Bosacks Speaks Out
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Bosacks Speaks Out

  • Bosacks Speaks Out: Don’t publishers need to be where the customers are?

    Bosacks Speaks Out: Don’t publishers need to be where the customers are?

    I want to go through an exercise of what we know, what we don’t know and throw a few possibilities in for good measure.
     
    Let’s start with a report from Kali Hays at WWD:
     
    “Nearly 40 percent of magazines that publish on at least a quarterly basis have seen their audiences decline so far this year, according to updated data from the Alliance for Audited Media, which tracks the performance of such publications. That’s on top of a major pullback in advertising this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the related contraction of the global economy.
     
    “Of the major magazines from publishers such as Condé Nast, Hearst and Meredith, 15 major titles saw their audiences decline or remain flat through the third quarter, so nearly all the months of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S so far, compared to the same period last year. But that leaves 20 titles that actually saw audiences grow.”
     
    This sounds pretty bad, but what about the 60% that didn’t show audience declines. Magazine readership has always had an ebb and a flow. Whole sectors rise and fall over time, which is historic in the publishing industry and not an aberration. I am not saying that these aren’t hard times; they are. But as old as the saying goes, “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
     
    I believe that when the dust and the plague settle our industry will be more vibrant and successful, reaching more customers than ever before. The trick of course is surviving and adapting.
     
    Take Afar magazine which according to the Alliance for Audited Media grew its audience across platforms by 130.2% from September 2019 to September 2020. That is pretty outstanding. My guess is that if people can’t travel due to Covid restrictions, they satisfy their wander lust by reading about travel.
     
    As reported by Media Post there were other success stories. “Backpacker (47.8%), Veranda (43.8%) and The Atlantic (34.9%) also witnessed big gains in audiences year-over-year, according to the report.
     
    People (89.1 million), Allrecipes (61.7 million) and Good Housekeeping (60.7 million) had the largest brand audiences across platforms in September 2020.
     
    Total audience on all platforms across the magazine brands was up 5.9% year-over-year.”
     
    Today, I had a brief email conversation with David Carey where we discussed the Covid time warp. I wrote, “The plague has definitely accelerated publishing business models. We would have arrived here, wherever that is, sooner or later, but now in this time machine we are adjusting at a very rapid pace.” David replied, “I agree with you that this is an accelerant – the 2025 business models have arrived overnight.  For those who can readily adapt (think Darwin!) they will do fine…”
     
    David is right. “For those who can readily adapt (think Darwin!) they will do fine…”
     
    What do we need to consider in our business plans to be fine?
     
    One thing we need to be aware of is the change in buying habits. Are they temporary or now ingrained into the new normal?  Rob Williams points out in What Does The 'Storeless' Economy Mean For Publishers? – “The "retail apocalypse" of the past few years grew much worse in 2020. The pandemic led many people to avoid stores and shop from the safety of their homes. The upheaval in the retail industry will continue to shape the role of publishers next year as content and commerce become even more seamless. The pandemic is hastening the shift toward a “storeless” economy as retailers go out of business or close down unprofitable stores…”
     
    And in another story Media Post reports that “A majority of U.S. consumers — 67% — plan to do their holiday shopping online this year, according to a new study by Dynata, sponsored by SAP SE. And 60% expect to do at least part of it in brick-and-mortar stores.”
     
    So, if people aren’t going to the stores, what are we as an industry doing to avoid a Darwinian moment in the business life cycle. Why can’t we have on-line drop-down menus for magazines at retail outlets and supermarkets that carry magazines? Are we so Neolithic that we refuse to let what can and should be digitized not be digitized? What other industry is not transforming...everything? Just because our products are analog that doesn’t mean our infrastructure and processes should be, too.
     
    I reached out to a member of the Publishing Pandemic roundtable, my friend Joe Berger who is a Circulation Consultant, and he offered the following thoughts:
     
    “There are issues and they include:
     
    “What magazines do you offer? The best sellers? How do you get retailers to show the most current issues and get that info updated in a timely fashion?
     
    “How many copies should be offered? What is in store? Often the retailers don't know what is in stock as they don't measure that.
     
    “What about "dark stores"? What is offered there? What about central warehouses? How would that be handled?”
     
    Joe continued, “In the end it's a combination of "will" within the newsstand portion of the industry and "will" on the part of the publishers. Especially for the major publishers who are now the drivers of the newsstand part of the publishing industry.”
     
    Joe’s a smart guy and these are all valid points. But it’s the fracking 21st century. There is no can’t with today’s available technologies; there is only a lack of will. I see this as an investment in the future of our industry. If magazines are not seen, they cannot be bought. We need to be developing and training the next generation of readers today, right now.
     
    Sure, it may be hard. Maybe you think it is near to impossible. But as Robert A. Heinlein said, “Everything is theoretically impossible, until it is done.” Where is the “For those who can readily adapt (think Darwin!)” momentum at the newsstand? We are foolish not to tackle this distribution situation in earnest as the pandemic meteor crashes to earth. Magazine publishers with their 7,000 unique business plans have never played well in the same sand box, especially when it comes to the poor maligned newsstand. But there is a time and a place for mutual cooperation or mutual annihilation.
     
    Joe’s conclusion is humorous and spot on:
     
    “My guess would be it's a back-burner issue because the newsstand is a back-burner issue for all of these guys. Think about the publishing business as a plate full of food at Thanksgiving. The plate is full of delicious stuff: Turkey, gravy, stuffing, green beans, etc. Newsstand is that tiny helping of Aunt June's special cranberry treat you take to be polite. It's spicy. It's an acquired taste. You aren't entirely sure how it got made and you may not want to know how she did it."
    BoSacks
    Posted November 15, 2020
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  • BoSacks Speaks Out: Preparing for the post-literate consumer

    BoSacks Speaks Out: Preparing for the post-literate consumer

    BoSacks Speaks Out: Preparing for the post-literate consumer
    There are many assumptions in the article Preparing for the post-literate consumer that, although possibly correct, miss an obvious conclusion:  that new generations, if nothing else, multi-task like no other set of generations before.

     

    The author states:

    “You'd be forgiven for believing that we've forgotten how to read. Judging by our popular culture, we're becoming a post-literate, oral society, one whose always-dominant visual sense has overwhelmed our reasoning to the point where 72% of consumers now say they prefer all marketing to be delivered via video.”


    We are not post-literate. We are multi-literate. We have added several visual mediums to our reservoir of communication pathways.

     

    Take the New York Times, for example. The New York Times added 669,000 net new digital subscribers, making the second quarter its biggest ever for subscription growth. The Times has 6.5 million total subscriptions, a figure that includes 5.7 million digital-only subscriptions, putting it on a course to achieve its stated goal of 10 million subscriptions by 2025.

     

    Yes, The New York Times has video insertions and audio podcasts, but it is primarily a reading platform. There are 7,000 magazines on newsstands in this country that are reading based businesses. The point is that those very same readers most likely also enjoy TicToc, and YouTube, Snapchat, and a host of others. The act of reading and seeing other mediums are not mutually exclusive. Instead, what is culturally going on is an additive process to the human condition.

     

    Speaking of the reading process, there is something that is often overlooked, and it is a fundamental change in the process of reading. Take your pick from The New York Times to The Washington Post to Facebook to Buzzfeed, from Twitter to ISSUU and to the web pages of People and Time magazine – these reading experiences are not formatted as traditional magazines or newspapers. Facebook has well over a billion people reading without pagination as we understand it. There are indeed pages and sections in those reading platforms, but not a single folio. It is still reading but new and different and ever-changing.

     

    So, although we are not entering a post-literate society, there are big things to be vigilant about and that need our attention.  Humanity and Content Distribution, formally known as publishing, have entered a new period of transformation. The hard part of this transformation is that we are still contending with our old legacy thinking, which is how we all tend to live in the present and look ahead to the future through the conceptual filters of the past. It is no small task to fight that thinking process.

    I think we can all agree we are at the beginning of a new chapter in the history of media, and not the end of the last chapter in our book. In fact, there is no end; there is only a continuous beginning. And what we have gone through in the previous two decades is still just the new endless beginning. But I am more hopeful for our literate-reading industry today than ever before. 
     

    BoSacks
    Posted November 05, 2020
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  • BoSacks Speaks Out: Disruption and Leadership during a Pandemic

    BoSacks Speaks Out: Disruption and Leadership during a Pandemic

    The world is facing a moment that seems to be of historic proportions. It is an oddity of biblical timing, something akin to a comet strike, an ice age, rising seas, and an invasion of aliens all happening simultaneously. Those are the hypotheticals. In reality, we have a global pandemic, an economic collapse, global warming, unrest in the streets, and the disruption of the entire global infrastructure. Disruption has become an old and overused expression, but it so clearly establishes and defines the moment. Nothing is as it was, nor are we likely to reestablish our old norms. Sure, life and business will go on. We may not have had an alien invasion, but we have had comet strikes, ice ages, rising seas, pandemics, and massive flooding before, and we are still here.
     
    Included in the massive global disruption is its effect on the publishing community. Supply chains are challenged, print ads are drying up, retail is stressed, large printers are in bankruptcies, magazines are closing, and work routines and methodologies are forever changed.  

     

    And yet as an industry, we plow on and adapt to the new business order. In times of crisis, the criteria to succeed is with above-average leadership. That includes your own personal leadership as well as your managements.

     
    As reported by Jeanette McMurtry in Publishing Executive – "Historically, the companies that succeed through tumultuous and uncertain times are those with leaders who have a common characteristic associated with a growth mindset: psychological resilience."
     
    She goes on to say that "Wikipedia describes psychological resilience as follows:
     
    "The ability to mentally or emotionally cope with a crisis or return to pre-crisis status quickly. ... Psychological resilience exists when people develop psychological and behavioral capabilities that allow them to remain calm during crises/chaos and to move on from the incident without long-term negative consequences."
     
    I thought I would gather a few examples of this psychological resilience leadership in today's media marketplace. Consider this the outline of a pep talk.
     
    Let's start with MediaPost's report by Sara Guaglione titled Hearst Magazines To Invest In Larger Formats, More Editorial Pages In Print. Sara reports: Hearst Magazines announced a multimillion-dollar investment to "enhance the quality" of its print products. The magazines will have larger formats, higher-quality paper and improved editorial ratios. 
     
    "Magazines are a tactile experience, and quality production is important to our readers, our creators and the marketplace," stated Hearst Magazines Chief Content Officer Kate Lewis.
     
    The initiative is called Premium Print…
     
    Sara concludes the report with the following: " ‘We (Hearst) are experimenting and making great strides by activating our digital channels to sell products, including print and digital subscriptions,’ stated Hearst Magazines acting president Debi Chirichella.”
     
    "Our strategy to invest in digital growth while maintaining the strength, differentiation and high quality of our print products, along with this new investment, paves the path to our future," she added.
     
    Thank you, Hearst, for this display of resilient leadership. For years, I have stated that as an industry, we need to collectively change the formula and move print in the public mind from a commodity to a luxury product. For too many years, we have decreased paperweight and diminished the size of our print publications and appearance. I applaud this move towards better quality products, in essence, products worth paying for.
     
    I think this is a good time to mention a very interesting saying my mother had: "Rich or poor, it’s good to have money." Hearst can afford this lunge to increased quality, but it is a move worth thinking about for any titles depending on your circumstances, finances, and long-term goals.
     
    Along with Hearst, here is what Jeffrey Goldberg, Editor-in-Chief, The Atlantic has to say on the subject of quality:
     
    "I've been arguing for a long time that we will be saved as an institution by bearing down on quality, quality, quality. Just do the most deeply reported, beautifully written, carefully edited, fact-checked, copyedited, and beautifully designed stories — and the reader will come. They want to be supportive, and they want access. And it turns out to be true. Thank God for it."
     
    It turns out that The Atlantic has amassed over 300,000 paying subscribers in a year, "by bearing down on quality, quality, quality".

     

    Another thought on leadership came from Wolfgang Blau, President, International and Chief Operating Officer, Condé Nast, who delivered the opening keynote address at the virtual 43rd FIPP World Media Congress. He said:
     
    "To build the media company of the future we have to ask what is the dream, what is the purpose and mission of a media company and journalists today – and where the trajectory of change that we have seen is heading," he said.
     
    "We may be calling this the new normal, but the only thing that is new and normal now is that change of all kinds, in all areas of our business, is accelerating. The good news is that humans are incredibly adaptable and inventive, and if you look at the history of some of the world's long-established media companies, many of them have made it through much, much greater challenges."
     
    To paraphrase my friend Andy Kowl: Many people think a leader sees the future. The truth is simpler: leaders see around corners and through obstacles.
     
    With all the multiple disruptions happening in today's marketplace, there is absolutely no room for complacency and nostalgic dogma. You and your company have to rethink the unthinkable. You have to challenge all your assumptions and see through the obstacles.
     
    As Sun Tzu said, "In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity." Hearst is taking the challenge. The Atlantic is changing the rules. And you should do the same. This advice is for the personal you and the collective us. We are all increasingly living through a new period of experimentation, innovation, and entrepreneurism that the world has never seen before.
     
    To endure and prosper, your business environment must contain constant reinvention. It is a chaotic time where if you don't replace your current businesses, someone else will do it for you. 
     

    BoSacks
    Posted September 27, 2020
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  • BoSacks Speaks Out: On the Publishing Industry and the Technologic Growth of Magazines

    BoSacks Speaks Out: On the Publishing Industry and the Technologic Growth of Magazines

    As a former Production Director at McCall's Magazine, my friend Samir Husni’s articles in this newsletter about the Seven Sisters had me fondly reminiscing. Did you know that while I was there in the 1980s, McCall's and the other seven sisters were transforming the production process and making digital cylinders for the Rotogravure printing process ten years before offset caught up with digital plate making? The seven sisters went from letterpress to digital using a HelioKlischograph to cut huge brass printing cylinders. It was and is a fantastic technologic process to see.
     
    I thought I would take the time to recall a little media history and see if we can find some trends applicable to today's COVID Time Machine. To start, I have been doing this newsletter since the beginning of accessible internet time, when there was no real web as we have today.  When I began the newsletter, I had no concept of what the newsletter, the internet, and communication itself would become. In fact, I didn't start a newsletter at first. I was forwarding thoughts and any relevant magazine information to my college roommate, who was working in the production department at Time Magazine. In retrospect, he was my first subscriber. And his Time Inc. workmate was my second subscriber, and on and on.
     
    I was working for Ziff-Davis in the late 1980s, and Ziff sent me on loan to AOL to help develop production methods for inserting and on-serting 3-1/2-inch diskettes into and onto magazines. It was a team effort by many smart professionals, and when it was over, they gave me a free "house" email AOL account. This was when the public's only entry to the WWW was with either Prodigy, Compuserve, or AOL.
     
    Did you know that the name of this newsletter "Heard on the Web" actually was meant to be an inside joke about printing on web offset presses, not the World Wide Web?  Since I was a production guy, "Heard on the Web" started out tracking and discussing printed manufacturing production matters.  In those days I talked about paper, printing presses, and the cycle of the magazine production process. In those days I had my subscription list separated into various topics of interest—General, Production, Paper, and eventually, the new thing called digital. Back In the day, I had over 2,000 readers just on the paper list. It is interesting to me that we rarely talk about paper anymore, and I no longer have a separate file for those interested in paper.
     
    One of these days I want to write an article about what were the important topics we tracked in the past that are no longer of primary interest. If it was important then, why not now?
     
    In the 1990s, I also discussed physical circulation and newsstand distribution issues.  Then as technology progressed a new concept hit the production circles. And that was the invention and use of PDF files. Most of my peers were pretty enthusiastic about that. I sure was. Shortly after PDFs came the computer-to-plate wars (CTP).   My goodness, some people thought you were a total heretic to even think of using CTP over traditional film-based production.  Yep, there was many a senior management argument about CTP among production professionals. Oh, the naive things we used to argue about are humorous to think about now. Many of those production leaders are still subscribed to this newsletter and I'm sure they will remember our discussions in the Publishing Production Forum. Mr Dead Tree, I'm thinking of you and quite a few others. We, the long-time readers of "Heard on the Web," have come a very long way from hot lead, which was how High Times Magazine and all magazines were initially typeset.  
     
    For me, the topics for the newsletter always have had one continuous thread -- what do I need to know to stay employed and be employable? That is still my ultra-simple criteria. Everything I send is distributed because I think it is, in one way or another, an essential piece of knowledge to help our careers. The adage that knowledge is power is correct. In this case, knowledge is employment power.
     
    What are we talking about these days?
    Here are a few headlines from the last few weeks:
     
    How testing drives subscription strategies for the Boston Globe


    Why we should be talking about the transformation of publishing, not its decline


    8 ways publishers are making money from podcasts


    How Ad Fraudsters Are Thriving During the Covid-19 Crisis


    ‘Nothing quite like being forced’: Publishers whip up quicker, cheaper ad products for advertisers


    “Elevated levels of growth…likely to persist beyond the duration of the pandemic”:
     
    It is a broader range of topics than in the past because what successful publishing has become is a larger, broad-based eco-system of content distribution—a far cry from where we once were. We and our businesses have evolved and are still doing so.
     
    I believe that if we can keep a long-term perspective even under the cloud of COVID, we will see that the speed of what is happening technologically in our workflows is just another step in a long, evolving trend in the publishing industry. I assure you that five years from now, our primary topics of concern will be something completely new and different. Five years from now, we won't be worried about the effectiveness of Zoom calls because it will be an antique process. I'm not saying the next few years will be easy; They won't be. Hell, the next year alone promises to be a backbreaker for many. What I am saying is that in five years, our jobs and methodologies will have morphed into something new.  It has always been that way, only now it happens faster than ever.
     
    The publishing industry has been and is still vibrant and ever-evolving.  We still have paper magazines, e-zines and PDFs and CTP and tablets, smartphones, podcasts, and who the heck knows what is next.  The only thing that will not stop is the increasing speed of change in these horrendous times of where we were to wherever we are going.  
     
    Somewhere along my career path, trite as it may sound, I realized that the way to enjoy being in publishing is not to seek a final destination/solution but to try to enjoy the journey and the problem solving.  For those of us here, there is no other choice. 
     
    BoSacks
    Posted September 08, 2020
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  • BoSacks Speaks Out: How Ad Fraudsters Are Thriving During the Covid-19 Crisis

    BoSacks Speaks Out: How Ad Fraudsters Are Thriving During the Covid-19 Crisis

    I have been a digital futurist for the publishing industry since the early 1990s and probably before that, depending on when you start counting my industry predictions.  I still believe in the future of digital as THE most efficient and effective communication tool yet known to man. But my prognostications have always been tempered with pragmatism, as I am what I call a pragmatic optimist.

    The web and all that it contains, the good and very bad, will be with us as far as one can see into the future.  But while reading the article  How Ad Fraudsters Are Thriving During the Covid-19 Crisis I was thinking, "How did it come to this?" Which is what King Theoden asked in the Lord of the Rings movie, The Two Towers. Now I ask the same question – How did it come to this? How can the advertising business lose $42 billion dollars in ad fraud while at the same time fraud-free, safe and proven magazines continue to lose ad dollars every quarter? How can there be so much excess revenue that an industry can lose $42 billion and do very little about it?

    What do we know? We know that there are fake humans, click fraud, fake ad placement, ads paid for that are never seen, fake web sites that look real but aren't, all grabbing an obvious overabundance of loot. Not to mention the theft of our very selves. Our whole lives and families' interests bundled for sale not to the highest bidder, but to any bidder. The online automated advertising ecosystem is impossible to understand much less control under the current conditions we find ourselves in.

    There is an abundance of data that shows that magazines are more trusted than any other delivery vehicle. Magazines are rated and respected by readers for top quality and accuracy in reporting. Yet, print which is trusted by all parties loses market share every year, while obviously fraudulent digital advertising despite the known fraud does nothing but grow. How did it come to this?

    The agencies don't care about the fraud in the process, because they make easy money regardless of any scam, robots, unseen ads, and all the other dubious fundamentals that make up a great deal of the dishonest digital media industry. Until otherwise proven, the agencies are at the very root of the problem, because they "know" and do nothing.

    Ad agencies are addicted to easy profits, and they are making too much money to alter their course. Obviously, there is too much greed and too much money for this to change any time soon. What do I expect to happen when the fraud hits $100 billion dollars of loss? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Because there is no cure for greed.


    BoSacks
    Posted August 27, 2020
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  • BoSacks Speaks Out: Confessions of a stressed media buyer

    BoSacks Speaks Out: Confessions of a stressed media buyer

    I have had the luck to play many roles, and I've had multiple job titles in our media industry. I think the one I enjoyed the most, other than being the publisher of this newsletter, was as a Director of Manufacturing and Distribution. I thrived on the chaos that the job entailed. Each day had dozens of moving pieces tossed into the air, and if you were good at it, none of the magazine pieces hit the floor, and all titles shipped out on time and on schedule and reproduced with exceptional, consistent quality.

    I've seen the production process crush those without the ability to adapt to the non-monotony of diverse and complex situations on the fly. But I found it exciting to be in the center of the magazine manufacturing storm jumping from one solvable problem to the other. I believed then, and I think now, that there is always a solution. It is seeing the simple solution rather than the complex one that is at the heart of manufacturing alchemy.

    My enjoyment of the pressure of making magazine magic under stress brings me to the interview, “Confessions of a Media Buyer under Pressure”. I feel for the person here and the mental toll he or she is dealing with. The 24/7 cycle and the intense pressures of clients and supervisors not respecting that the media buyer is a person, a human with the need to decompress and step back from time to time and get refreshed. Clearly not all employees are built for the constant, ever developing 21st century stress and chaos. 

    Perhaps it is the new normal where we don't have the structure of the commute to an office, the somewhat orderliness of 9 to 5 (or so) out of the home, and the return commute to our families. If you take that organized part of our routines away, I can see the new expectation that we are always on call. 

    This always on call, always available, has been growing with each advancement of the digital process for the last two decades. It’s not that it is new – it isn't – but with the advent of the COVID Time Machine, we are where we would have been anyway, but years before it might have happened. And that presents a Human Resources situation where a person's personality traits that might have been acceptable for methodologies and work patterns of the past are no longer suitable for the compression of the new normal workload. 

    It’s a topic worth having a conversation about. If there are any HR professionals on this list or if you non-HR professionals would like to offer your thoughts to our group, I’d love to hear from you. -  bo@bosacks.com


    BoSacks
    Posted August 25, 2020
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  • BoSacks Speaks Out: Advertising Slump During Virus Crisis Hits Media Jobs

    BoSacks Speaks Out: Advertising Slump During Virus Crisis Hits Media Jobs

    BoSacks Speaks Out: Most of us naturally track our industry and know the score of what the plague and the media tech platforms (FANG) are doing to us. It is a toxic combination not only for our health but also for our careers and our business wellbeing.

    I follow our industry very closely and read of layoffs and closures almost every day. We all read about them and absorb the data as shots from a sniper one information bullet at a time.  The article Advertising Slump During Virus Crisis Hits Media Jobs brings it into focus as a shotgun blast of intelligence right to the heart of our media industry. The entire global media workforce is shrinking. The plague and the media stress are a wide-spread phenomenon. 

    We are all hoping for a relatively fast vaccine and an equally speedy economic recovery. When that happens, media will get back on track and rehire, reinvent and reestablish itself, but perhaps not as it was. We have all learned to do more with less. That is one of the new permanent conditions we will live with long after the new normal solidifies. Some of us might never work from an office again. Being self-employed I haven't worked from an office since 1996.  This will be a change in lifestyles for many media professionals.

    There are pluses and minuses. Between not commuting and lunches alone, I have saved a fortune in everyday expenses in the last 24 years. One of the minuses is the lost real-time relationships with co-workers and friends. The occasional drink together after work. But there is tremendous freedom working from a home office, and it can be accomplished from anywhere on the planet with a working internet connection.

    As an example, in the last ten years I have been on the road for 920 days and visited 10 countries and 174 cities, some of them multiple times. (Data from Tripit.com.) In all that time, I have never missed my publishing news cycle.  

    So, when we start the new part of our careers working solo, it can be an enjoyable experience. We just have to get through our tales of two careers.

    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us …” Charles Dickens

    Is it possible that Dickens was prescient and from the 1880s was forecasting the publishing business of the 21st century? How better to describe the current conditions of our industry in this COVID crisis? Is this not the best of times and the worst of times imaginable? Does not the media industry reflect a tale of two cities – one of prosperity and one of deprivation? We have parts of our industry that are doing well, while in other sectors, there is great angst, job loss, and contraction.

    Do you know that Dickens’ second to last paragraph in A Tale of Two Cities also forecast the modern magazine industry?

    “I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out.”

    Dickens is correct we will rise from this abyss with experimentation, innovation and determination. We will continue to entertain, educate and provide for the needs of a reading public. I am confident this observation is part of the still evolving new normal of business models created and adjusted on the fly through a global pandemic.

    Yes, our industry will never be the same. We will never be the same. But I think a strong case can be made that it will hopefully and eventually be a better, more stable, and once again a beautiful place in which to work.


    BoSacks
    Posted August 11, 2020
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  • BoSacks Speaks Out: The wild story of Creem Magazine

    BoSacks Speaks Out: The wild story of Creem Magazine

    BoSacks Speaks Out: There are so many overtones in this the story The Wild Story of Creem, Once ‘America’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll Magazine’ that bring me back to my publishing youth. In our first newspaper, The Express, which was part of the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS), ran cartoons like Creem Magazine from the legendary R.Crumb. We also had a wide assortment of characters, and by that I mean the Webster definition of "a person marked by notable or conspicuous traits." Yes, both at High Times and The Express, we had an unusual set of characters pretty much like in the story below.
     
    High Times was, without a doubt, an excellent school of publishing. Many greats got their start there. The first graduating class had Art Director Diana LaGuardia, who won awards for best design while at Conde Nast and the New York Times, while the late, great Toni Brown became art director of People. Some have conquered ad agencies as Senior VP's. Glenn O'Brien ghost-wrote books for Madonna and is a mainstay at GQ. Shelley Levitt became a senior editor at People, west coast editor at Self, and has been featured in too many national magazines to mention. Susan Wyler became a best-selling cookbook author – even without including marijuana in her recipes. Ed Cobb from my production team helped develop, orchestrate, and retool production techniques for many companies such as Time Inc, helping to implement "running to the numbers," a system that every printing plant uses today. 
     
    Ed Dwyer, the first editor of High Times, went on to become a top editor for companies such as AARP the Magazine, Penthouse, Los Angeles Magazine, and Whittle Communications. I can't forget to mention Larry "Ratso" Sloman, another early editor at High Times, who made a career writing books on Dylan and Houdini, and whose best-sellers were in collaboration with Howard Stern on the radio personality's Private Parts and Miss America. My best friend Andy Kowl was High Times’ first publisher and helped it achieve much of its success. Andy has been a publisher many times over these past years and has now taken his extraordinary skills to assisting other publishers to generate increased reader engagement and profits online. One member of the class even publishes the world's oldest e-newsletter, not a small accomplishment in itself. And on and on.
     
    At High Times we experimented with paper stock and inks. We had, to the best of my knowledge, the first full-color newsprint section in a national magazine, called the High Witness news. We had an association with Andy Warhol, who helped design several covers, and was himself on the cover at least three times. Other High Times cover stars were Mick Jagger, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, Johnny Rotten, Truman Capote, and the quintessential Cheech and Chong. Debbie "Blondie" Harry thanked us for her first national magazine cover. Arnold Schwarzenegger's first non-muscle magazine cover was also, you guessed it, at High Times.
     
    Perhaps like Creem Magazine, High Times paved new journalistic grounds and opened the door for other national alternative magazines. But I would say we weren't ahead of our times, rather we were precisely on target for both our times and the pulse of the nation.  
     
     
    Sometimes the lights all shining on me, other times I can barely see. Lately it occurs to me what a long strange trip it's been.
    Jerry Garcia

    BoSacks
    Posted August 11, 2020
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  • BoSacks Speaks Out: Do people hate advertising? No, they hate bad advertising.

    BoSacks Speaks Out: Do people hate advertising? No, they hate bad advertising.

    BoSacks Speaks Out: There is a brief comment in the article How to shift towards a paywall that I sent out last night. It is an oft repeated expression throughout the industry that “We have to face it: people hate ads.” I beg to differ on that point. What people hate are bad ads and bad advertising campaigns. People hate intrusive ads that follow you everywhere tracking advertising. 

    There are plenty of ads people like and enjoy.

     Here are just a few of my favorites in no particular order:

    Nike: Just Do It.

    Absolut Vodka: The Absolut Bottle.

    Anheuser-Busch: Whassup

    Apple – “1984”

    Wendy’s – “Where’s the Beef?”

    Coca-Cola – “Meet Joe Greene”

    Old Spice – “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”

    Always – “Like a Girl”

    Those were great ads, and I doubt they were hated by too many consumers.

    Perhaps it is counting on an algorithm for success rather than creativity that is at the heart of advertising’s problems today. Could it be that corporate consumer surveillance has replaced innovation and imagination? I think so.

    It seems little has changed and that it is obviously worse since 2016 when I wrote this still relevant article:

    We are now deep into a relatively new and unresolved media phenomenon. I think it's fair to call it the "21st Century Ad Wars." There are four armies or protagonists in this war. They are the publisher, the advertiser, the ad blockers and, of course, "the mark." Oh no, I mean the coveted consumer.

    The two most important factions in the battle for revenue romance are the advertisers who have the product for sale and the consumer who has the money and might want the product. The publisher is there to act as a conduit between the two primary flirters. The ad blockers on the scene with the proposed not-always-honest intention to protect the consumer. As Shakespeare said prophetically about the digital process, "what a tangled web we weave."  

    All was well in hand in the analog print days of yore until the web arrived and sales and advertising in printed products went south.  So the Publishers, eager to reclaim lost revenue introduced new paths of monetary rewards and created along the way ever increasing intrusive and self-destructive projects that eventually broke the bond of trust with the reading public.  That trust on the web is now long gone for most. Did all advertisers and publishers take the low road? Absolutely not. But enough web practitioners did to completely dirty the waters for all. Swimming with the sharks isn't always a pleasant experience, and you quickly learn not to trust anything swimming nearby.

    The advertisers and the publishers abused their privileged position and actually started to think of the consumer as a mark, there to be taken advantage of in every conceivable way possible. Unwanted tracking, bloated advertising destroying the digital experience, and a general overarching abuse of the developing channels of communication. You might as well add to that mix the volatile hidden inclusion of downloading malware willingly or not into the public and consumer domain.  

    I see this as an unwinnable technologic trench war with one and only one path to digital peace in our time. The solution is for content to be worth paying for. Here is my question. Is your content worth the consumer paying for its full and fair value? If not, why not? Did I hear you say they won't pay enough for it and that you have to subsidize it with advertising?  Yes, that was the path of the past and in an analog world was accepted by all - the publisher, the advertiser and the mark. That is one of the reasons that print is still the best ROI. The rules are fully understood by all, and the ads aren't bloated and ready explode upon command.

    Here is the thing - and this comes from a long-time-and-still-practicing digital futurist who still sees digital as the predominant way people are and will be reading - digital is succeeding in grabbing most of our attention and eventually digital advertising will probably succeed, too. But that success won't take away from the experience of reading print.  

    The haptic or touch experience between print and digital is mainly a different feel, a different sensation and, perhaps above all else, a completely different expectation. Print doesn't offer distractions other than the words and thinking on the page, while the digital experience intends to and does offer distractions galore. I think a case can be made that reading on the web requires a modern kind of discipline to actually finish the article you started to read, whereas in print there is no place else to go but finish what you picked up to read. I'm not saying that just because we read a printed product we always finish it. In many cases we don't. That is also demonstrably true for the digital experience, only more so.

    That is where I concluded my 2016 article, which brings me back to my question. Is the problem counting on an algorithm for success rather than creativity at the heart of the problem today? Could it be that corporate consumer surveillance has replaced innovation and imagination and has thus brought on the concept that people hate advertising? Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

    BoSacks
    Posted August 03, 2020
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  • BoSacks Speaks Out: The untimely and Sad death of Folio: and Publishing Executive

    BoSacks Speaks Out: The untimely and Sad death of Folio: and Publishing Executive

    BoSacks Speaks Out: Sometimes I have to put the bourbon aside and deliver a sobering report to the industry. I do this because I love the magazine media industry, and I don't want anyone to misinterpret the facts and actual conditions of our industry. 

    In turbulent times, turbulent things happen. What I have to report tonight is a reflection of the turmoil of the times we live in. I was asked by those in the know not to say what I am about to tell you, and I would have kept that promise, but we live in an instant messaging age. A person I do not know tweeted today that Folio: Magazine is no more. Because of that tweet, I feel I am relieved of the responsibility of keeping my silence.

    The demise is unfortunate but understandable. Our industry is under extreme duress, and so too are trade organizations that track our industry. Clearly, FOLIO: needed serious revenue to complete their journalistic task of monitoring and educating our industry.  The logical choice before COVID 19 was for them to focus on the conference and awards business, a decent plan if not for the pandemic. Their plan was one that many publishers leaned towards to replace lost advertising revenue—a good idea except for the fate forced upon us by an epidemic.

    What happened?  Part of the answer for FOLIO: was vendor consolidation. In the mid-2000s many companies were spending serious dollars with FOLIO:, and there were in those days dozens of printers trying to reach the print publishing industry. That revenue stream went from lucrative to zero almost overnight. Other sectors of the industry also dropped out of sight. Gone were the fulfillment companies, telemarketing companies, and investment banks. Gone too was the revenue from the many reprint companies. Add to that the shrinking number of media companies. Years of magazine closures and layoffs left fewer brands and fewer people to enter the awards business and attend their events. 

    It is all a reflection of the realignment of the content distribution business formally known as publishing.

    I must at this point add that Publishing Executive Magazine, the other magazine publishing trade publication, has stopped tracking the industry and is no more. Their site has not published anything new since mid-June. The only conclusion is that they are gone too, and the excellent staff displaced to new possibilities.

    It costs a lot to host the staff necessary to track an industry. I believe that both publishers had a chance to make it in these crazy times and be prosperous if not for the pandemic. Now both are gone.

    What does it mean? Everything and nothing, is my answer. The world will go on, and the publishing industry will go on too. Eventually new organizations and new trade publishers will grow and arise from the ashes of the old publishing community. You've heard me say a dozen times that entrepreneurs hate a vacuum. When the dust settles, there will be a huge trade vacuum that needs filling.

    We are on a strange road toward what will be. It has twists and turns, dips and mountains yet to climb. Yet when we get to wherever we are going, if we will look back quickly, we will see nothing but a straight and level path to how we got here, wherever that new destination is. That is the way of life and business. The road is only evident when you arrive and not a moment before.

    Someday we will all look back on this period of technological and pandemic turmoil and smile. Yes, I think we may quite possibly smile. We will laugh because we survived multiple tsunamis that the world had never seen before and persevered.

    There are more ways than ever to consume media and more media than ever to consume. I see that as a good situation. I will only worry if and when people stop reading. If they don't' stop reading, then there is an opportunity for our industry to sell relevant thought for a profit. If there is a profit to be made, then that is an ideal place for a thoughtful and inquisitive publisher to be.

    A few weeks ago, I reported that it seems apparent that COVID has placed us in a time machine, a machine that accelerates whatever was happening before. If your business was in decline, that decline is now accelerated. Sadly our trade magazines have suffered under the stress and conditions of the unforgiving time machine.  My heart and best wishes go to the staffs of FOLIO: and of Publishing Executive magazine.


    BoSacks
    Posted July 29, 2020
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