Industry News

  • Publishing Pandemic Roundtable- For Magazines, Barnes and Noble is Holding Up Nicely

    Publishing Pandemic Roundtable- For Magazines, Barnes and Noble is Holding Up Nicely

    Krifka Steffey, Director, Merchandise, Newsstand at Barnes & Noble, Inc. returned for the second time to deliver an update to the Publishing Pandemic Roundtable—Joe Berger, Samir Husni, Bo Sacks, Sherin Pierce, Gemma Peckham, and me.
    And the news she brought was this: despite the year we’ve been having, Barnes and Noble is holding up nicely. Currently sales are only down 26% year over year. Stores are open. People are shopping.
    This is not to say that the pandemic has been without impact. Some stores still have shortened hours; fire and flooding impact retail space. Some publications went on hiatus; others may not come back.
    Krifka: : Since January Barnes and Noble has lost 500 titles, representing $25 million in retail sales. Some of those titles were coming from the UK. We lost the entire TEN Portfolio, that was a huge number of titles and Retail Sales Dollars for us. Oprah magazine, despite rumors of closing, is still publishing, but they’ve changed their frequency from monthly to quarterly.
    Samir: it was the media who said they were going away, but from Day One the publisher said they were going quarterly. I visited a few stores, where I found a hefty magazine selection. You do see a decline in foreign titles, although some of the mainstays—British Vogue, Italian Vogue—are still out there.
    Krifka: Imports are an interesting situation. Future Publishing stopped printing for a number of months, their publishing schedule in terms of number of titles has gone way down. The cost of gearing up again may prevent some of the smaller ones from opening.
    Sherin: A more severe lockdown is coming in England.
    Joe: When a big service title goes from monthly to quarterly with a higher cover price, what do you see in terms of overall units?
    Krifka: Ultimately the retail dollars is what we’re focused on—and with those changes they perform better for us. The lower priced titles are by and large the ones that our customers subscribe to. Coastal Living, for example, went quarterly, and we saw increased unit sales.
    Sherin: In a sense the media did magazines a favor by threatening scarcity. People are showing more devotion to their favorite titles. The Old Farmer’s Almanac, for example, is way up year-over-year; in some chains as much as 80%.
    Joe: So lower frequency, higher prices is a good thing.
    Krifka: The monthly turn of titles is so quick, it doesn’t allow us to get the full sales benefit of each release. At one point we had NO new product and still were selling 50% compared to prior year. We were selling titles several months old. We were just moving too fast. Magazines are luxury, and they deserve the opportunity to be seen.
    Samir: They are a luxury and no longer an impulse buy. It’s a decision—you are going to spend $20 to buy this magazine. When I pick up a copy of GQ or Vogue, a subscription card—the dandruff of the industry—drops on the floor saying, you stupid Samir, you are paying $9 for one issue, and you can get the whole year for $10, and get a canvas bag along with it!
    Joe: But you’ll have to wait 12 weeks for it to show up.
    Samir: But they’ll send you back issues too. Even the one you bought and send your card in from. Until we get rid of guaranteed circ there is no solution.
    Sherin: No advertiser pays the full rate card, so rate base should be obsolete anyway.
    Bo: The upper tier of our business is still on rate base. The top 5 aren’t going to change; it’s working for them. The rest of the industry has no intention of having a rate base.
    Samir: I picked up Bicycling and Runner’s World. American magazines have finally discovered Black people, they are on the cover of all the magazines. Even the upper tier publishers are starting to change the way they are presenting their magazines to the public. Krifka, have you seen this? Will the trend continue?
    Krifka: It is unprecedented the number of covers featuring Black Americans—every category, even fall fashion. We’re not seeing any kind of drop in sale as a result. Sales if anything are gaining. Oprah, Vanity Fair, with Breonna Taylor—they are sell outs.
    Linda: What can you tell us about your new distribution strategy?
    Krifka: We’re in contract negotiations now regarding our distribution split between ANC and Media Solutions. Working with the two wholesalers will have the effect of forcing collaboration. Our industry badly needs some stability, and so far, everything’s looking promising.
    Linda: Publishers are receiving two sources of POS data, which are not in compatible formats, and it creates a challenge tracking sales in the chain.
    Krifka: This might be an opportunity for MagNet—they do receive our data. This would be a chance for them to merge the two together, creating a single source of reporting.
    Samir: How are the fall fashion magazines doing?
    Krifka: Doing well, trending lower than last year, but we’re seeing some typical buying behaviors. For a while there was an odd mix with anomalous titles spiking. Now it seems to be normalizing. We’re still seeing strong performances in football, fall fashion, the Economist in the midst of everything. I’ve heard coloring had a resurgence—but not at Barnes and Noble. Puzzles, though, are doing great. Cooking did OK, but closer to its usual level, we’re not showing a big spike in the category such as it showed in the grocery class of trade. Breathe, from the UK, has popped up into the top 5. Specials at $14.99 doing well too, and not pulling sales from the parent title. Transportation has fallen off a bit. But we’ve lost titles across the board and in strange places, so even the frequency changes have created change. But our top titles have come back to being the top titles.
    Samir: What about children’s magazines?
    Krifka: We’ve been focusing on pulling new kids and teen magazines in for years now—it’s important to start people reading in the category as early as possible. There isn’t a lot in there—Many of the new titles in in the kids section are imports. But in the UK they attach a toy to everything—the print part tends to be flimsy, so it isn’t exactly where we would like it be with the quality of the magazines. I believe the publishers struggle with who the buyer is and don’t look to see what is trending so they don’t take the chance. Centennial Media has done very well with Fortnite magazine and looking at trend publishing. 
    Joe: Many of those mags are not on the newsstand, and have small print runs.
    Sherin: The Old Farmer’s Almanac for Kids is also growing this year, double digits over the last issue; its biggest retailer is Lowes
    Joe: We need a buyer’s cooperative for them
    Sherin: We’re going to partner with the independent publisher we met with a few weeks back, who does cooking for kids.
    Samir: Who does the planograms for the mainlines?
    Krifka: As the title mix has been changed so drastically since January of this year, the mainline planograms and assortments for each store now need to be updated. For example, if there are fewer men’s magazines, they need less space on the mainline, and the map of it needs to change. Look out for more expansions in the new year as we rework to maximize the publishing we do have. Additionally my team, as we always have, is working with our publishers on new content ideas- be it stories in current books or brand new Bookazines as well as Exclusives that you will only find at B&N. This supports our leadership’s plan to return to being specialist booksellers. For example, each store will have a Bookseller who is a social media specialist so they’ll be able to go round the store and find what’s new and interesting and amplify its display. More local buying on the book side as well, so each store will become more unique as assortments are developed locally.

    Linda Ruth
    Posted October 05, 2020
    (0) Comments

  • Pandemic Publishing Roundtable: An Industry-Wide Celebration

    Pandemic Publishing Roundtable: An Industry-Wide Celebration

    John Mennell is throwing a party, and we are all invited. In fact, John says, he wants every industry stakeholder—every printer, shipper, distributor, retailer and publisher—to join him in celebrating literacy.

    John joined the Publishing Pandemic Roundtable--Joe Berger, Samir Husni, Bo Sacks, Sherin Pierce, Gemma Peckham, and me--on Wednesday to talk about his vision.

    Joe: Tell us about what you do. Where does this vision come from?

    John: It’s modeled after food banks; I have a history with this model, and I thought, it’s important to feed people’s bodies, and we also have to give them the opportunity to feed their minds. So I got the idea of adding literacy banks, and literacy newsstands to the current foodbanks. The idea is to support existing programs with literacy materials.

     Joe: How is the Covid crisis impacting your program?

     John: Demands on food banks are exploding, just trying to feed all the people. And Covid is moving the pickup to curbside. So that was a setback for ready access to our literacy newsstands inside food pantries. For example, there is a food bank network in Columbus that feeds 600 families per day. We’d been on the point of putting three literacy newsstands into this Columbus location for weekly families, walk-ins seeking emergency food, and for a children’s corner; but at the rate they must fulfill the curbside needs, they have only 38 seconds per car. We asked ourselves: how can they include our literacy distribution --

    Joe: Maybe by pre-packing?

     John: --and that’s the exact solution we came up with. Like packages of food from a deli counter, we’re including pre-packaged bundles of consumer and children’s magazines along with the food packages.

     Sherin: Are you able to get unsolds from the wholesalers?

    Sherin: They can get a tax writeoff

    John: Our ambition is to get them from every link, to rescue every expired copy throughout the supply chain. We get them from publishers, from consumers, and we’re in a pilot program with Barnes and Noble to retrieve their expired copies. We’re starting with stores in Columbus Ohio and rural Alabama; eventually we’ll have ability to rescue these magazines nation-wide.

     The other major source of magazines are consumers. They have bought the magazines they love, kept them in their collection for many years, and they want to share them because they love the idea of supporting children and families. They can’t bear to see these magazines destroyed.

     And yes, there are ways of writing off the costs, and currently there is a huge opportunity cost to NOT providing magazines. When we introduce ourselves to the local Barnes and Noble, the staff is so happy to find readers for the expired mags rather than having to destroy them. Expired magazines no longer have a monetary value, you have to pay to dispose them. By passing them on, we create supply chain value and give the product a new life by creating new readers, a new audience for these precious publications. We are creating readers who will grow up with these brands.

    This is in the interest of every industry partner at every point in the distribution channel. By providing copies to at-risk children, we are creating tomorrow’s readers. And I am convinced that a consumer who is inspired to purchase a gift subscription for an at-risk child, for a job-training program, for a kindred spirit, that consumer will forever be connected to the magazine through the good they have achieved. The possibilities for connection are endless in every interest group. Getting these publications into at-risk homes has enormous positive impact on developing readers and no negative. 

     Sherin: It connects them to the magazine, and also to the advertiser’s brands.  The brands you are accustomed to as a child, they stay with you. It gives the advertisers a reason to participate as well.          CLICK HERE FOR THE COMPLETE ARTICLE

    Find out more at
    Linda Ruth
    Posted August 22, 2020
    (0) Comments

  • 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.

    Posted July 29, 2020
    (0) Comments

  • Publishing Pandamic Roundtabe with UK Publisher Jim Bilton PART TWO

    Publishing Pandamic Roundtabe with UK Publisher Jim Bilton PART TWO

    BoSacks Speaks Out:  This is part two of our Publishing Pandamic Roundtable with 
    Joe Berger, Samir Husni, Bo Sacks, Gemma Peckham, and Sherin Pierce and was joined by Jim Bilton.
    Jim Bilton is the Managing Director of Wessenden Marketing. Jim puts together a comprehensive monthly newsletter about the media supply chain with analysis of ongoing trends and observations. He has offered our readers a free issue, and I suggest you get one to see what is happening in the UK. I assure you you will walk away better informed with useful information you can use here domestically in the US. Just drop Jim a line at 
    Part Two 

    Jim Bilton: Our UK supply chain comes in for a lot of criticism because it's perceived to be a messy fudge that nobody really controls it.  There is an old adage - there's half a link to many in our supply chain - but it's knowing which bit to take out. But that fudge has created a funny stability.  We are midway between France and Germany who have really structured supply chains, where publishers have a legal right to distribute. And the Wild West of America,  where you flipped and you flipped on your wholesale structure, your retail terms and pay-on-scan all at the same time and handed over control to the retailer.  So, why have UK publishers been so scared of SBT?  Is it because of the USA.  Your complete package of absolute madenss all came together at once.  So, what the UK has been trying to do is to find non EPOS based ways to reduce shrink and to try and streamline in-store processes in a more collaborative way. But we've got the added complication of newspapers and magazines going through the same chain. And they've got totally different dynamics.

    One of the issues - because absolutely everything is on the table now during the pandemic - one of the big issues is whether to unstitch newspapers and magazines. Again, we're different in the UK. We have a very strong national newspaper market which is obviously based on 7 day a week deliveries – magazines are 6 days per week.  So, there are things we can do in the UK, like daily sales based replenishment of magazines, which we can do because magazines piggyback on the national newspapers. Which the national newspapers hate!

    The national newspapers are a fairly aggressive bunch in everything that they do - editorially, circulation wise, everything.  And they've got a different system in two ways.  Firstly, they negotiate terms direct with retail.  Secondly, they are on a per copy handling fee, not on a percentage of cover price. They made that flick years ago. Magazine publishers are still on a percentage of cover price and they hide behind wholesale. So whenever retail comes and says we want to move off of 25 percent, magazines say that’s nothing to do with us. It's those nasty wholesalers who set terms. You've got to negotiate with them.

    So, you've got two products that are completely different in their pulse rates.  National newspapers clearly just go straight in, straight out, whereas magazines are about copy allocation, about storage, about ring-fencing copy for sales based replenishment and so on.  Yet the fear is that if you pull the two apart, they'll be a massive explosion. And there are economies of scale of both going through the same network,  So one of the Plan B's - or perhaps it's Plan C! - for the national newspapers, is that they deliver direct from their regional print sites to retail, and in some locations, direct to the consumer.

    Sherin Pierce: They come right from the printer?

    Jim Bilton: That’s one possible model for the future.

    Sherin Pierce: Magazines still come through the wholesaler then?

    Jim Bilton: Currently yes.  Both newspapers and magazines currently go through the same wholesale network. There are a number of hub-and-spoke houses so there are smaller magazine-only houses and there are big hubs that handle newspapers. So, it's a funny mix. News UK has always been the most disruptive newspaper publisher and they do direct-to-retail through their own operation in London, at a loss everybody assumes. But if News UK got together with one of the other big newspaper groups and they shared their print sites around the country - that's one of their options, to pack, label and deliver straight from a satellite printer direct into retail.

    Joe Berger: Who owns the magazine wholesale companies in the U.K.? Does it have anything to do with the magazine publishers or retailers or just independent companies?

    Jim Bilton: They’re independent companies.  And there are only two companies left – Smiths and Menzies.  Which has pros and cons in all sorts of ways.  Being a wholesaler is not a growth business that you’d mortgage your house to get into.  So, there has been some talk about publishers buying out or supporting the two wholesalers in order to preserve a robust route to market.

    Samir Husni: Aren’t the U.K. newspapers, the national ones, becoming more like magazines in terms of their style, their coverage, their writing and the analysis? It feels like whenever I get my hands on a copy, I am reading a magazine rather than something that tells me what happened yesterday.  I always give the example of the UK newspapers as how the future of newspapers should be. It's more like a magazine on a daily or weekly basis.

    Jim Bilton: There is a view that weekly is the ideal print frequency.  Sunday was always our big weekly read day.  Yet Saturday has become the new Sunday. Sunday, which had all the big supplements, has now shifted to Saturday. And Saturday is a stronger day of sales than Sunday. So, all the big supplements and big reads come out over the weekend. And if you look at the individual days during the week, there are some really weak days. Interestingly, the Financial Times is one newspaper that has some very high peaks and troughs in sales during the week. You wonder whether it could go digital-only on, say, two days a week, which some of the American regionals have done?

    Samir Husni: Not a single newspaper that has kept its frequency is doing good. People are in that habit, they don't want to think about it. Do I have a paper today or not? Especially if they were used to a daily paper. But my other question is what's happening with Condé Nast and all the other media companies? I see it was the Me Too movement this year, then Black Lives Matter after Covid. Any of that taking place in the U.K. or are we the only ones?

    Jim Bilton: Yes.  These are big issues in the UK too.  Perhaps not as extreme as in the USA.  Remember that we are very British and tend not to go around shooting people too much.  So, these are big issues.  But to be honest, for media companies the really big issue is working from home. That's the massive change for publishing companies in where and how they operate.  Lots of people do not want to go back to working in an office every day.  Particularly in a big city like London.  The reality is how do I get into the office? Where am I going to sit when I get there?  Will I have to queue for the toilets? Are they going to be gender-specific toilets or not?  It’s these practical pragmatic issues that are on people’s minds at the moment.   CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE

    Posted July 02, 2020
    (0) Comments

  • Publishing Pandamic Roundtabe with UK Publisher Jim Bilton Part ONE

    Publishing Pandamic Roundtabe with UK Publisher Jim Bilton Part ONE

    BoSacks Speaks Out:  Two weeks ago our Publishing Pandamic Roundtabe of Joe Berger, Samir Husni, Bo Sacks, Gemma Peckham, and Sherin Pierce was joined by Jim Bilton. Jim Bilton is the Managing Director of Wessenden Marketing. Jim’s knowledge of the UK and the European media supply chain is amazingly complete and thorough. This is admittingly a long but interesting and worthwhile conversation that I have broken up into two parts.  Jim puts together a comprehensive monthly newsletter about the media supply chain with analysis of ongoing trends and observations. He has offered our readers a free issue, and I suggest you get one to see what is happening in the UK. I assure you you will walk away better informed with useful information you can use here domestically in the US. Just drop Jim a line at 

    Bo Sacks: Jim, did I read correctly in your last newsletter that the Travel sector was down 91 percent?

    Jim Bilton: Actually it is 97 percent. WHSmith's Travel division only kept shops open at hospitals.  Everything else worldwide, they closed down. They're beginning to open back up again and their High Street operation is also starting to come back. The health of WHSmith is a big deal for UK publishers – they account for around 14% of total magazine sales.  But their whole business model has been turned upside down by the pandemic.  A year ago, they were being praised for their smart strategy – investing in Travel, which has included some big acquisitions in the USA, and squeezing costs out of their declining High Street operation.  Now everything has flipped.  The High Street is the main way of keeping cash flowing through the business until Travel can come back on stream.  They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Joe Berger: Is this an example? This also showed up on my LinkedIn feed today. Weirdly enough, Hudson Retail just opened up two new stands in LaGuardia at Terminal B. I would guess, seeing as how there's nobody around, it's pretty easy for them to do all the work. This is a store called Madison Avenue Market, and it does have a fairly good size mainline rack and a fairly good availability of paperback books. But the rest of the store, as you can see, is just full of every other kind of tchotchke in the universe. This is another look at the Madison Avenue Market. And again, notice in a traditional Hudson retail store, this area around here will be covered with magazines. That's gone. Here's the outside of the Madison Ave. Market.

    Bo Sacks: So, the reason they may be there at all is that the terminal is newly opened. They may have been legally committed to be there and open rather than actually wanting to be there and open?

    Joe Berger: Probably. I would imagine that's the case. So, anyway, that's life here in the States with with us Zoom neophytes and all of the weirdness with our with our wholesale system.

    Jim Bilton: Have you had a hard lock down over the same kind of period that we had? It was week 13 that we started.

    Sherin Pierce:Yes, I think maybe in New York it was early.

    Joe Berger: You might have a week or two earlier than here in Chicago. But I believe it was that New York locked down on a weekend. And Monday morning, our governor here in Illinois said, OK, everybody, stop it.

    Sherin Pierce: In New England, we locked down on March 27.

    Gemma Peckham: The last day open was March 17, which I think was a Thursday. And then we took Friday off and we haven't been back since.

    Jim Bilton: And in the U.K., any shop that sells newspapers is classified as an essential retailer, selling an essential service - news.  Magazines have ridden on the back of that.  As a result, we lost only about 10% of our retail universe at the peak of lock-down.  Yet that’s just the number of outlets, irrespective of their size.  A chunk of that 10% included some big multiples – the biggest being WHSmith.  The nightmare scenario is that WHSmith never fully comes back on stream again.

    Bo Sacks: Italy declared any place that sells publications as essential.

    Joe Berger: Well, not here in the States.

    The other questions that I've been finding fascinating, and I put it in our pre-meeting notes, was, we're obviously very interested in the parent company of Barnes & Noble and how things look for Waterstones. And does this company that's now invested in B&N have the financial wherewithal to bring this chain back to life and make it a better Publishing corporate citizen?

    Jim Bilton: Waterstones is a actually a very small magazine stockist. It has a very limited range. Not all their stores have got magazines.  So, they're a bit of an irrelevance in our magazine business. But they seem to be doing the same kind of thing as B&N, which is to self-heal the print products. They go into the storeroom. They don't go straight back on the shelf. And the Waterstones’ outlets generally are a lot smaller than B&N. So, they're not reorganizing in a fundamental way as they don’t have that much space to play with.  Coming back to WHSmith, space is their issue too.  In their High Street business, they’ve been squeezing more and more margin out of their shops.  They shove the gondolas closer together.  The gondolas go up in height.  Some of their smaller shops are really horrible places to shop in - claustrophobic.  All this makes socially-distanced shopping a real challenge for them.

    Bo Sacks: Is that a new situation or did it exist before Covid?

    Jim Bilton: Oh, no, they've been doing it for years. They've been squeezing all the time. They've been performing the absolute impossible. As their top line has gone down and down and down, they still manage to squeeze more and more profits.  Their High Street trading profit margins are now well into the double digits, which is a staggering achievement! Their star category is now stationary – high margin and taking up more space in-store.  Their book range is tightly edited – with a focus on best sellers and  travel and juvenile.  Yet it’s newspapers and magazines that they’re still known for.

    They're also into electronic items - peripherals, headphones, earbuds - that they're plonking in the front of the store and they're playing around with other things too. They'll do limited ranges until they sell out. They sell umbrellas. They push chocolate in your face at the tilI.  I remember a few years ago when they started down this route, one of their store managers told me that when he started, he’d joined a quality retail operation: “Now it’s turning into Woolworths”  CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE

    Posted July 02, 2020
    (0) Comments

  • Pandemic Publishing Roundtable – with Jane Friedman, Publisher, Professor, Lecturer, & author of The Business of Being a Writer

    Pandemic Publishing Roundtable – with Jane Friedman, Publisher, Professor, Lecturer, & author of The Business of Being a Writer

    By Linda Ruth

    This week, to talk about the effect of the Pandemic on books, Jane Friedman, author of The Business of Being a Writer, joined the Pandemic Roundtable—Joe Berger, Samir Husni, Bo Sacks, Gemma Peckham, Sherin Pierce, and me.

    Jane began by talking about how surprisingly resilient book sales have turned out to be. Compared to early 2019, 2020 sales are only down half a percent year over year. But bookstores themselves aren’t seeing the same resiliency. Sales in bookstores were down 33% in March, with more sales happening online, on Amazon, in Target and Walmart, and in other accounts that are not exclusively books.

    In the same time period, dollars declined a bit more than units. This reflected the increased purchase of juvenile fiction and nonfiction; this category has a lower price point. The sales of ebooks as opposed to print also lowered the overall dollar volume. But that too has stabilized.

    Joe: What percentage of book sales come from the independents?

    Jane: That’s around 5%. These stores are still important in terms of their influence, they are courted by publishers and seen as tastemakers, but they’ve been hit hard, with overall sales down by a third so far. The migration of book sales online has been a challenge for independent bookstores.

    Sherin: Our book distributor is asking for delayed billing for the independents to help them get back on their feet.

    Joe: Hasn’t there been an increase in the number of independent bookstores, though? It’s one of the bits of good news we hear.

    Jane: That’s misleading, in the sense that they’ve been tracking more types of stores as part of the category—used books, antiquarians, the Half-Price chain. So numbers of indies are up, but it doesn’t mean they’re robust.One huge happy story is the initiative James Patterson launched for indie bookstores, donating $500,000 to keep them going.

    BoSacks: Have prices of books come down as a result of market conditions?

    Jane: It would make sense in this environment. The big 5 have lowered some ebook prices but they haven’t promoted the discounts well, so it isn’t as widely known as it should be. Also, as a temporary measure, when the Pandemic hit, they cut the price on library licenses and made it easier for libraries to acquire digital materials.  

    Sherin: The library market is complicated—the big publishers are shortsighted in not marketing to them in a systematic way. It would help educate our population, elevate everyone in an affordable way.

    BoSacks: What genres are doing well currently?

    Jane: That’s morphed as the months have passed—originally it was children’s education, then it shifted to entertaining, cooking, baking. Anything in home, DIY, gardening, cooking, home repair—it all has taken off in April and May. Adult fiction was initially depressed but has now returned to normal with an emphasis on escapist fiction, like crime/thrillers.

    Joe: So people like me reading pandemic/dystopian fiction are outliers.

    Jane: Well, there was an upsurge in titles like Camus’ The Plague. Also classics have spiked—people are taking advantage of this time to finally read all of Ulysses.

    Gemma: Anti-racism books have been selling out.

    Jane: Yes, that’s correct, 15 of the top 20 on Amazon. An image has gone viral of all the books you’re supposed to read, and people are buying them.

    Joe: What is the feeling about the new management of Barnes and Noble?

    Jane: There is so much hope. People want the chain to continue. They’ve had 4 or 5 CEOs in 5 years. James Daunt is a respected figure in the bookstore world, although there is some criticism of how much Waterstones [in the UK] pays employees. No one knows how the chain will recover.       


    Linda Ruth
    Posted June 06, 2020
    (0) Comments

  • Publishing Pandemic RoundTable with Scott Mortimer - Meredith Vice President & Group Publisher - 5-27-2020

    Publishing Pandemic RoundTable with Scott Mortimer - Meredith Vice President & Group Publisher - 5-27-2020

    The following article has been edited and contains minor corrections from the original release in the Heard on the Web newsletter dated 5-31-2020 

    Scott Mortimer of Meredith Corp. joined Joe Berger, Bo Sacks, Samir Husni, Sherin Pierce, Gemma Peckham, and me for this week’s Publishing Pandemic Roundtable. BY LINDA RUTH

    In the course of the current fiscal year (July through June), Meredith  will have published 320 titles. These include a mix of one-off titles under major brands and also several with publishing partners, including, for example Chip and Joanna Gaines at Magnolia Journal.

    In a down market, Meredith continues to put out new SIPs. How is this model working?

    Scott: Coming into 2020 we were doing very well, on track, in fact, to increase 4-5% over prior year. The pandemic changed that, for us as it has for many; but in the last three weeks we find that sales are approaching pre-covid numbers.

    Samir: I recently saw that Meredith is offering subscriptions to a series of SIPs, wherein you sign up for the series without actually knowing what topics will be covered. Is this a new initiative?

    Scott: Yes, we’re testing it to see how it goes. LIFE had its best bookazine year ever in 2019, so we’ve been aggressive in putting out product under that brand. And you’re right, our subscribers won’t be able to choose the topics, they have to take what comes. We know the LIFE brand has tremendous equity and history, so we’re testing the idea, and will see how it goes.

    Bo: brilliant idea. 

    Linda: A goodie box or grab bag. 

    Joe: where do you see your sales ticking up? 

    Scott: Primarily supermarkets, pharmacy, and big box. We have more pockets at checkout than we’ve ever had. Now it’s our job to put great products in those pockets; then we need the people to go past them. This is where we’re finding cause for optimism; in the last 3 weeks our past SIM buyers store visits were up 8% over the prior. 

    Gemma: What are you doing to support your customers now? 

    Scott: We wanted to focus on content that would support people at home—health and wellness, food, home, a PEOPLE Puzzler, all of these are in the sweet spot of what we do. We tried to be nimble and adjust. But we’re seeing gains across the portfolio. 

    Samir: you said your customers vote with their pocketbook, and overall we’re seeing magazine prices moving up. Do you see a cap on this, or is this the future model? 

    Scott: You’re right about that. At Meredith, most of our special interest content is $10 or higher. I do think as an industry we can charge more for our content, although we have to provide the value to support the prices. We’ll see if the current trends of unemployment slow it down at all. I’m sure there’s a cap but we haven’t seemed to hit it. Even very recently, our Kobe Bryant tribute specials did great at $14.99. 

    Sherin: Although you could argue that Kobe Bryant isn’t representative of the majority of specials. People love dead celebrities. In the current economy people are struggling. One of the first things they are likely to cut spending on is magazines. Have you adjusted your schedule in response to this? 

    Scott: I think you’re right, it may be a slow slog. As incomes become more tight that impulse buy might go by the wayside. Time will tell. 

    Sherin: Also people tend to hold back on spending due to uncertainty in an election year.

    Scott: Over the last 3 weeks we’ve done a lot of scenario planning, and we’ll continue to work on scenarios based on what actually happens. If levels of sale are soft, we might not put as many releases out. Every issue goes through P/L and if it doesn’t work we won’t put it out. 

    Bo: It’s important to acknowledge that there are tiers of readership: the Bauer tier with its pricing and sales levels, along with other tiers with other levels of sale for higher-priced product. When we transform the perspective of the public that these are luxury items we’ll be better off. 

    Samir: Just recently in one of our sessions, Krifka of Barnes and Noble said they do treat this category as a luxury. 

    Scott: We’re fortunate to have content leaders with their fingers on the pulse of what people want. 

    Joe: Even as we transition to higher-priced, higher-value magazines, the underlying distribution framework isn’t set up for healthy or a luxury product. How do we let the public know that we have product for them at higher prices? 

    Scott: Agreed, we’re only as healthy as the channel. Discovery is the biggest challenge. A store might have 15 checkout lanes, of which six might be open, and your product might not be in every lane. How can we be sure people get to see it? Digital outreach is one way of driving awareness, and sending people to the store. At Meredith we have a database we can mine for good. Our partners are great at getting the word out, too.      FOR THE COMPLETE ARTICLE CLICK HERE

    Linda Ruth
    Posted June 01, 2020
    (0) Comments

  • This Week’s Publishing Pandemic Roundtable With Tom Keeler. and Andie Behling of Morgan Murphy Media.

    This Week’s Publishing Pandemic Roundtable With Tom Keeler. and Andie Behling of Morgan Murphy Media.

    By Linda Ruth

    This week’s Publishing Pandemic Roundtable, a weekly group of BoSacks, Joe Berger, Gemma Peckham, Samir Husni, Sherin Pierce, and me, welcomed Tom Keeler. and Andie Behling of Morgan Murphy Media.

    Morgan Murphy, headquartered in Madison, WI, operates TV and radio stations, a print magazine, websites, apps, and a digital marketing agency across its seven locations.

    What effect has Covid-19 had on your companies?

    Tom: Prior to the pandemic, while TV was still our most substantial source of revenue, our print property, Madison Magazine, was growing. In fact we had such a successful first quarter profit that was more than we’ve profited on an annual basis for years. Then Covid-19 hit, and everything changed.

    What accounted for the success of your first quarter?

    Tom: Part of it has to do with the consolidation of our sales efforts. Each sales person represents all our properties to a given account. They sell TV, radio, print, digital. And we cross-promote all properties across platforms, so you’ll see our events mentioned in the magazine, hear about our upcoming issues on TV, and so on.

    Some companies treat their separate business entities as competitive entrepreneurial companies. IDG is an example.

    Tom: Early on, as we acquired companies, we acted more like individual competitive units. Now we collaborate across platforms, with an approach that we’re all part of the same family of companies, and we find that approach works well for us.

    Getting back to Covid-19, how have you responded to the enforced changed?

    Andie: The team had to be nimble and committed. They had to move fast. We created all new content for upcoming issues of Madison Magazine—no easy matter in a business that works 4 months out. For example, our Road Trip Issue’s content had to be completely changed. One of the new features was Tune In to Take Out.

    We updated our subscription messaging: Stay Connected. We encouraged our audience to stay connected to the community, through us, despite being socially distanced. We only have two weeks of data so far, but it’s looking like a successful initiative.

    BoSacks: Sounds like you’ve built a strong foundation with the multiple platforms, and you are rolling with it.

    Tom: That’s right. We’re continuing to broaden our revenue streams. Digital remnant exchange, for example, has become a good source of revenue for us.

    What changes are you implementing that you see continuing after the crisis?

    Andie: We’re moving most of our work to digital. As a result, we’re cutting down paper use and moving toward zero waste. This is how innovation happens: You’re forced to do something, and create a new system, a better system. We’re not going to go back to the way we used to do things, we’re working digitally due to the times and it’s working.

    BoSacks: Covid has placed us in a time machine; it’s accelerated everything. If you were failing, the failure is accelerated. If you were robust before Covid, you are finding new ways of moving into the future.

    Andie: When a competitor went down due to the crisis, we said: Let’s open up our pages to anything they want to publish. They submitted a feature about a local needle exchange program; Madison worked with them to get it seen and read—it was a six-page spread in our June issue, crediting Isthmus.

    Joe: That’s a good model for city and regional publications to follow. As retailers consolidate, with small local chains getting absorbed into larger national ones, we need to present as a city and regional community to retailers. We need to use our combined retail power, which is considerable, to place city and regionals at front end market by market across the country. People might no longer want celebrity weeklies, but they want magazines about their community. This is worth bringing up with CRMA.


    Linda Ruth
    Posted May 11, 2020
    (0) Comments

  • Bosacks Speaks Out: Quad Graphics, Magazine Literacy and Meaningful Industrial Kindness

    Bosacks Speaks Out: Quad Graphics, Magazine Literacy and Meaningful Industrial Kindness

    Special people and special companies deserve a shout out of thanks and gratitude from time to time. In this case, I want to bring to your attention the tireless work of John Mennell of and Joel Quadracci of Quad Graphics. In my book they are unsung heroes performing necessary acts of kindness valiantly even though behind the scenes.
 supplies recycled printed products, new magazines, and comics to literacy programs around the country. From their web site comes the following statement: “Why are magazines and comics so special for literacy, you might ask? Promoting literacy establishes a lifelong reading habit. Studies show that holding reading materials in your hands increases learning. Magazines and comic books become familiar and not intimidating. They educate and inspire. Magazines and comic books in hands and homes foster ownership and build self-esteem.”
    One of their mottoes is “Literacy ends poverty” -- a noble venture, to say the least.
 has grassroots distribution capabilities, but they don’t have any logistics capability on a large scale. One of last year’s problems was 200,000 donated Cricket Media magazines sitting in a warehouse down in Des Moines and recently three pallets of NWF Zoobie magazines sitting in a warehouse in Peru, IL. 
    John told me that Joel Quadracci and the Quad logistics team have picked up magazine pallets and then either delivered them directly to MagazineLiteracy team locations or placed them in Quad warehouses while MagazineLiteracy lined up the receiving end of the literacy programs, and then made deliveries over vast distances.
    As an example of 200,000 Cricket Media magazines they delivered 10 pallets to the Greater Chicago Food Depository food bank; 3 pallets to Milwaukee;, 7 pallets the the Fox Cities United Way; 5 or so pallets to Green Bay; a pallet to Toronto, Canada, where they operate a literacy newsstand in a food pantry; and pallets to a Columbus Ohio food pantry network. 
    John said that by the time gets the call, they need a rapid response. He said, “it’s like the perishable food rescued from restaurants that go to food pantries. The opportunities are so valuable to our literacy programs, we have to act quickly to retrieve them.”
    John went on to say, “With these and other Quad supported efforts, we’ve moved over a million magazines." John pointed out that "Joel and his team have been so generous, and never flinching, allowing us to have an enormous impact and showing us what’s possible as we reach for meeting our full promise.”
    Well, doesn’t that story make you feel good? My thanks to Joel and John for doing this meaningful and impactful philanthropy and for promoting genuine kindness on such a profound human scale. Magazines can help those in need, and perhaps literacy can help to end poverty.
    Click here to contact Magazine Literacy
    Recycle your magazines and comic books for literacy. 
    Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
    Margaret Mead

    by Bob Sacks
    Posted April 20, 2020
    (0) Comments

  • BoSacks Speaks Out: On Understanding Advertising Today

    BoSacks Speaks Out: On Understanding Advertising Today

    BoSacks Speaks Out: On a day when we read that digital advertising is to surpass print and TV for the first time, it boggles the mind how much known fraud there is in anything digital. Why does the advertising community "trust" what is obviously a global confidence game?

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

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

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

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

    Part and parcel with the fraud, how is it that we all ignore the privacy rights of hundreds of millions of people? Not their rights, our rights. Facebook's lies, duplicity and personal intrusion by hidden surveillance systems all go unchecked. Do you know that Facebook tracks you through third parties whether or not you are logged into Facebook? As Bob Hoffman pointed out a few weeks ago "And the pièce de résistance -- Facebook's new data policy asserts that they track you even if you don't have a Facebook account."

    This is not a rant about Facebook. They are just a single example of the on-going digital depravity.

    It's an old stat, but did you know that for every $3 spent on digital ads, fraud takes $1 (, 2015)

    Did you know that US brands would lose $6.5 billion to ad fraud in 2017. (Marketing Week, 2017)

    Here is a 2018 stat - How much have you spent on fraudulent ads today? How much have your fellow advertisers? Try $51 million. Research estimated that digital advertisers wasted $51 million on ad fraud every single day in 2018. That's a massive $19 billion over the year.
    There is an abundance of data that shows that magazines are more trusted than any other delivery vehicle. It is rated and respected by readers for top quality and accuracy in reporting.

    Yet, in review, print which is trusted by all parties loses market share every year, while obviously fraudulent digital advertising is to surpass print and TV for the first time.

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

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

    I have hope, but no ideas.

    by Bob Sacks
    Posted January 27, 2020
    (0) Comments

Copyright © Agility Inc. 2020