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  • MCMA - A Candid Conversation with BoSacks

    MCMA - A Candid Conversation with BoSacks

    Media & Content Marketing Association
    Reporting on this event provided by: Greg Wolfe, MCMA Board Member
     
    The MCMA held another zoom “Candid Conversation” event on Friday 4/24. Noted magazine expert and publisher of Heard on the Web media newsletter, Bo Sacks, joined as a special guest and Matt Steinmetz from Adweek was our moderator.
     
    We had a lively discussion over zoom about many topics facing the magazine industry, with attendees from consumer and business publishing, and also vendors that serve the industry as well.
     
    In his introduction, Bo said he thought that the problem for publishers is the commodification of content. Media was once a “luxury item,” he said and will need to be again for us to be sustainable as an industry. “Trust and brand recognition would be media’s life preserver amid the rising tide of fake news and shifting consumption habits.”
     
    He said that “we are in the solution business” and challenged the attendees to think about what the solution is that their publication provides. “People don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole, “he said.
     
    Bo was nonetheless very optimistic about publishing and said he thought we were entering the “next golden age of publishing,” with vast opportunities for success with both digital and print publications.
    In terms of magazine categories doing well, Bo said home and decorating, and food titles were overperforming. He also mentioned that the association magazine from AARP is the largest circulation magazine in the U.S, serving the senior and elderly community, and that was a strong category.
     
    There was some discussion on podcasts and Bo said he was a big proponent. He thought that there was a serious revenue play from sponsors.
     
    One attendee raised the subject of third-party cookies going away and what the impact would be on publishers. Bo thought it would make publisher’s first-party data very valuable but said the thing about “big data” is that you can have a huge amount but if you don’t know how to analyze it properly and make it actionable it’s useless. He also said that there is so much fraud in programmatic advertising, and if that comes more to light, the first-party data will empower publishers more than ever.
     
    In terms of print, Bo remarked that print is now a “luxury item” and that low-quality print is a non-starter in this day and age. He advised that the future for success in print was very high-quality and very expensive.
     
     On the subject of remote vs. in-person offices in publishing, he felt that remote working would be a major factor in the future and would continue post-pandemic, but that creativity blossomed in a face-to-face environment and would still be needed and valuable. He threw out a projection of maybe 20% in-person and 80% remote. Other participants felt that face to face was important for relationship building and collaboration across the work teams.
     
    Another attendee, a long-time b2b publishing executive, shared that another benefit of remote working was how it opened the pool of potential employees much more broadly and allowed businesses to hire the best person regardless of geographic location.
     
    There was a lively discussion about trends in the event side of the business. In response to a question, Bo commented that the publisher’s content was at the core but there were an unlimited number of ways to provide other products and services to their customers, such as events, and highlighted the wine clubs that have been successful for the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Bo was bullish on the membership model approach with many spokes coming off the wheel.
     
    Bo thought that virtual conferences were “not as thrilling” as live and that the opportunity to make a new friend was one of the important benefits of live events that you don’t get from virtual. Bo thinks it is going to be a slow transition back to live events, though. There will be questions of trust and sorting out how vaccination requirements play into it.
     
    Lisa Pistilli, from Lester and President of MCMA felt there was also a question of how fast conference travel budgets and sponsor budgets would come back as well.
     
    Matt Steinmetz from Adweek, who was moderating the event, mentioned that he could get many more people to attend a virtual event than a live event, and they have been successful from a financial standpoint with virtual events this past year. Bo agreed that publishers had figured out how to make virtual events work and they would also be here to stay, even after it was safe to go back to live events.
     
    There was a thought, among those online, that a benefit was that businesses were inclined to send more people to virtual or hybrid events due to the lower cost of attending virtually.
     
    One vendor spoke from their perspective after having attended virtual conferences this past year and felt the value for her company was considerably less, from a sales standpoint. She mentioned that some of the upcoming hybrid conferences she is considering sponsoring are making guarantees of in-person attendance numbers, and she is planning to attend some events in second half of 2021.
     
    In talking about virtual conferences, a theme was that the most successful events this past year didn’t try to replicate an in-person experience, but rather built a new experience that would bring value to the attendees and sponsors in a new way. The comparison to Amazon, that didn’t replicate the experience of a bricks and mortar store online but created a new online shopping experience that was different but satisfying.
     
    When asked about what industry conference he was most looking forward to, Bo said it was Samir’s ACT events at the University of Mississippi, where Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni is a professor of journalism. “Samir puts together 40 high-tier publishing professionals all giving their best insights not only to the other professionals but more importantly to the J-students. There is no more intimate conference in the business.”
     
     He noted that at the end of the conference beside Bo doing a wrap-up keynote, they then go to Morgan Freeman’s Blues club called Ground Zero “and that’s worth everything!”
     
    I think we’re all looking forward to the day, hopefully soon, when we will be back together in person. Morgan Freeman’s blues club in Mississippi sounds like a great way to kick that off.

    Greg Wolfe
    Posted May 04, 2021
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  • Bo’s Totally Random and Unresearched Predictions for media in 2021 and beyond

    Bo’s Totally Random and Unresearched Predictions for media in 2021 and beyond

    At this time of a new year I’m usually asked for my predictions of the incoming year. My usual glib answer is something like, “Next year will be like this year only more so.”
     
    As I look back on 2020 and then forward into 2021, I am starting to think my comedic answer was more prescient then humorous. I’m afraid that a good deal of 2021, which we all looked forward to with relish, will be exactly like the tail end of 2020. There is no permanent new normal until the covid plague is defeated, and that I’m sad to say isn’t on the near horizon.
     
    Bummer, yes. I know. And I’m sorry for pointing that out. The best current estimates are that everyone will be vaccinated by June. If past is prolog, I don’t believe that estimate. But let’s say it does work out that way, then the first half of 2021 will be pretty much like the end 2020. The same conditions of personal and business reinvention and adjustments.
     
    Let me start here in the middle of the plague. With all our new covid related problems we have and are still dealing with our old unresolved issues, such as fake news, fake ads, real ad blockers, fake impressions, fake humans (bots), fake ad placement and undeniable declines in magazine advertising.
     
    Are there exceptions to the declines in advertising? Of course, there are. As I’ve stated for the last decade, what really matters is the success or failure of your magazines or media enterprises. It doesn’t matter what the industry as a whole is doing, as many titles are doing quite well. It only matters how you are doing.
     
    I am bullish on the industry as it clearly grows and morphs into something new at an on-going and accelerated rate. More people read, collect and share distributed media information than ever before. There is more revenue being made in media beyond the wildest dreams of our publishing ancestors. The only problem with that observation is that most of the money isn’t in traditional businesses. Facebook, Google, YouTube, and the like are undeniably media companies, although they deny it. They have the lion’s share of the revenue pie and their growth is exponential, while print’s isn’t. Growth, yes. Exponential growth perhaps for some, but limited for most.
     
    With the above as a foundation here are my totally random and unresearched predictions for media in 2021 and beyond.
     
    Will subscription fatigue finally sink inIf we accept the concept that there is a limit to everyone’s disposable income, how will the still growing shift to a subscription model everywhere be sustained? Will there eventually be subscription fatigue? The answer to fighting the fatigue must be like Amazon Prime and the great bundling caper. Subscribe for this cool product, thing and widget and we will give you all these other things and widgets at no additional cost. Mr publisher what can you bundle with your subscriptions?
     
    The growth of podcasting will continue to grow. Ok, that is a no brainer but still must be listed. The growing podcasting technology and accessibility is reaching more and more consumers with a vast assortment of new content. Revenues in the podcast advertising market are projected to grow 14.7% year over year to nearly $1 billion in 2020, according to the IAB and PricewaterhouseCooper.
     
    The Apple and Facebook slugfest. Apple is now letting users decide whether to allow apps to track certain forms of personal data, like the websites they visit or the things they have been shopping for.  Apple wants the user to decide what information about them is shared with advertisers. Facebook is worried that this will change the value of advertising, which is the foundation of Facebook’s revenue stream. The adage has never been truer: "If you're not paying for something, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold"
     
    Home voice platforms will continue to grow. Alexa and her competitors will soon be ubiquitous. Each morning I listen to “flash briefings” from publishers such as The Washington Post, ESPN, NPR, The New York Times, and the Harvard Business Review just to name a few. We have reached Star Trek levels of voice activated computer access. This will continue to grow and new “tricks” will be added that will no doubt astound us. I’m not clear about the monetization paths, but with ubiquity almost anything can produce revenue.
     
    Google and Facebook get bombarded by antitrust suits. The end of 2020 saw many actions by governments around the world to try to regulate the media giants. The DOJ is suing Google for allegedly violating anti-trust laws. Facebook has also been hit with lawsuits from the Federal Trade Commission and the attorneys general of dozens of states. Sadly, Google and Facebook have more than enough money to fight in the courts for years. But perhaps in 2021 the legal distraction will help publishers and advertisers get reacquainted with each other.
     
    Social eCommerce Will Increase in 2021. This is nothing new but the speed of change and buying habits of consumers has predominantly and permanently shifted to a digital path. If you as a publisher want 2021 to be a year of growth, your business model will need to focus partly on social ecommerce and multiple paths of revenue.
     
    Working remotely has permanently reshaped the media industry. The adhesiveness of the new pandemic stay-at-home lifestyles will continue well past the end of the plague. When will we all get back to physical workplaces? Never, not all of us, but some of us will with limited business travel, limited time in the office, and executive leaders questioning all expenses as never before. Management has discovered new forms of what they will be calling efficiencies. The enforced quarantine and power of technology has rewritten the workforce rules of the requirements of a physical presence.
     
    As we move into 2021 with all the changes still ahead of us, remember our purpose. We have the power to make our customers laugh, cry or become more knowledgeable on any and every subject. At the end of our efforts, we hope our work is appreciated, valued and paid for.
    Our publishing nation has grown and will continue to grow, but most likely in directions that are still unexpected and unexplored.
     
    The plague has undoubtedly created an interesting time for media professionals. Some of us in media have made momentous leaps while others are still trying to figure out the new rules of engagement. But have no fear -- we as an industry are strong, vibrant and creative. Yes, there will be unexpected changes and unusual turns of events still to come. Rather than fear it, embrace the future, because there is no rational alternative where everyone – even you – is empowered to be a disruptor.

    BoSacks
    Posted January 03, 2021
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  • Bosacks Speaks Out: Don’t publishers need to be where the customers are?

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

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

    BoSacks Speaks Out: Preparing for the post-literate consumer

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

     

    The author states:

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


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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

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

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

    BoSacks Speaks Out: Disruption and Leadership during a Pandemic

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

     

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

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

     

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

    BoSacks
    Posted September 27, 2020
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  • 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   info@wessenden.com 
     
    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

    BoSacks
    Posted July 02, 2020
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  • 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   info@wessenden.com 

    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

    BoSacks
    Posted July 02, 2020
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  • 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.       

    FOR THE COMPLETE ARTICLE CLICK HERE

    Linda Ruth
    Posted June 06, 2020
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  • Protecting the Newsstand Channel - A Modest Plan (Part 1)

    Protecting the Newsstand Channel - A Modest Plan (Part 1)

    The original intent of the recent newsstand articles that John Harrington and I did, at Bosacks' insistent urging, was to inspire a vigorous discussion about the often misunderstood process of selling magazines at retail. In that regard we hit a nerve - the response has been hefty and spirited. Thank you to everyone that joined the discussion.

    Now that the discussion has begun in earnest I want to offer some more grist to the dialogue mill. In this note I'll present a rough-hewn plan for protecting the embattled newsstand channel. It combines ideas gained from recent reader feedback with those based on my own experience as a circulator and long time newsstand observer.

    Publishers Troubling "Blind Eye" Approach

    There have been many attempts at newsstand channel reform and continuous warnings, twice a year from me, of the dangers that lay ahead for the channel. All of this to no avail. The reform efforts never came to fruition and the warnings have fallen on the deaf ears of publishers.

    What appears to have happened is publishers adopted a fait accompli attitude toward the newsstand; seemingly content to live with decreasing sales and higher newsstand service costs. This doesn't mean, however, that publishers weren't acutely aware of the adverse economic effects of - declining sales, reduced efficiency, increased processing costs and less service from national distributors and wholesalers. They knew there was a problem, but, as always, they seemed perplexed about what to do. 

    In retrospect it's become obvious that publishers seriously underestimated the effect of the dynamic changes occurring to the channel infrastructure. In 2009 major wholesaler Anderson News dropped out of the business. In 2014 mega-wholesaler Source Interlink followed suit saying the business wasn't profitable and hadn't been for a long time. These two wholesalers at one time represented nearly 50% of the magazine retail distribution volume. A total meltdown was averted in 2014 when The News Group (TNG), with support from Hudson News*, scooped up the Source Interlink leavings. In doing so they "won" the long brutal wholesaling war of attrition.

     *It should be noted that Hudson News remains in the magazine wholesaling business, but in a non-competitive manner with TNG. 

    The result - TNG emerges at the top of the newsstand wholesaling heap, controlling 75% to 80% of the magazine wholesaling volume.  Click here for the complete article

    by Baird Davis
    Posted May 16, 2018
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  • BoSacks Speaks Out: On The Survival of Magazines, Paper And Printing

    BoSacks Speaks Out: On The Survival of Magazines, Paper And Printing

    There was a time when you couldn't pick up a media trade journal and not have almost half the conversation about the paper industry. At the same time magazine manufacturing costs for print titles (there was no other option) were approximately 60% of the cost of doing business.  In today's marketplace there is very little "talk" about paper, the one and only substrate for printed magazines, although we as an industry do have lots of dialog about "what is a magazine" or "how long magazines will be around."   

    As a case in point, I had a very challenging conversation - one of many - while on my trip cross country. My friend who is in our business took the position that magazines won't be around much longer. It is possible, even probable, that he was testing my opinions and was taking a contrary position just for fun. Nonetheless it was an exciting conversation. He showed me charts and graphs about our industry that were steeper in the negative than Mount Everest. I pointed out that those charts are an aggregate of everyone and, although they might be interesting, averages contain both winners and losers. There has always been death and destruction in the magazine business, but there have also always been winners, and I believe we need to focus on the winners. CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ARTICLE

    Posted July 21, 2016
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