The Twin Elephants on the Foredeck (Part 2)

So how do we fix this and are there any points of light that look bright?

Well  Conde Nast did announce that they were producing as many as six “newsstand only” specials this year.  You don’t spend that kind of money on paper and ink if you don’t think there’s no return on your investment.

One of my newsstand clients decided to double the frequency of their parent title from bi-annual to quarterly and simultaneously increase the frequency of their spin-off titles from quarterly to bi-monthly. In almost all cases we were able to maintain the print orders and our per issue sales. This means our retail and wholesale partners are smiling when they think of our titles.

Mr. Magazine, Dr. Samir Husni reported a pretty decent number of regular frequency titles launched in July.

Are all these people launching magazines fools? I don’t think so.

Dr. Husni is putting money and his reputation where his mouth is. This fall, he is launching the Magazine Innovation Center with a special two day conference called “ACT: Amplify.Clarify.Testify”. I’m looking forward to being one of the attendees.

Can we do a better job of marketing and merchandising? We can always do better. But the rub is, if we do better, does that mean, in the eyes of some of our contemporaries in the publishing business, that we’re turning our back on the digital future? That’s nonsense. You can’t be a print publisher these days, and not pay attention to digital.

However, just as you’d be a fool to turn your back on the digital future, you’re just as big a fool if you dump your print past and don’t plan for a print future. Yes, we all know that there are studies and reports that show that by 2015 x% of revenue will come from digital sources. But when I look at my calendar today, I see that we’re in the third quarter of 2010. I need revenue now. How about you?

What are some of the things we can do to let the world know that people are still working in the print publishing industry and that people are still buying magazines?

Well, here are a few ideas. And if you don’t like them, go ahead and make your own list. This is the type of discussion that would be fruitful for our industry.

1) Become experts in self promotion. I am always amazed at the number of publishers I have worked with over the years who operate in a publicity vacuum. You don’t have to be a Conde title to try and get yourself some publicity. If you don’t have a media list. Make one. Learn about who talks about what you write about. Don’t be shy.

I was amazed, years ago when I worked for a mid sized publisher to discover that no one wrote press releases. So as the Assistant Director for Newsstand Sales (me), I took it upon himself to write press releases. And the next thing I knew, I was up early in the morning doing interviews with the likes of “Tim and Tony and Tania and the Morning Zoo!” Why? Because the editors didn’t want to write press releases and they also wanted to sleep in.

By the way, I know it’s a lot more involved these days than back in my day.

2) Better industry promotion.  I was heartened to see the MPA print and magazine campaign roll out, but appalled at the video where some of our leaders where sitting behind their desks. C’mon! Really? Get out from behind your desks, ride the elevator down to the street level, stop by one of Manhattan’s amazingly well stocked and serviced newsstands and be filmed there. You’re promoting your magazines, not yourselves.

3) Better merchandising. Do we really need plan o grams? Does anyone think it’s a good idea to have empty gaping holes in a mainline because a merchandiser doesn’t know what to do when they don’t have the magazine that’s supposed to go in the second tier, third row? So they leave it empty? Is this really the best we can do? Some retailers need a lean rack. Others a full. If we had distribution managers who could actually take the time and energy to learn about the retailers they service, they could do a better job with their distributions. Retailers go to plan o grams either because they are beyond frustrated with what they receive at the store level,  or because some publisher or group of publishers thinks it will benefit them over other publishers.

In the former, as publishers, we need to help our wholesalers alleviate this situation. As publishers, we need to stop committing collective industry suicide.

4) Better marketing part 2 – and see #1): As publishers, we’ve now had 40 years or more of wholesale distribution so our day to day activities are now pretty rote. But again, for all of my years of working with publishers, I find it odd that the number of publishers who fail to work with their national distributors, wholesalers and retailers to self promote their magazine. Have a special issue? Maybe you should let everyone know well before zero hour when the print order is due.

At one of my publishers, I was appalled that while we produced over forty five unique titles, we could never get time with the art department and the marketing department to create simple, professional brochures for their line. This publisher produced 2.5 million copies on the newsstand and sold more than 40% of their product.

I’ve also seen single title publishers shudder over this prospect too.

This is not rocket science.

So what else do you think we can do better? I know the list is much, much longer.


5 Replies to “The Twin Elephants on the Foredeck (Part 2)”

  1. I used to work at an alternative newsweekly, so this may not apply at all but…..

    I get the feeling that the “chinese wall” between editorial and ad sales is also a bit of a crutch for shy, feeble, not-so-bold people who just don’t want to sully themselves with the muddy business of actaully making money, hustling,etc…

    Sure, they’ll bust their butts when it comes to some things, and they’ll work hard amongst their own kind, but facing the non-aristocratic side of business, the questioning from the rabble, that strikes fear into some people who’ve had corner offices with doors that close for a long time….

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