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  • 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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  • 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

  • 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
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  • Mr. Magazine: Preserving the Past, Present, and Future of Magazine Media

    A Rollicking Ride Down Memory Lane
     
    “How many people will be comparing websites fifty years from now?” Samir asks. “Will they be saying, look what Politico in February of 2022, compared to Slate? It isn’t going to happen.”
     
    It’s a privilege to meet bi-weekly with my magazine-loving friends, the Pandemic Publishing Roundtable—Joe Berger, Sherin Pierce, Bo Sacks, Gemma Peckham, and, of course, Mr. Magazine himself, Samir Husni. Samir recently retired from teaching after 37 years, but his alter-ego, Mr. Magazine, is thriving, and having none of the “print is dead” punditry.
     
    “So much of the history of pop culture has been captured in these decades of magazines,” he tells us. “Going through this history—I’m a kid in a candy store. Every time I find something new.”
     
    Today Samir is going to walk us through some of the highlights of his collection, beginning with Reader’s Digest, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary.
     
    Samir: Reader’s Digest officially launched in February 1922. Not many people know what came before that. Dewitt Wallace served, and was injured, in World War 1. While he was recuperating, his friends brought him magazines to pass the time. At that time, New York City alone had 22 newspapers. Wallace thought, people just don’t have the time to keep up with the sheer volume of media. Why don’t I put together the important points, to save people time while getting the most valuable and enduring information.
     
    He created his preview issue of Reader’s Digest in January 1920. And then he took it to every publisher in New York and every one of them told him, this will never work. So he went home and put the magazine in a drawer.
     
    A few months later a friend introduced him to Lila Bell Acheson. They married in 1921. It was Lila Bell who said, forget about the publishers. You and I will do this. And they did. Lila Bell borrowed $500 to launch their publication. The first issue was 62 pages. Every article was one page, front and back; every page could be torn and saved as an entire article. And so, Reader’s Digest became the largest magazine in US history, with 80 million copies in circulation.
     
    Sherin: This was in how many countries?
     
    Samir: At one point it had 35 editions in 29 languages. Its history is woven into the history of other publications, the history of magazine publishing. Remember Fact magazine? In the mid-1960’w Ralph Ginzberg published Fact magazine, and spent 20 pages ripping Reader’s Digest apart. He called it anti-black, anti-Semitic, a mouthpiece for the John Birch society.
     
    Joe: Back in the ‘60s, calling someone a John Bircher was a big insult.
     
    Samir: Fact did the same thing with Time magazine, which will also soon be celebrating its 100th Anniversary. And—you can’t make this up—when Time was launched, as a time-saver for people too busy for media, it was called Facts.
     
    So back then, there was another magazine, published by Gardner Cowle, named Look. His wife, Fleur—Gardner was her third husband—was working on Look, and in 1949, while she was doing that, she launched another magazine for people in a hurry, and she called it Quick. It was the first pocket-sized news magazine. She got the idea from Daily Word. The format was 4” by 6”.
     
    Joe: So it would be competing with Time and Newsweek.
     
    Samir: But it was very different. It only cost 10 cents, and it could fit in your pocket. After one year it was selling 850,000 copies.
     
    Joe: How did newsweeklies work then—was it printed in various parts of the country?
     
    Samir: It was printed in Chicago. They partnered with a news program on ABC, they had posters in many stores with a token for a dollar off your subscription. Then they teamed up with NBC and started doing spots on Sunday mornings with Quick editors. And, way back in 1950, they were doing something that to many people was, and is, unheard of—advertising on the cover. There was a cover tag advertising Curtis Candy. Or special Arrow (shirt) edition. Or a cover might say, “Don’t Miss Page One.” And when you turned to page one it would be an ad of a local pharmacy, split out by regional editions.
     
    Joe (laughing): And then all the copies went to Pittsburgh.
     
    Samir: In 1952, Fleur decided to add 32 extra pages just for New York with all the TV programs. They promoted it on the cover and went on to break out the TV guide to different regional versions.
     
    Sherin: Did they have different covers?
     
    Samir: They all had the same cover advertising the regional listings, exactly like Walter Annenberg would do when he launched TV Guide in April of 1953.
     
    Sherin: He ripped her off?
     
    Samir: He bought all the regional TV listings from Cowles Media. Quick closed soon after; June 1, 1953 was the last issue. 1.3 million people bought and read it. But despite its huge readership, the revenues weren’t enough to defray expenses. They merged it into Look.
     
    Sherin: What did Fleur do then?
     
    Samir: On June 8 a new magazine came out called Tempo. It was from the staff from Quick. Quick’s last issue was the week before--they didn’t miss a beat! But then, three months later, on Sep 30, 1953, a new issue of Quick was published—with Walter Annenberg as editor and publisher.  
     
    Sherin: But Quick merged with Look
     
    Samir: And then they sold the rights to Annenberg. He was able to publish it for 6 months as a picture/news magazine in a larger format. How did Fleur and Annenberg know each other? It’s a mystery I haven’t solved. We do know that Fleur was at the 73rd birthday party of Walter’s wife, Leonore.
     
    By 1955 we have 72 pocket sized magazines in the country. Five of them were for African Americans. Someone else bought and published Quick from 1955, focusing on content like miracle cures for arthritis and cancer. They folded. And Quick came back AGAIN in 1959.
     
    Sherin: Looking more like a sophisticate.
     
    Samir: It folded again, came back again in 1960, as a mix of sophisticate and politics.
     
    Joe: A precursor to Hustler.
     
    Samir: They billed it as the original newspaper magazine. It was NEVER a newspaper magazine. All those incarnations—it’s a fun story.
    Sherin: When did Quick finally die?
     
    Samir: 1965
     
    Sherin: So from 1949 to 1965 under different formats, different publishers, different editorial focuses. What did Fleur do after Quick?
     
    Samir: She launched what is one of the most creative, beautiful magazines ever published--Flair magazine. Every issue used the resources of printing and paper with diecuts, different sized paper throughout, colors, and art.
     
    Sherin: How long did it last?
     
    Samir: One year. Feb 1950. There’s a preview issue from 1949, 5000 copies were printed, and every copy was numbered. It was a work of art.
     
    Joe: Why did it only last one year?
     
    Samir: It was so expensive to produce. Every issue has diecuts, half pages, small tags with their own page numbers. She was using print in all the most creative ways. In the last issue she wrote that she just couldn’t affort to continue, due to the foreign situation, rising costs, and paper shortages. It cost 50 cents on the newsstand. This magazine meant so much to Fleur, she wanted her obituary to be Flair and nothing else. She WAS Flair.
     
    Joe: Amazing history.
     
    Samir: There is so much people don’t know about the role magazines play in the history of our country. We need someone to cherish these historical artifacts, someone to preserve it.
     
    And that is why I will launch Magazine Media Center: preserving the past, present and future of magazine media.
     
    And I invite the members of the Roundtable to be on the board
    Linda Ruth
    Posted February 03, 2022
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  • Media Carrier Provides Opportunities for Print and Digital Publishers

    Gabrielle Sarmiento is constantly looking for new opportunities for publishers.
     
    Joe Berger, Samir Husni, Bo Sacks, Sherin Pierce, and I—the ongoing Publishing Pandemic Roundtable, which has been meeting regularly for almost two years—had the privilege of hosting her at a recent Roundtable.
     
    Gabi, as she is called, is the VP of Sales and Marketing for News Inflight and Media Carrier. Media Carrier GmbH, a Germany-based company, provides customized portfolios of digital publications to the tourism and hospitality industry. Through News Inflight, the company also distributes print magazines to airport lounges.
     
    Joe: Tell us about your company.
     
    Gabi: Media Carrier was founded in 2011 and is one of the leading B2B supplier’s of digital publications and through our comprehensive network are represented in all major markets worldwide. We are working with 25 airlines, such as American Airline, the Lufthansa Group, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Atlantic to name a few, 5200 high end hotels; plus private airports, cruise ships, trains, and limousine services. Through us, these companies are able to offer to their customers and guests customized selections from 2000 titles, from 59 countries around the world, in 39 languages. And we’re constantly looking to open up new opportunities for publishers; for example, we’re beginning to work with clinics and hospitals.
     
    Bo: How does Media Carrier connect to the reading product?
     
    Gabi: Our digital product can be used with any web-enabled device without installing an app, registering, or providing personal data to access the publications and it can easily be integrated into the booking confirmation, app, newsletters, on-board IFE or airport lounges. For example, you are in one of the AA Admiral lounges you can activate your Media Box code, given to you at checking to download any publication you desire onto your own devices for immediate reading or for later use. Each of our clients have their own way to give access to the publications, we design everything around them since it becomes their product to give to their passengers or guests.
     
    Samir: You work with both print and digital publications. What challenges do you find that are similar? What differences do you see?
     
    Gabi: In the travel segment, the challenge of one is the opportunity of the other. With the exception of Delta--who want their customers to have everything they want--none of the other carriers are focusing on print anymore. For most of the carriers, the focus has moved wholly to digital. But Delta conducted a survey and found out that more than most enjoy print, so they continue to offer print copies in their Sky Clubs. The program is very successful; there are no leftover copies of any titles that participate.
     
     Linda: And since both print and digital copies are auditable, I work with publishers to whom the impact on their circulation is welcome.
     
    Gabi: Yes, and it’s not only the copies for circulation, it’s the locations. You’re being downloaded in all core markets worldwide, Europe, the USA, Russia, the Gulf States and Asia which gives great impact to the circulation. One of our premier client’s is the Mandarin Oriental Hotel with all of their 25 properties around the globe, which is very appealing to advertisers.
     
    Linda: It also can be a source of subscription circulation for the publisher.
     
    Samir: Because many of the magazines coming on market are circ-driven, they’ll need a way to monetize this service.
     
    Gabi: We encourage publishers to include life subscription links to drive new digital and print subscribers by placing targeted offers with an automatic click through to their fulfillment houses to create an additional revenue stream. For a creative publisher, there are many opportunities. You can tell the reader what is in the magazine before downloading with a video clip or convey an advertiser’s message, an event, a personal note or a survey--there are all sorts of things you can do to get the attention of the reader and convert that into revenue.
    Joe: What is the cost to the publisher?
     
    Gabi: We have different plans, but the initial set up comprises a free trial period. The banners, the video clips, and other add-ons are fee-based.
     
    Joe: There is no charge to the consumer? It’s a free download for that issue?
     
    Gabi: That’s correct, a free download limited to the specific time and place. And for some airlines, in first and business class, there may be a different mix—a pay factor after several downloads. Our platform is easy to use, you gain access to the Media Box through a code, link etc. and open the library, click on magazines or newspapers, click on the category and look for the publication you want; or you can browse the carousel to discover new titles you haven’t seen before.
     
    Samir: What titles are in high demand?
     
    Gabi: Downloads tend to track what is selling on the newsstand; and of course, for this demographic, the high end and business categories are very strong.
     
    Bo: You mentioned that you use the airlines entertainment system to offer the publications. How does it work when go into the hospitals?
     
    Gabi: At the hospital you would access the platform through their internet via your digital devices- phone, iPad, etc. You sign into the hospital wifi and it will appear on that link.
     
    Bo: The hospitals program could work well for everyone. It’s a captive audience.
     
    Gabi: That’s right. The reader doesn’t have to touch a print magazine that others might have handled; and patients want to do something other than watch tv. We have already introduced this program to fifteen clinics in Germany.
     
    Joe: What do the analytics show: downloads, time with publication, click-throughs?
     
    Gabi: Our reports show title, category, client name, country, location, the timestamp, and download amount.
     
    Joe: To participate, does a publisher provide a pdf?
     
    Bo: So the same pdf I send to printer I send to you?
     
    Gabi: Yes, that’s the fantastic part—you don’t need to re-learn anything. We give you a secure ftp site with your login info and you provide us with the pdf and your production schedule. This enables us to follow up, if a publisher forgets to upload an issue, we’ll let them know.
     
    Linda: Yes, I’ve seen that happen.
     
    Samir: Have you seen the program where a company provided ipads to hotel rooms for their downloads?
     
    Gabi: I have, and it doesn’t work well. It’s too much for the hotels to take care of especially now. With our program, travelers use their own devices. The program is tied to the hotel Wifi; the reader can download the publications and read them on their own leisure.
     
    Samir: Magazines are the only positive medium we have. We’re bombarded with bad news from every other platform out there. But when you pick up a magazine, you can lose yourself.
     
    Gabi: I don’t think print will ever go away; we all love the feeling of holding a magazine and turning the pages. I am blessed with a granddaughter now and I am buying her kids magazine subscriptions right and left. But we also have to remember that the world is constantly changing and digital provides a quick and easy way of getting our favorite reads and it is eco-friendly!
     
    Joe: How were you affected by the pandemic?
     
    Gabi: Everything came to a standstill in March of 2020; to stay sustainable we had to create new ways of content sharing. Some of our clients sent offers to their premiere customers, the first and business class reward members, to download publications at home; this created a great brand loyalty towards our airline clients.
     
    Bo: That was a smart move. It offers a service to the readers, it keeps the platform fresh in their minds, and it provides a PR benefit to airlines.
     
    Joe: Let’s look forward. What does 2022 and 2023 look like for your company?
     
    Gabi: We want to continue to tap into new industries that could benefit from our platform. We know there are health benefits from reading, and that will be a basis for growing into new sectors.
    Linda Ruth
    Posted January 26, 2022
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  • Lead Gen Programs Can Benefit from Impact of Covid

    Lead Gen Programs Can Benefit from Impact of Covid

    The last 18 months of the COVID‐shaped advertising environment has actually accelerated change that was already taking place in the ad market. For example, according to MediaRadar (MR), the more than 1,400 B2B magazines that they track produced 11% fewer total ad pages in 2019 than they did in 2018. This was long before COVID became a household word.
     
    Fact is, print advertising has been in decline in the B2B segment for the last half dozen years, some categories longer, and the more recent COVID challenge has simply pushed publications to ad page counts few would have believed possible.
     
    However, the COVID‐related impact across all areas of marketing have produced some monetary benefit to certain digital products, specifically those related to lead generation. Due to travel and crowd restrictions put in place at the start of the pandemic, companies were forced to turn their sales forces into professional Zoomers and eliminate trade shows altogether from their marketing mix. These two events drove the need for qualified sales leads sky high and publishers who had quality lead gen products have enjoyed a sales boom. One of our clients is a perfect case study on this situation. When we started representing them in 2015, we sold roughly 60 webinars, a number considered at the upper limit of demand and their production capacity at the time. This year—2021—we will have sold over twice as many webinars for that client, a number we now consider the maximum due to response / performance considerations. Also, greatly increased success with white papers, eBooks, and other lead gen products have led to our best revenue year ever with that client.
     
    We believe there will be a temptation for publishers to consider the 2020‐2021 period as a one‐time‐only situation which will soon evaporate as customers gradually return to pre‐ COVID practices. We disagree with this thinking for three reasons. 
     
    •         First, marketers have learned, forcibly to be sure, that there are far, far more efficient means to generate leads for a sales force than to create a very expensive, very time‐ consuming year‐long trade show caravan. And increased show expenses apparently await. Just two weeks ago an advertiser bitterly complained to one of our sellers at a trade show that she just received an additional $14,000 shipping upcharge for an exhibit that was sent on a Boston to Philadelphia round trip. And it wasn’t an enormous exhibit.  
     
    •         Second, trade shows may soon return but trade show attendees may not. We know COVID‐ related concerns still affect how people work and plan. Moreover, we saw that the trade show mentioned above attracted only one‐third the number of visitors it did in the years before COVID. Same show, same city/location, one‐third the visitors. We don’t believe that people will have spent the better part of two years avoiding all physically compromising situations and then suddenly rush out to a trade show to stand shoulder to shoulder with 10,000 or more strangers. In our view, trade show attendance will return very gradually, likely over years. Marketers will have to find those lost attendees elsewhere—through webinars, white papers, and other proven media devices.
     
    •         Third, corporate learning is slow but so is corporate forgetfulness. No sales manager ever born would have had the nerve to cancel all trade show participation on the unproven belief that there is a better, more efficient way to produce leads for the sales force. But the entire universe of sales managers was forced into that experience. Not just for six months. It will be closer to two years for most and in that time, they discovered and created new strategies and tactics that worked. For example, we produced some webinars this past year that had over 1,200 registrants for a tiny fraction of the time and cost those companies would have spent for similar results at a trade show. That kind of success isn’t easily forgotten.
     

    Posted September 15, 2021
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  • Publishing Pandemic Roundtable- Printers: The Unsung Heroes

    Publishing Pandemic Roundtable- Printers: The Unsung Heroes

    Now more than ever, printers who can work with publishers to overcome the challenges posed by rising prices and shortages of paper, labor, and time are proving to be the unsung heroes of the publishing business. Linda Thewes, sales executive with Fry Communications, joined the Publishing Pandemic Roundtable—Sherin Pierce, Joe Berger, Gemma Peckham, Bo Sacks, Samir Husni, and me—to talk about how it’s done.
     
    Linda, who studied printing as an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon, has been with Fry for thirty years; prior to that, she spent five years with another printer.  Printing, as we remarked, has changed quite a bit over the intervening years; a sentiment to which Linda wholeheartedly agreed.
     
    Linda (laughing): Oh boy has it. I remember stripping, light tables—
     
    Sherin: Exacto-knife, cut and paste--
     
    Joe: Compared to those days, what do you see impacting printing today?
     
    Linda: It’s a stressful time to be in printing, and there are a lot of contributing factors: rapidly escalating paper costs, paper shortages, other material costs increasing. And of course postage continues to rise. Co-mailing has helped offset rising costs, with more changes coming; we’re going to have to quickly figure out the impact of these changes, and how to continue to offset them; until we do so, our clients will likely experience some financial hits. Capacity is another challenge—the fall is always busy, as publishers are releasing catalogs and other marketing materials for the fourth quarter, and this year is particularly challenging, due to the labor shortage.
     
    Bo: The entire supply chain is under duress, every piece, every industry.
     
    Joe: What is causing the paper shortages?
    Linda: We have many supply chain issues, including transporting, pulp shortage, and labor issues. A lot of capacity was taken out of the market by mills to convert to products more profitable than paper stock.
    Sherin: Corrugate, for example.
     
    Me: Would you say these changes are temporary, or is this a new trend?
     
    Linda: I wish I could say.
     
    Sherin: I think it’s here to stay.
     
    Bo: Containerized freight last year cost $4000; this year it shot up to $20,000. How can a business absorb that kind of change? Shippers are re-routing to more profitable markets.
     
    Sherin: Other products can adjust more easily and absorb the change through changing their pricing. It isn’t so easy for publishers, although we’re going to have to sit down and revisit all our prices.
     
    Bo:  Everything is going to be more expensive, and we’re going to have to get in front of that. Meanwhile, the whole country is looking for truckers. How is Fry managing?
     
    Linda: We’re admittedly paying more for trucks, but we have good relationships with our truckers, and we’re thinking outside the box to circumvent the shortage. We’ve been able to transport mail by rail freight, for example, which has been a help.
     
    Joe: What is causing the labor shortage?
     
    Linda: I have some theories. Thanks to COVID, people who have worked their whole lives in manufacturing have seen that people can work from home, and want to make similar shifts. But that doesn’t work for us; you need a body present to run machinery. It’s hard to hire younger people into manufacturing, because they perceive there’s less flexibility.  
     
    Me: Are there more jobs in manufacturing to fill due to the former administration’s push to bring back manufacturing?
     
    Linda: The trend seems to pre-date that.
     
    Sherin: You can’t bring an industry back when they disassemble an entire plant. You have to bring back the equipment. But you’ve always had labor shortages in printing.
     
    Me: Have COVID deaths impacted the labor force?
     
    Linda: Well, COVID has forced people to rethink priorities and how and where they want to apply their resources. Can I live working fewer hours, making less money? Can our family survive on one income, rather than two? I don’t think it’s specifically deaths that have affected the labor force, at least not at Fry, thank God!
     
    Joe: Bo made a statement that I come back to daily: the pandemic has advanced everything in publishing and printing by 5-6 years. What do you see?
     
    Linda: There have been changes. With higher prices, we were always looking for ways to save costs. But even pre-COVID, the newsstand was heading in the direction of higher price, better quality products. And those exercises to cut quality to trim cost just aren’t happening now.
     
    Not only in newsstand—medical books and trade publications, for example, are also maintaining higher quality product over lower pricing. If you are going to print, it is for a reason. You want the experience of the product. Run lengths are shorter, we have better data, and we only put the product in the hands of those it makes sense for. I used to get a Pottery Barn catalog every week. Now I do four times a year, which is plenty. Last time there was a giant jump in postage, catalogs disappeared—along with their sales. They’ve come back in a more sensible way. With this postage increase, publishers are looking to cut their mailing in smart ways. Some can’t do it right away, but we’re going to see these trends impact 2022 planning.
     
    Joe: Tech-wise, what big changes have you seen?
     
    Linda: The changes here, like everywhere, have been in terms of giving people the ability to work from home.  On the floor of the plant, there haven’t been major tech changes in the last year or year and a half. We don’t have the ability to turn on a dime, it takes time to change equipment on that scale. That could be a problem if something major changes suddenly in terms of production formats.
     
    Joe: Will your office staff come back to the plant or will they continue to work from home?
     
    Linda: That’s a work in progress. They’ve proven they can work from home, but there are also advantages to having bodies present. As with many companies, we’ll likely end up with some kind of hybrid solution.
     
    Bo: A big part of the equation that’s missing since COVID is customer interaction. I used to visit my printing plants two or three times a year. I used to bring three dozen New York bagels every time. While every plant will do its best, the personal relationship adds a little extra.
     
    Linda: Agreed, there’s a great benefit to in-person meetings. It is a favorite day of mine when I can take a publisher on a visit to a facility. With the current Delta variant surge, however, we’re currently postponing most visits for the safety of our staff and to avoid jeopardizing print schedules due to mandatory quarantines after exposure to the virus.
     
    Joe: People who don’t know how things are done can’t understand the challenges.
     
    Sherin: As Bo says, the printers are the unsung heroes
     
    Linda Ruth
    Posted September 08, 2021
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  • A Good Time for Magazines, A Great Time for Books

    A Good Time for Magazines, A Great Time for Books

    The Pandemic Roundtable Talks with Barnes and Nobles Krifka Steffey
     
    Few retailers are more important to specialty magazine publishers than Barnes and Noble. The Publishing Pandemic Roundtable (Joe Berger, Bo Sacks, Samir Husni, Gemma Peckham, Sherin Pierce, and me) met with Krifka Steffey, the Director of Merchandise for Newsstand and Media, to talk about the chain’s recovery in 2021, and the fresh, innovative product she’d like to see.
     
    Since we last spoke, Barnes and Noble has closed two of their New York offices, the one on 6th Avenue and the 5th Avenue office where magazine publishers have been accustomed to go for their meetings.
     
    The majority of the Barnes and Noble personnel will have their offices in the location above Union Square, along with new office space in Clifton NJ.  While Krifka expects to be in the office many days, others she will work remote or from one of the stores.
     
    She’s taken advantage of this time to visit the stores. While the chain was already moving in the direction of refreshing and customizing their stores by location, that change was accelerated by the temporary closings and shorter hours of the COVID lockdown. One of biggest changes Krifka finds is that the cookie-cutter approach of former years is now gone. Each of the individual stores in the chain are molding themselves into unique bookstores. The look and feel of the stores, the books set out front, the hand selling, the books recommended—all are now individualized.
     
    Bo: I think the direction you’re taking is one hundred percent fabulous.
     
    Krifka: It’s a work in progress, changing a direction that had been set for years.
     
    Joe: What difference do these changes make in the product buying?
     
    Krifka: For magazines, we’re still doing it the same; but, for example, with trade books, headquarters will do the initial distribution, and then there are district-level replenishment buyers and store managers who will make local decisions. When something is regionally focused, an author from an area, you’ll see it reflected. It’s a big shift to more local control.
     
    Sherin: Where each store is operating almost as an independent bookstore.
     
    Krifka: Right. On our newsstand, the way we’ve always bought has been individualized. Our work with magazines is highly curated. It’s nice that the book side is starting to mirror that.
     
    Joe: Is store traffic increasing?
     
    Krifka: Yes, overall. New York City has shown a slower recovery than elsewhere. But everywhere we’re seeing positive year-over-year growth week after week. We’re also comparing to two years ago and seeing positive trends even against pre-COVID sales levels.
     
    Sherin: It’s the same with our products. The Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden Guide has grown dramatically. Comparing to 2019, we’re through the roof.
     
    Krifka: Yes, we’re seeing nice growth in Home and Garden. And we’re seeing a switch from digital back to physical. Our customer likes the experience of print copies.
     
    Bo: Are you seeing an influence from Book Tok?
     
    Krifka: Anything that does well on Book Tok sells like crazy in our stores.
     
    Bo: It’s at almost ten billion views.
     
    Krifka: And they’re the right age group, young adults turning into loyal customers. Manga, for example, is huge, and we’ve got a great assortment. Outrageous food trends are big.
     
    Joe: How are things developing in the magazine world?
     
    Krifka: We’re not seeing a lot of surprises. Customers are following their former patterns, buying what we’d expect them to buy. There aren’t many new launches or big things pending. I’m seeing some missed opportunities. We should have seen some publications on outer space, that could have been big. Post-COVID, they’ll be a lot of people struggling to get back into new routines; where’s the product for that?
     
    Publishers need to dig in, to ask, what are people going to need from us, what are they going to use? People are moving back into schedules. Hotel bookings are up, people are moving around more; we need to see those publications for drives, for traveling. There are holes in our assortments, and we need fresh, new, relevant product. I can get the customers back into the store, I can get the magazines out on the shelves, but if I don’t have exciting new product sales are not going to improve.
     
    Sherin: This summer Yankee magazine is publishing 31 great things to do in New England.
     
    Krifka: That’s great, Sherin! Talk to Yankee about drives in the region with local stops; also haunted anything is blowing up; also murder mystery stuff. Those are all topics that tie so nicely into regionality. I think some of these trends are going to keep going. People are planning travel.
     
    Gemma: we just had our best issue ever of Road Life.
     
    Krifka: Rolling Stone has had some fantastic issues; we’ve sold about a million dollars of Harry Styles product; music and entertainment is going to be huge with concerts, music festivals opening up. A release, a concert, an artist—all offer a bright spot on the newsstand.
     
    Joe: On the flip side, what categories are struggling?
     
    Krifka: Mostly ones that were already in decline. The men’s category is almost gone. Science spikes with specials but the category isn’t supportive of regular frequency publications.
     
    Linda: How about the business category?
     
    Krifka: We need more content focusing on entrepreneurial matters, how to run a business, how to start a business, how to turn a hobby into a business, how to do taxes for a business. Inc and Fast Company used to do that kind of thing a lot; it seems those publishers focused on digital and it’s driven the category down. We need good and trustworthy guides, maybe even in workbook format.
     
    Bo: 80% of the public trust magazines.
     
    Joe: I’ve been in some of your new, smaller-format stores.
     
    Krifka: Each new store has a completely different layout. Each store is its own unique location. We have one that just opened in Connecticut in an old Restoration Hardware store. We’re looking at restaurants that have closed down as possible locations. It’s a lot more management for us in the small stores as we shrink from 2500 titles to 1000 or even 500. Square footage varies drastically, some are as small as 4000-6000 sq ft. Some won’t have a newsstand at all. We’ll be opening 10-15 new stores per year, and closing some of the larger format stores as leases expire.
     
    Bo: How’s supply chain?
     
    Krifka: Improving. We’ve had some issues with broken boxes but no crazy mis-ships.  Publishers are now notifying us that paper supplies are becoming a huge problem. There are special issues that will not go to print because of this lack of supply. Additionally, I do expect to have delays and issues for the holiday season as the amount of packages in the system increases.
     
    Bo: Our industry is having a problem with slow shipping and lack of drivers.
     
    Sherin: The Old Farmer’s Almanac is in the middle of it, shipping now. We’re finding that the market is really tight, we have to make all of our deadlines perfectly. There’s not a lot of leeway.
     
    Krifka: We’ve had some delays with imports but nothing catastrophic.
     
    Sherin: Everything is later, everything is slower. There are paper shortages, labor shortages; despite paying good wages and bonuses the printers can’t get enough people to fill the jobs.
     
    Krifka: That seems to be true across all businesses. We’re seeing it in retail. But it’s an exciting time. We’re finally inviting people back into the stores; we’re offering specials, I’ve announced a Buy One Get One for the newsstand. I’ve been hearing that the fall publishing schedule for books is astounding. We’ll see two plus seasons of publishing all crammed in together. And any time there’s big news in books, it’s fantastic for the newsstand.
    Linda Ruth
    Posted August 31, 2021
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  • Publisher’s Roundtable - E-Commerce: Few Things are More Important to our Industry

    Publisher’s Roundtable - E-Commerce: Few Things are More Important to our Industry

    Publisher’s Roundtable - E-Commerce: Few Things are More Important to our Industry
    BY Linda Ruth
     
    One topic that remains of consuming interest to all of the members of the Publisher’s Roundtable (Post-Pandemic, as we fervently hope)—Joe Berger, Bo Sacks, Sherin Pierce, Samir Husni, Gemma Peckham, and me—is the issue of developing a workable e-commerce solution for publishers wanting to participate in the click-to-curb model that retailers and their customers are increasingly adapting to. In a 2020 Roundtable, we learned from Jerry Lynch that the MBR , along with its member publishers, is working hard to make that goal a reality. Jerry recently joined us to give us an update on their progress.
     
    Sherin: Long before COVID the Old Farmer’s Almanac was committed to working with retailers on their e-commerce platforms, and we did develop some programs, although not in as universal a sense as we would like. The changing shopping patterns that came with COVID make this issue an urgent one for all of us. The retailers are developing and implementing their e-commerce platforms, but to a very great extent magazines are not a part of them.
     
    Jerry: Our goal is to make sure that magazines are able to participate in these retailer e-commerce solutions. Our focus is the click-and-collect model, where magazines will be distributed right out of the retailers’ stores, as opposed to from a centralized distribution location. The first step is to develop or identify a platform that facilitates it, and the second is retailers having to connect to the platform. We’re making progress on both sides of that equation. We spent the last 5 months working through the mechanics of the process with a small group of titles, comprising about 60 UPCs in total. It requires getting the titles up on the platform and having them change the issues on a regular basis so that the images are current. It’s a complicated process and it took some time.
     
    Existing platforms such as Syndigo, which MBR is using, are built for traditional product. We don’t fit the mold. Most products are more static. It’s a plus that we turn over, we stay fresh, but it makes it hard to shoehorn frequency magazines into the system. Yet we have gotten to the point where we’re set up to do it for monthlies. Over the last few weeks, we successfully delivered titles via the Syndigo platform at a northeast retailer. This included changing out cover images. We have some fine tuning to do but Weeklies will be next step.
     
    Another hurdle is that retailers will be fulfilling their customer’s orders from inventory, and in a scan-based-trading environment, the retailers typically don’t actually have a record of their inventory. But these are challenges we must meet, and obstacles we must overcome. By 2022, over 30% of retailer sales will be from e-commerce. We’re going to want to be part of that.
     
    Sherin: Right. If we can’t find a way to be part of it, magazines will be left behind.
     
    Jerry: To make it happen, we as an industry need to convince ourselves this is a big opportunity, and one that’s worth the investment.
    Linda: What do you see for the rollout?
     
    Jerry: We’ll start with a small group of magazines that can demonstrate success to the retailer. From there, we grow. We actually have items in E-comm
     
    We have such a wide array of titles, but our space at retail has been eroding. If we can replace the loss of mainline space with an online presence, in a way consumers want to engage, that will be tremendous. The opportunities are huge. But it’s not just getting the magazines included on the retailers’ e-commerce sites. They also have to be discoverable. So how can we make them easy to find?
     
    Joe: This question comes into play both online and in the physical store itself. My experience is, if we say a magazine is in a store and someone can’t find it, nine times out of ten it’s there and they’ve overlooked it. We need to come up with a response to “it’s not there.”
     
    Sherin: We have a “Where to Buy” function on our site. It works well for retail, and could be also adapted for the e-commerce portion.
     
    Joe: Smaller titles won’t be in every store in a chain. If a chain’s click-to-curb function isn’t individualized on a by-store basis, this will be something we’ll have to solve.
     
    Jerry: Yes, and as magazines increasingly participate in e-commerce, there will be more opportunities for sell-out situations in the stores. Our industry’s participation is about increasing our opportunity to broaden the selection, and to broaden our engagement with consumers. We have to make sure it’s a satisfying experience--that when the consumer goes to the store, having ordered online, or created a list on-line,the product is there. Also, think about when product is delivered. An issue could hit the store on Friday, Saturday, or up till Tuesday. Our approach is to say Tuesday.
     
    Bo: It makes sense: under-promise, over-deliver.
     
    Sherin: What titles are participating in the test?
     
    Jerry: They include Bauer, National Geographic, Trusted Media, Penny Press, Hearst, Centennial—it’s a pretty good mix.
     
    Sherin: Are any retailers easier to work with, and can stand as an example of how it can be done successfully?
     
    Jerry: Overall we’re finding that they are eager to work with the category, but most are somewhat daunted by the particular challenges we present.
     
    Joe: What other projects is the MBR working on?
     
    Jerry: We’re starting in on category advocacy. Our target is to educate the upper management in the retailer community about the value of magazines. We’ve lost space, and the loss of space resulted in the loss of sale, which in turn results in the further loss of space. Trying to stop that snowball will require effort, it will require new research, it will require an investment on the part of our industry. Our productivity has gone up—that is, we’re putting more product through less space. And some of our benefits, for example our offering the ease of scan-based-trading to our retail partners, aren’t quantified in ways that show up on the retailers’ spreadsheets. We’re not just transactional; we bring people into the stores, we show them what to buy; there are so many benefits to the category. It’s up to us to tell that story.
     
    Bo: We’ve always been our own worst enemy. We’re an industry of marketing geniuses who can’t market our industry.
     
    Joe: That benefit-based business model needs to be sold not only to retailers, but to publishers as well. Many are turning away from the newsstand.
     
    Jerry: And that’s something else we can do through our communication with our publishers. Over the course of the year, we plan to do more webinars, and we’re also looking into the possibility of a physical event. People want to get back together. We’re focusing on getting the right content in the right format.
     
     

    Linda Ruth
    Posted July 27, 2021
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