholesaling volume. Click here for the complete article
BoSacks Speaks Out: I have four Alexa devices in my home. And I use them every day. When I wake up I ask Alexa for first the local weather report and then for my personal news brief collected from news organizations that I choose from the Alexa app. My list contains, NPR, the Economist, the BBC, Associated Press and I finish it off with a little humor from The Daily Show and the Tonight Show. Not a bad way to start an informed day.
But when I read about Jamie Court, who is the president of Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit advocacy group discussing new patent ideas from Amazon: "When you read parts of the (Alexa) applications, it's really clear that this is spyware and a surveillance system meant to serve you up to advertisers." Well that makes me wonder how far this is going to go. The article below goes on and states, "That information could then be used to identify a person's desires or interests, which could be mined for ads and product recommendations."
There are so many layers to this I don't know where to begin. As a media professional who sees intrusive advertising everywhere, this is another big leap into the weaponization of intrusion ad-warfare.
When you combine Cambridge Analytica, Facebook, Google, Alexa and all the other information intrusion activists you get a very scary picture of corruptibility. Well, you should get that picture, although none of this is yet illegal. Yes, we are all targets, and there are two advertising bullseyes on the head and heart of every individual on the planet. They will pull the strings of your heart by listening to the stirrings of your brain.
And, worst of all, this is just the beginning, as Alexa was launched in November 2014 just a little over three years ago.
What do media professionals think about this subject?
I can't recall if I have ever publicly discussed membership schemes for magazine revenue. It's not a new idea and sometimes it's really just semantics. When I was young, and I bought a subscription to the National Geographic they called me a member of the Society. I can't recall if I received anything special beyond the best printed magazine of its day, other than pride of being a so-called member of the National Geographic Society, but that seemed pretty cool at the time. And then there was Consumer Reports - that, too, was always called a membership. I have always been a fan of membership enterprises. In 1999 I was the COO of a membership organization called YAPA, the Young Adult Professional Association. Our plan was to be like AARP but instead of retirees as members we cultivated college graduates, with discount programs, job guidance and of course a magazine. We raised multiple millions of dollars and died an untimely death in the dotcom doom of 2000. It's still a great idea.
But here we are in the 21st century, and membership models are a "thing" again, but unlike the traditional publishing model, which is based on a transactional relationship of you give me money and I'll send you a magazine for a year or two. The new membership plans usually contain special offers, discounts, and many times a chance to meet your favorite editors and writers at events. I guess you could call it a 360 approach. I'm sure someone else already has. As American Express has said for years "membership has its privileges." The membership approach drives an affinity with the brand.
The New York Times has Time Plus, and the Wall Street Journal oddly has WSJ Plus. Both successful membership programs.
If ever I was to start another magazine, I would explore the membership model. It wouldn't work unless the magazine and the content was something special. With unlimited content everywhere on the planet why go into a new publishing business, if what you have to offer isn't excellence itself?
Today I'm headed to Berlin, Germany to attend one of my favorite publishing events, FIPP's Digital Innovators Summit which starts Monday, March 19th. It is a wonderful cross-planet collection of modernizers and theorists making sense and profit from the still evolving phenomenon we once called publishing.
This article about UK's NME's demise suggests various pressures on consumer magazines. The article reminds me of some things I've said before. There once was a time when there were rules and an established pecking order. If you were in TV, Radio or Print, you knew the process and the possibilities of your profession. Each method of communication had pluses and minuses, boundaries and well-trodden logical pathways to reach the consumer and make a profit in the process. One might also say there was once relative business stability.
I've also noted before that what makes the current state of affairs so different is the evaporation of boundaries, rules and stability. There is little distinction between publishing, TV and radio because they are all streamed. Print or off-line media is obviously not streamed, and that is its problem. It is stuck in an old-style world of rules and boundaries while connected, digitized communications are completely free range. For many the nostalgic rules of print are deemed a blessing and satisfying in their permanency. But the old rules also limit print's value most importantly to the vagaries of young, inexperienced media buyers. We have proof that print is still a good buy, but in aggregate they buy less of it each year. Nevertheless, there are plenty of print sectors doing quite well. (CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE)
Once again the largest players in the magazine media industry gathered for the annual plumage display. Everybody is excited to be there including me. I annually and happily re-meet so many old friends accumulated through a lifetime in the industry that it is a joy to be there among my comrades. We share old war stories and new thoughts of the current conditions of our media empires.
Linda Thomas Brooks, President and Chief Executive Officer of the MPA, opened the event with a thoughtful message she received once directly from the Dalai Lama. It was as mystical and as far reaching with simplicity as you might expect. "Keep working on it." You see, at first you go: what? And then the simple complexity settles in. Yes, no matter what it is that's going on, just keep working on it till you find an answer. Linda's application of that for the industry was, "there is no one answer," just keep working on it. And how right she is.
There was a time in the magazine industry when almost every publisher large and small worked from extremely similar business plans. We were all in the highly definable, easily explained, magazine publishing business. Now-a-days I'll bet there are no two business plans alike. The complexities and unlimited diversity of information delivery platforms in the magazine media business makes every business exploration for revenue uniquely different. CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE
John Palumbo makes a passionate discussion here for newsstand placement and retail problems in City and Regional Magazines. But I want say, it's not the darkest hour for all magazines in the genre. Take Our State Magazine, which celebrates life in North Carolina. To the best of my knowledge it is thriving and perhaps more so than any other regional magazine I am aware of. Why, you may ask?
A few months ago, I had lunch with my friend Bernie Mann, the publisher of Our State Magazine and asked what was, as Warren Buffett calls it, his Secret Sauce? (For the record Bernie and I meet twice a year out of mutual respect and idea sharing. We both drive two hours to meet in the middle for lunch. It is always worth it.)
So, what is Bernie's Secret Sauce? He says, "The reader." Bernie says you have to love, cherish and respect the intelligence of the reader and never do anything that makes the reader 'work' to enjoy the magazine. He goes on the describe what he means. "No belly bands, no stickers on the cover, no stories continued in the back of the magazine, no ads disguised as stories with the word "advertisement" or "Promotion" in 2 point type.
Bernie says part of the Secret Sauce of his success is the idea that the advertising has to be bought not sold. He interestingly goes on to point out that in his opinion, "The model of ad agencies buying advertising in magazines is broken," as agencies are more interested in making money from digital. Bernie's answer is to go directly to the client.
If you want a role model for the City and Regional Magazine arena, I strongly suggest you check out Our State Magazine. To the best of my knowledge they are never under 250 pages per month and often much more. You want success? This is it
What is the BoSacks FREE newsletter all about?
It is purely a very "personal" and slanted collection of news gathered daily over the Internet, which to me seems relevant and useful about the publishing industry. I do this as a labor of love and to keep myself as up to date as is possible with the ever changing and advancing "Information Distribution Industry" formerly known as "Publishing".
And how much does it cost?
The price for this service is nothing. It is Free. It is just as easy for me to copy three or four of my industry friends as it is to carbon copy the current list of 16,500 publishing professionals.