Twitter hashtags are a great way to figure out what’s hot, trending, and if you’re in a small tributary of the magazine publishing business, connect with people with like minded interests.

About a week or more ago, someone in the book industry started a hashtag #bookswithalettermissing. I picked it up late and after hours (which is a good thing because otherwise I could have been diverted for days), but had enormous fun looking through the great ideas and got to make up some of my own and contribute them to the fun. It’s still going on if you want to check it out.

This past week, #magazineswithalettermissing showed up in the feed and what the heck, let’s abandon all pretense, shall we? How can you resist? What’s great about this hashtag is the simple fact that 28 of your 140 characters are used up with the hashtag. Further evidence that while small, the mag biz is chock full of very clever, funny, creative people.

Rather than copy everything down and miss making the appropriate attributions, below are four screen caps of some the tweets. Go ahead, add some of your own:

The weather’s been wonderful for August, the world hasn’t imploded since the latest ABC numbers release and there’s tomatos in the garden waiting to be picked. Happy Friday everyone. Keep flying.

The View From The Newsstand (Doesn’t Entirely Stink)

Sometime next week, the Audit Bureau of Circulation will release the results from the first half of the year. The news from the newsstand side of the world will not be good. Sales are expected to be down for these industry leading titles. Possibly in double digits. On top of that, my colleagues at MagNet, the wholesaler owned repository of industry sales have already hinted at some preliminary numbers that suggests retail sales dollars could be off by as much as 8% or more.

No doubt the follow-up to this news will be a plethora of blog postings, earnest op-ed pieces, and journalistic dissections that will discuss in detail about how troubled the magazine business is in general and how deeply in peril the newsstand distribution is in particular. A good BoSacks vs. Mr. Magazine point/counterpoint may be just what the doctor orders to rinse away the summer doldrums.

I’d be a fool to dispute any of the numbers. So I won’t. While it’s true that statistics can be bent in any particular way you want to tell almost any story you want, there is no way to dispute that for many magazines, newsstand sales are down. Furthermore there doesn’t seem to be any quick turnaround in the immediate future.

The reasons for the downturn are staring us in the face:

  • It’s the economy, stupid. Store visits are down, unemployment is high. People are bypassing the magazine rack in favor of the Ramen Noodle display.
  • It’s the economy stupid, part 2: So long as we heavily discount subscriptions, single copy sales will be for someone who wants that magazine NOW. Not in six to eight weeks. If your pockets are feeling a little light, you’ll wait. Or you’ll just never get the magazine
  • File this one under, “Tell me something I don’t know, Sherlock. We have a dysfunctional industry.” Each link in the chain: Publisher, National Distributor, Wholesaler, Retailer, has a completely different set of metrics for measuring success and profitability. What works for the publisher, may not work for the wholesaler, or retailer, and vice versa.
  • You can also file this one in the same folder: “Tell me something I don’t know, Sherlock. We have a dysfunctional industry, Part 2”. On top of differing definitions of success and failure, we also have four participants in this industry who don’t seem to like or trust each other very much (Which really makes for a fascinating work environments).
  • Yes, we’d be foolish to deny that the web, tablets and e-readers are contributing to some of these sales declines.
  • Likewise, we’d be foolish to blame the downturn on just the digital side of the aisle.

I’ve maintained for a long time that we need to do a better job of marketing and merchandising our products, and tooting our own horns. If we were better at these simple tasks, the reports that get written about us would be very different. 

With that in mind, may I present to you some interesting features from the field?

Two Specials from Cooks Illustrated: 30 Minute Suppers and Cooking for Two
Us Magazine's Katy Perry Special. Wenner's other specials have performed quite well this year.
It's not all specials out there. The end of the NFL strike means it's safe for the sports annual publishers to release their pro football books. First to market is first to win the POS sales race. Usually.
The end of summer means that bridal magazines release their "Fall" issues. Here's The Knot's Fall 2011 Gown Guide. The Knot is entering it's second year on an expanded production schedule.
When was the last time you saw this many comics in a mainstream store? B&N has expanded the category.

If you work in our end of the magazine business, or in the magazine business in general and wish you could ignore everything you will read in the coming weeks, don’t. Read the articles and try to understand what they are saying and where they are coming from. Put yourselves in their shoes. If you disagree with their conclusions,  dispute their conclusions and where you can, and where it makes sense offer up a different conclusion and an alternative solution.

Politely would be nice. But if you’re of a different mind, have at it.

This is a mature and troubled business.  The future is not set in stone. We don’t have to go over the edge and into the abyss.

The World’s Worst Direct Mail Piece?

This showed up in the mailbox yesterday. Yes, mail still shows up in our mailbox. At least 50% of it is unwanted in that “we didn’t ask for this to be sent to us and it does not interest us” kind of way. The rest of the mail still serves some purpose: magazine subscriptions, bills that we still pay the old school way, greeting cards and the like. But at least 50% of our mail is unsolicited direct mail and probably 50% of that goes unopened into recycling bin.

The rest does get opened. Usually because there is something interesting about it and as our business relies in part on advertising and direct mail, well, it pays to see what the cleverer kids are up to.

But this piece is remarkable! I think that really could be a terrible off the shelf, Microsoft Office style fake corporate logo. There is a “US Airways”, of course. But if you Google “US Airlines”, you’ll get sent to a cheap tickets spot that does not appear to be related to these guys. And the come on! I “qualified” for two roundtrip airline tickets? Really? How?

It’s so cheesy, I’m tempted to call and tell them they’ve won something!

So bad it's good.

It’s either sheer genius or exactly what it looks like.

In our modern web connected world, we take email spam for granted. We all page through our in boxes each morning and chuckle at the “Urgent Appeals” from Nigerian businessmen and hit the delete button. We have people selling gold and watches and “coupons” to stores that we never shop in. I still get several viagra “deals” from Canada each week.

You have to presume that like all direct mail, or even magazine circulation, there’s a certain “break even” level that makes it worthwhile to keep doing what you do. So what is the “break even” percentage on all that spam?

This “spamy” type of unsolicited direct mail must be the same way. But the costs have to be higher than a bulk spam mailing. The paper, the postage (this had an envelope with a stamp on it. The envelope appeared hand addressed (which would have been even more brilliant), but closer inspection proved it was some sort of auto pen. The signature on the letter was the same. So this wasn’t entirely cheap. But this operation clearly needed someone to run the list, print the mailing, and man the “800” number.

I recall getting similar come ons from “travel” operations back in the last two decades. But those were pretty elaborate mailings. There were colorful folders, “ticket holders”, even fake tickets. Maybe in this stark new age of austerity, this is the best these operators can do. Plain white envelopes, blue ink auto pens, text that sounds like the person who wrote it was tired and didn’t believe their own sales pitch.

For whatever reason, I must be on someone’s list and someone must think I want to travel badly.

I don’t. At least not where they would send me.

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