We Have Always Been at War with East Asia…And the Newsstand Has Always Been, Um, Challenging?

If I had made an entry in my diary every time someone told me, in all seriousness, that the single copy sales business was: Terrible, horrible, corrupt, inefficient, outdated, out of touch, wasteful, mobbed up, operated like the mafia, doomed, too busy ripping off publishers, retailers, wholesalers, consumers – to do a good job, that we should all be in jail for taking advantage of publishers…

… Then I would have a memoir considerably larger than a Brandon Sanderson novel.

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That’s a mighty big book! (Source: BrandonSanderson.com

 

Nothing New Under the Sun

There is a verse in Ecclesiastes that says, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Solomon wasn’t being a cranky old cynic when he wrote this. He was talking about the cycles of nature in life, not the rat race of the 21stcentury world. But while the complaints about the newsstand business are often the same year after year, the simple truth is that today’s newsstand sales business is not your fathers’ newsstand business. And my father was in the newsstand business.

Last month industry guru and prophet Bo Sacks released two opinion pieces in his newsletter. One from former Ziff-Davis circulator Baird Davis and another from former consultant and industry leader John Harrington. Take a moment and check them out.

Both articles point out things that are very clear about the newsstand:

  • Sales are down dramatically
  • Sales for leading AAM audited titles are down even more
  • Retailers are cutting back on available space at the newsstand
  • There is continued consolidation at retail, wholesale and national distributor levels

I worked for Baird when I consulted for Ziff-Davis in its earlier print life. He is a good person and not someone I think of as gloomy or full of doom. In fact, I remember him as hard working and rather clear eyed. He succinctly points out the tremendous losses we have seen at the newsstand, especially with larger AAM audited titles. There is no denying the fact that a business that was generating about $5 billion in retail sales before the big crash in 2008 is now generating less than $2 billion. Harrington, who is also on the list of good people, is the former president of the Council for Periodical Distributors of America and a retired consultant. He points out that different participants in newsstand distribution have very different goals when it comes to profitability.

But We Knew This Already, Didn’t We?

Are industry leaders going to get together and “solve” the problem of the newsstand? Probably not because there are still too many competitors vying for space on the publishing side*. Moreover, all publishers, small, medium and large have a lot of other things to focus their attention on these days. Finally, it doesn’t seem like anything will happen without the seal of approval from the major wholesaler, TNG, or the largest national distributor, CoMag.

Captain Optimist Arrives

Earlier this week, fellow consultant John Morthanos tossed a bit of fuel on the fire in an opinion piece in response to Baird’s op-ed on Bo Sacks.  John makes the case that we should look beyond AAM numbers (I heartily agree). He cites the remarkable change in title rankings at chains like Barnes & Noble and Books A Million where traditional top ranked AAM audited titles (Think Cosmopolitan or House and Garden) have been supplanted with recent launches like Magnolia Journal.

He’s right. And as someone who is addicted to publishing stats, I’m endlessly fascinated by the report. But is that the point?

Single copy sales, the sales of print magazines at retail are down. Dramatically.

And,

Retail and wholesale consolidation has reduced a publisher’s ability to be profitable at the newsstand.

And,

If a segment of your business is not as profitable as it once was, and there is little chance of it returning to the same level of profitability, you tend to cut back your participation level and focus your attention on the parts of your business where you see opportunity.

It’s true that new titles continue to be launched on the newsstand. Some, like Magnolia Journal, Pioneer Woman, and the Centennial Media SIPs sell incredibly well. However, they don’t make up for the tremendous losses we see from former market leaders. How often can we rely on high level brand awareness to create winners at the newsstand?

New Industry Leaders

Let’s be realistic. Chains like Barnes & Noble and Books A Million are walled gardens. Their customers are actively looking for something to read – something in print. The B&N newsstand is well run and managed by a terrific magazine oriented staff. So is Books A Million. But that doesn’t mean we ignore the troubling signs that chains like Barnes & Noble have publicly experienced over the past few years.

Captain Skeptical?

It would be nice to think that every time a retailer chops a mainline in half or cuts 15 pockets from a check out that our wholesalers, national distributors and publisher quarterbacks rush in with the latest study from MBR and walk out with even more space. Half of it allocated to new, up and coming indie titles.

Maybe that does happen, sometimes. There are a lot of great people in our business and they do work hard to promote the category and maintain our space and viability.

But facts are facts and we’ve lost space. Despite some very visible, exciting and promising bright spots, sales are down overall.

From where I stand (I have a standing desk these days), these battles will continue to be hard-fought. We will never get away from the fact that store traffic is down. We have to acknowledge that there are a lot of distractions fighting for the public’s attention and money these days. Those of us who work in newsstand have to fight even harder to get the attention of the managers of magazine companies and the affiliated partners in the distribution chain because we are now a part of the magazine “media” business.

So, what to do? That’s easy.

Work hard. Vie for attention. Create your own promotions. Check your data. Prove your worth. Cooperate with others in the distribution chain.

Can you be both an optimist and a skeptic?

Yep.

*I am very much in favor of competition. Just in case you were wondering.

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Billy Bush and Donald Trump Went For A Bus Ride – Fourteen Months Later…

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Source: Access Hollywood, The Washington Post

When I first heard about the rather vile tape of Donald Trump engaged in “locker room talk” with former Access Hollywood and suspended Today Show host Billy Bush, my thought was that Bush had experienced what I and many other people I know have experienced in their career: We were stuck in an awkward space with someone who has a lot of power over us and our careers. And we sat there and maybe nodded and laughed along while that person talked or behaved in a thoroughly unacceptable manner.

Billy Bush confirmed that in the past week when he wrote a op-ed for the New York Times that challenged the president’s rather odd assertion that it was not his voice on the tape.

The initial blow out from this tape, as you know, is that Billy Bush lost his job and a big piece of his reputation. Donald Trump went on to become our president and the commander-in-chief of our armed forces.

Let’s leave aside all of the politics for the moment.

And let’s stipulate that men should not sexually harass women and that there are no excuses whatsoever for sexual harassment of any sort. Yes, that’s obvious but I’ve noticed that some of my male counterparts are slow on the uptake and need a lot of educating.

Men harass women because they can. We men have privilege in our society.  It is unfortunately not all that uncommon for the fortunate and powerful to take advantage of the less fortunate and less powerful.

Beyond sexual harassment there is the harassment that I described in the opening paragraph of this piece: The taking advantage of another person because you hold power over them. That’s what I wish to address. That is something that I can speak to. It’s what has made me spend some time thinking about what is happening right now with the #MeToo movement and why I think it is a good thing.

Maybe you’ve been in this situation? You’re sitting across the desk from an important  buyer or potential client. You know this person well enough. Things seem to be going swimmingly. Then out of the blue the person tells a horrible joke, makes a sexist or racist comment. What do you do? You need to close this deal, right? What are you going to do?

Perhaps you’re at a trade show with a client. This client represents 25% of your business.    The representatives of a black owned business walk into the show hall. You’re client stares in their direction. And then proceeds to let out a stream of racist invective that stuns you. It rocks you back on your heels.  You never knew this person thought that way and you’ve known them for a long time. What do you do? Can you afford to offend this person and lose 25% of your business in one week? What they just said is horrible! Do you keep silent?

Let’s say you’re new to your trade. You’re traveling far from your home base and out for drinks late one night with some other traveling colleagues and the manager of the company that you’re calling on. The night breaks up and all of the other colleagues decline to drive the over-indulged manager to his home. They laugh when you politely volunteer to drive him. “Watch out” one of your “friends” calls out as you help him into the rental car. Later, in front of his house, his hands wind up all over you and you have to brush him off and kick him out of the car.

The next day you don’t make a sale. Your appointments are canceled. For the next year your calls go unanswered.

Maybe you’re out to dinner with some business associates and the discussion turns to a young CSR at a company you all do business with. The conversation turns to her attractiveness, how much they’d like to have sex with her, and then, of course, to her apparent “bitchiness” because she has turned some them down. You chime in that you actually like her and get along well with her and why would you proposition her? That’s wrong, she has a long time boyfriend – so what is their problem? The table turns cold. You’re not included in the rest of the conversation or any of the meetings the next day.

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The scenarios I just played out for you are real enough. They are the stories of people who are more powerful than the other person they are engaging with. Or as the case was with the trade show, presuming that their financial leverage over their business partner meant that they would either agree with their opinions, or keep their mouth shut. In the final story we see a typical example of the pack mentality.

None of these happened in Hollywood, Washington, DC, or in the vaunted halls of high-end publishers or the Fortune 500. The people who precipitated these events were not high-flying wealthy men. They were every day kind of guys. People who live next door or down the street or work one floor over.

When Sarah Silverman asked the question, “Can you love someone who did bad things?”” I understand. How do you keep liking someone who you know has reprehensible views? Has tried to force their will on someone else? In today’s do-it-yourself gig economy of the 21st century, you may have to work for that person. Do you take their money? Do you keep silent?

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Can you love someone who did bad things? Can you work for them?

What if someone you work for gaslights, harasses, overworks, mistreats and ultimately fires a business associate? And you get promoted into their position? Do you take the job? Do you walk out in solidarity? How much do you owe on your mortgage? School loans? Does your kid need insurance?

There are no simple and easy answers to these questions. I dare myself to walk in others shoes. I dare you to walk in mine.

I started this post right after the “Access Hollywood” tape came out. I never finished it in part because of the “heat” of the presidential race but also because I just didn’t know what I wanted to say. I am not sure that I do even now. But I feel like talking about it.

I wish the world were a better place. I wish we could be kinder to each other. I wish people in positions of power and authority, especially people in “business” would spend more time mentoring, teaching, elevating and less time preening, shouting, demanding and failing to understand or acknowledge the humanity of those who cross their paths. I find it sad that they can’t even understand their own humanity.

Author and journalist Daniel Pink wrote:

Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, but it makes the world a better place.”

He is right. We need more empathy – in the work place, and in our every day lives.

 

Hey Millennials, We Could Be Allies

“I have to say, “the red faced teacher said, “You kids are the worst.”

It was the late ‘70’s. I was sitting in what was once upon a time the coat room for an old and dilapidated class room. For us seniors, however, it was a place of grace: The high school newspaper office. Newspaper staffers had our study hall assigned to the newspaper office. Our advisor, the head of the English department and his best friend usually joined us for informal coffee clatches. Where our advisor was thoughtful and scholarly, his friend, a blustery history teacher, had a perpetually bleak outlook on the world in general and our fading New England city in particular,

His riff on why we were so terrible usually went something like this:

“You kids have it so easy. You don’t know how good you have it. I wish I were my own kid. The way you kids get everything you ever wanted. We had to work, you know. Work! You kids, with your hair and your music and now this disco. Disco! I can’t even look at you kids when I teach anymore. And your cars! They’re awful. You’ve got no respect. You don’t know what it is to work for what you want.”

Sound familiar?

He wasn’t the only one who talked about us like this. I heard it occasionally from my parents and from their friends too.

I bring this up because a few years back we started to see articles that said the “Millennial” generation, the children of Baby Boomers were the worst. According to all of these articles Millennials are lazy, entitled, poorly educated, borderline sociopathic, narcissistic. In other words, they are the worst. Ever.

Some of this conversation was kicked off in 2013 by Time Magazine columnist Joel Stein with a cover story titled, The Me Me Me Generation. After re-reading this article, I still can’t entirely decide if Stein was being tongue in cheek about the whole thing or deadly serious. Or maybe he’s just not that good of a writer (He is from Gen X).

 

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That is a really good selfie!

Just Another Way To Divide Ourselves

In these divided times, we’ve gone ahead and divided our generations and given them pithy labels:

There’s the aptly labeled “Greatest Generation”, the one that survived the depression and then won World War II . They were born between 1901 – 1924.*

They were followed by the “Silent Generation”. Silent, I imagine, because they grew up in the Depression era and the War era and were too busy to speak up.

Baby Boomers are so named because they were born after the War during the “Boom” years in America: 1945 – 1964.

They were followed by Madonna’s people, Generation X (or the Baby Bust) from 1965 – 1979.

And then the generation we all talk about, Millennials (or Gen Y), who were born at the dawn of the personal computing era and came of age during the early web years: 1980 -1995.

And the kids born after Millennials? They’re called Generation Z. There is no letter after Z so do we stop with the labeling? Does the zombie apocalypse come next?

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Apres moi, le deluge.

I work in retail marketing and I understand the need to divide and label every  measurable thing. Still, these generational labels leave me cold.

Boomer, But Not A Boomer

As a certified “Boomer”, I’m supposed to have fond memories of Elvis and Davey Crockett on black and white TVs. But my other cultural symbols are of Civil Rights, Women’s Lib, Flower Power, hippies and the Beatles. I was supposed to have protested the Vietnam War, tuned in, dropped out and dropped acid. But I’m a “young” boomer. I wasn’t born in the late 40’s or ‘50’s so I don’t really care about Elvis or “I Love Lucy”. I have little to no memory of most of these other cultural touchstones.

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Nope. Didn’t watch this.

I was a small child during the 1960’s. I sort of remember the election of 1968 and the Kennedy and King assassinations. But maybe I just read about it in class. I fell asleep waiting for the moon landing in 1969. I went to Junior High and High School during the 1970’s. I remember Nixon and gas lines and Ford and Carter and really weird clothes. But aren’t those the supposed early cultural touchstones for Gen X? The ‘50’s and ‘60’s that define our “generation” are memories only because I’ve read about them or seen them on TV.

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I wouldn’t have noticed them unless they had Matchbox cars.

Former Obama White House staffer and current podcast host, Jon Lovett stirred the intergenerational waters a few weeks ago on his Podcast “Lovett Or Leave It” by declaring that Baby Boomers are “the worst” generation ever and that their cultural legacy is “garbage.”

Would he have gotten along well with my newspaper advisor’s best friend?

-Dude, really? Buffet? If this were a sincere apology you would have played a little Springsteen.-

Personally, I don’t like piling on Millennials. They’ve been criticized for growing up in the era of participation trophies. But I was a soccer coach who handed out these trophies and I’m here to tell you that kids, at least the Millennial ones I coached, had excellent BS detectors. They wanted the trophies because kids – from all generations – like to collect things. A few of the children I coached were on the field because they really liked playing soccer. Some were there because their parents signed them up without asking them if they wanted to play (They didn’t). Most of them were there to collect the uniforms, trophies and get inappropriate snacks. They knew whether or not they had done a “Good job!” out there on the field and didn’t really want to hear those two words.

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They were on the field for these.

It’s Pretty Much The Same For Every Generation

In my role as a consultant I now work with more Millennial and Gen X account supervisors, managers, account executives, sales representatives and even executives than with people from my generation. For the most part I like almost everyone I encounter. My MO is try to make any situation that I encounter work. I try to remind people that we have clients to keep profitable and relationships to maintain. Period.

I spite of what the press says, there is little difference between the way I and my colleagues acted when we were in our 20’s and 30’s and the way today’s younger generation behaves. The differences that I encounter are more technological than anything else.

I recall a supervisor telling me to not be so advancement oriented. “Gotta walk before you can run,” he often said.** “You’re not entitled to that until you can show me what you can do,” another told me whenever I asked to be put on new projects.

In other blog posts, I’ve mentioned the grand old timers in some Rep Rooms I worked in who were not thrilled with women entering the business. Or mainframe computers. Or in store merchandising. They didn’t think we kids knew very much about how our business worked. They were right. We didn’t. Fortunately, some of them got over their resentment and taught us.

In other words, we weren’t the worst. And neither are Millennials.

*For the record, the Greatest Generation raised Baby Boomers and Boomers raised Millennials so in the end, this whole debate has always seemed very circular to me.

**This same supervisor later sent me on a trip to Montana in November. It snowed, I barely made it home. I think he was trying to teach me something.

Dear Time, Inc. Don’t….Just…Don’t

According to a report published in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, July 11th, Time, Inc. is considering re-branding itself under a new corporate name. The thinking is that a new name would show that the company is a digital media and video firm rather than an old school legacy print publishing company.

According to the story, executives at Time, Inc. have already met with “branding firms” (The fact that such corporations exists suggests to me that I have been in entirely the wrong sort of career) and have held preliminary discussions about a name change.

Of course Time, Inc. would not change the names of their magazines. That would be silly. Just the company name would get a refresh.

I completely get why the executives at Time would want to do this. Time, Inc., as it exists today is not the Time, Inc. that we were familiar with years ago. The magazine division, what we’re talking about today, was spun off from the rest of the company in 2014 and kicked off into the corporate world loaded down with millions of dollars in debt (Sound familiar, Source Interlink veterans?).

The media world is filled with story after story after story about the decline and fall of the print magazine world. Apparently, no matter how hard we try, how much we diversify, the image of magazine publishing is firmly locked in “old school” in the eyes of the advertising world.

In fact, according to current business speak rules, we’re no longer in the magazine publishing business, we’re in the magazine media business.

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This does not mean what you think it means.

So I get it. New name. New focus. New business plan. Maybe even a whole new crop of steely eyed executive vice-presidents who can look at the big picture from 30,000 feet with a singular focus and dispassionately decide which cars to park and which cars to drive. With a new name and a new brand to show the world, the whole paradigm will shift and they will find amazing new synergies with which to delight their customer base. Just watch. The ad dollars will pour in once again.

In other words, Time, Inc. Please don’t. Don’t jettison your history, your roots, the meaning of who you are. You’re a magazine company (Even though that does mean something different now). The media business. You inform and entertain. People know who you are. We know that what you write (and video, and blog, and tweet and snap and gram) is accurate and trustworthy because that is who you are. Your history is your future. Believe in yourself. You can sell this.

Because here’s the thing. Corporate “re-branding” in the publishing world usually doesn’t go all that well. Remember when Petersen was sold to EMAP and became EMAP-USA?  Is that something you do when you’ve got a fish bone stuck in your throat on the 4th of July? K III? Which iteration of Primedia should we discuss?

You see, this…

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…is a legendary, world renown publisher of magazines and digital content that needs to find its way in the new world that we live in. We all experience identity crisis in our lives. We either find our way and thrive. Or we won’t. Would a new identity celebrate the foundation? The roots that make the Time, Inc. reputation for journalism shine?

I wonder. Because this…

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…was a well-respected publisher of newspapers and national and local content (including digital and video) that decided to rename itself.

This is what they “re-branded” themselves and became…

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…which apparently means something and is supposed to look cool. But really, it looks like one of those Starbucks Frappucinos and sounds like the noise a pygmy unicorn makes when it passes gas. Have you found anyone who has anything good to say about it? Takes this company and it’s legacy as seriously as they did before the “re-branding”?

Do you really believe that the marketing world won’t immediately jump on anything Time, Inc. comes up with and turn it into a vicious Twitter meme within minutes of the reveal?

Please, Time, Inc. Save yourself some money, some headaches and your reputation. Don’t do it. Just don’t.