BoSacks Speaks Out: The Nuts & Bolts of Magazines - A Review of PRIMEX NYC

By  on October 14, 2013

In Esquire's approximately 286 page October issue, I read a quote from Arthur Miller that reminded me of the publishing industry in general, and of my experience at PRIMEX last week. "Fear, like love, is difficult to explain after it has subsided, probably because it draws away the veils of illusion as it disappears." Indeed, the print industry has had the fears, misconceptions and its illusions drawn away as we move forward and adjust our business plans to 21st century communication. To me this adjustment was clearly evident at PRIMEX, which has been chaired with great success for several years by Laura Reid, VP of Production at Hearst Magazines. 

David Steinhardt, President & CEO at IDEAlliance, the organization that runs PRIMEX, opened the day-long conference in NYC saying we are at the intersection of interactivity. How does it grow print? How does it work with print? What are the best practices for the total supply chain? How do we work with the new technologies and create increasingly better workflows? 

PRIMEX and IDEAlliance are all about the nuts and bolts of manufacturing, distribution and, what we in the trade call, the supply chain. We seek the best and most efficient ways to operate our collective media organizations, and to efficiently and frugally produce great products, which help our companies generate revenue. In the room were many industry suppliers such as printers, paper companies, digital magazine enablers (DMEs), freight, transportation and postal experts, and of course, from my perspective having once been one, the beloved production directors.  

The first speaker of the day was Yahav Isak, Senior VP of Production and Operations at Digitas - Publicis. The title of his session was It All Begins With Advertising. Certainly, one would expect a senior VP of an advertising agency to think so. But I think, if push came to shove, there would be an editor or two in our industry that would disagree with that statement. (Note to Bo: that would be a great article for another day.)

Yahav had several interesting things to say including overall questions about what is digital. "What does that mean, as we are now in a post digital era? Everything is now digital." Here again, I wonder if there are some editors and publishers that would disagree? 

He went on to say, "Change is the new reality. Early on it was simply about sending words through small pipes (dial-up). Then in 2005 everything changed and the pipes (broadband) got big. Then social media happened. Now advertisers know where and when you are, so the ads must be delivered in that moment and in context."

Guy Gleysteen, Senior VP, Production at Time Inc., noted from the audience during the discussion that the challenge is to bring the resources into play at the right time. "We don't know how long any new product we build will last. Five minutes or five years." 

The next topic of discussion was the US Postal Service: Mail Supply Chain Upheaval, presented byChris Lien, VP of Software Marketing, Bell and Howell; and John Stark, Executive Dir., Distribution Operations at Conde' Nast.  

I think you have to agree upheaval is a great adjective for the unsteady conditions from a publication mailer's point of view. They reported that the USPS is a 65 billion dollar business whose volume has continued to decrease 28% from 2006 to 2012 (213 billion pieces to 154). 

Next up was an extremely important conversation for our industry to understand and implement presented by my friends, Peter Meirs, Principal at Digital First Media NY; and Joe Cha, President of HipZone, Inc., and also on the panel was, Hugues La Ricca, CTO at eMerge Consulting. They spoke on the topic of OpenEFT.

OK, I hear you, what the heck is OpenEFT? Simply put OpenEFT is a new open source standard for packaging and transmitting digital content across platforms. This new format can be used by any and all content creators and is important to us all, because it is free to use and carries no restrictions on how it can be customized or distributed. The OpenEFT format was created by the industry to give publishers an alternative to proprietary formats that are commercially licensed and locked down. It is this reporter's opinion that we need an open standard format, without which we inhibit creativity and flexibility and add unnecessary costs to an already expensive process. Why should you forever pay a licensing fee if you don't have to pay one at all, especially with the excellence of the open system? This will take industry leadership and commitment to this technology, but once done, we will all be better off. 

Next was lunch and an enthusiastic keynote by Michael Clinton, President, Marketing & Publishing Director, Hearst Magazines, titled Why the Future Is Bright. 

Before I report here, I have to stop and tell a short, somewhat embarrassing story. I usually, as in always,  try to use my iPad to take notes in conferences. It is quiet and for me fast. There is the added reward that I can actually and legibly read my notes the day after. The lunch didn't take place where the rest of the meeting did, and I left my iPad at my seat in the other room. Just as Michael was starting to speak I realized my mistake. I had two options, I could insultingly stand up and leave the room to get the iPad or come up with an alternative solution. What I decided to do was to use my smartphone to take notes. What I felt was embarrassing was that I was in the front of the room and I figured that Michael must have thought that Bo was extremely and rudely texting while he was speaking. No, Michael, I openly apologize, and for the public record, I was crudely attempting to take notes. I will add that taking notes on a smartphone is awful, and I hope never to have to do that again. The results of my note taking are limited to memory and phone gibberish, to say the least. 

Michael laid a case in the beginning of his talk to dispel the rumors that print isn't in any way dead or dying. He told us that 90% of revenue is still print centric. He went on to say that Hearst has the best paid circ in its history and that the industry has 250 million subscriptions in the country today. He told us of a recent survey about the US Postal Service, where the results suggested that in thinking of receiving mail at home, people wanted first a hand written note and second a printed magazine. (From the people are funny files, Bo wonders - When is the last time you sent or received a written note?) 

Here is where my notes get totally muddy and I can only share what I think I heard. 

Michael discussed the building of multiplatform programs and the use of products like Netpage to help make interactive magazines, where "magazines come to life" and every page and every photo can be shared and shopped. On Michael's wish list was a chip embedded into the spine of magazines that could empower the playing of videos and other interactivities inside a printed magazine. He also shared some revenue sharing advertising models for proof of the power of print, in line with but not exactly the same as Meredith's ROI guarantee.  

After the lunch and with my iPad happily back in my hand, we heard a fascinating tale about making the paper supply chain more efficient, presented by Michele Donahue, Executive Director, Paper Supply Chain at Conde Nast. Now that may sound boring to some of you, but I was on the edge of my seat in awe and wonder. No, really I was. I'll tell you why.  

Michele has been heading a task force to bring sense and responsibility to the shipping of paper. We all know that many times paper gets delivered damaged, crinkled and/or wet. The question of the day was could this be eliminated or at least minimized? The answer was yes, and it demonstrated to me the lost power of mentoring and the items we forget from generation to generation. 

In the 1980s the manufacturing word of the decade was Deming. And to me more specifically W. Edwards Deming. W. Edwards Deming believed that by adopting simple principles of management, companies could increase quality and simultaneously reduce costs. The main idea here is to practice something called continual improvement, combined with the understanding that manufacturing is a total system, not just the putting together of bits and pieces. (Nuts and Bolts) 

In our publishing case, damaged paper was usually reimbursed by the railroads after exhaustive reporting, but no follow through and investigative action. This is a classic case of not following Deming. Nobody until Michele's task force came on the scene examined the trail of broken bread crumbs back to the loading dock. The railroad never knew about broken roofs that let in the rain or doors and floors that had lived past their industrial prime. No one had gone back to the mills to discuss the success or the failure of loading procedures and the proper packing techniques to secure a car of paper. Due to Michele's task force, mills are loading better, receivers have accepted uniform practices, and receivers are communicating back up-stream better. On top of that the railroads are listening too. So, all it took was to rediscover the principals of Deming and put them back to effective work. 

Lastly there was a discussion about Building A Mobile Media Agenda. My friend John Puterbaugh, Executive VP & Chief Digital Officer of Nellymoser, smoothly moderated a panel of experts, and they were indeed that. The panel included Bruce Davis, CEO of Digimarc; David Granger, Editor-in-Chief of a somewhat unknown magazine called Esquire, Todder Moning Senior VP, Payments Innovation Dir. of U.S. Bank Payment Services; and Jody Raida, Director of Development at mcgarrybowen. 

All the panelists displayed their software and each one was interesting, fun and/or useful. At the end of the demonstrations, I suggested to the panel, that this felt like a TV game of survivor. I told the panelists that I was aware of at least a dozen augmented reality companies, and I am sure that there are many more. I asked if there were room for everyone, because it seems to me that we need a single universal translator. The public does not want to have a dozen apps on their smartphones, and they don't want to remember which app works in which situation. What the public wants is to hold their smartphone/tricorder up to whatever the conditions are and get the results that moment demands. 

Bruce Davis, CEO of Digimarc to my surprise answered that what I was asking for will most likely be available next year. And, if I understood him correctly, what will be available will be software pre-embedded into the phones we buy without the need for any downloads. And I say amen to that. 

So there you have the Nuts and Bolts of PRIMEX NYC.

October 14, 2013

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