Conan O’Brien May Be About to Push the Envelope (On Newsstand Sales)

It’s the second week of August and you know what that means. The first half of the year reports from ABC have landed and everyone who is anyone who has the slightest interest in magazines, print media and the future of print media (And access to a soapbox) has an opinion:

New York Times – August 8

Washington Post – August 7

Financial Times – Aug 7

Louisville Morning Call – Aug 8

USA Today – Aug 9

“Retiring Guy’s Digest” – Aug 9

Pew Research

Audience Development Magazine – Aug 15

They all say pretty much the same thing. Let’s focus on newsstand. Everyone’s an expert! Sales are down. Sales continue to go down. This must mean something. Fewer trips to the store. Less impulse buys! More digital! Prices are too high!

There’s plenty more where these came from, but I thought I’d  grab some links from the first page of a Google search and add in a few from my own incoming e-blast links.

As an aside, just when the article from Audience Development  that I linked to got interesting by discussing the importance of the future of Scan Based Trading, the author opts to leave it for another time. Frankly, the resolution of that issue is the one that could decide the future of our business. But it’s more fun to write about numbers, apparently.

If you’ve seen my Twitter feed over the past week,  you may have noticed that in between rounds of budget preparations, print order closings, marketing updates, new launches (Yup, we still do that!) I’ve had a pretty specific opinion about all of this coverage. Statistics, as we know, can be made to lie like a politician. These particular numbers, however do not and we ignore them at our own peril. I’d be a fool to try and dispute them. Our friends at MagNet back these numbers up. Although they do point out some interesting, very positive trends in between all of this doom and gloom and I thank them for that.  But the causes and effects of what is happening in the industry go so much farther and deeper than what gets reported. I’ve lived in this world for most of my professional life and I am still not 100% sure of everything. But I do have an opinion (which I’ve expressed here often enough).

I’ll leave it to you discerning readers to interpret it.

But, in closing, I’ll leave you with some thoughts from the very insightful, envelope pushing Mr. Conan O’Brien (Note: If you’re the impatient type, fast forward to the 1:20 mark):

Dear Newsweek Critics: If That’s Porn, Then I’m a Hottentot…

A few months back I took umbrage with a Time Magazine  story and cover image. This was not because I thought the cover image was shocking or disgusting like many critics did. No, I disliked the image and the coverlines because I thought the magazine unfairly stirred up controversy by asking women if they were “Mom” enough like the breast feeding woman portrayed on their cover.

In my opening paragraph on the topic, I mentioned that I wasn’t picking on Newsweek because it’s  so hard to take them seriously anymore. This was especially true after their “Lady Di At 50” fiasco.

This week Newsweek finds itself being taken to task on a whole host of fronts for their “Food Porn” cover. What are the alleged “porn”y aspects of the cover? The red lips? The two rather, ahem, small stocks of asparagus posed over the model’s open mouth?

Ummm, No. That is not porn…

This is all a shame because I’d actually like to know what the “101 Best Places to Eat in The World” are. I’d also like to read some of the other articles promoted on the front cover. But not because of the cover image.

As other writers have pointed out, the photo that Newsweek used for it’s cover is stock. It was last used in the U.K.’s “Observer Food Monthly” in 2008.

Now that, folks, strikes me as a rather shocking failure of editorial control. Laugh at Newsweek all you want. They still have a fairly large circulation and their combined print and digital strength is nothing to sneeze at. So if they make that kind of mistake it tells you that the host is rather sick.

As to the so called “porn” aspects of the image…

Oh please. No really. Grow up!

No,  I have to ask: Seriously? If this is all it takes to get writers and editorialists into a tizzy, then I think we have to question the conventional wisdom that says that porn has gone “mainstream” in America.

Look, I’ve worked in the world of print porn. This is not exactly something that I am proud of. However, it’s not something I am ashamed of either. It’s just a fact of life in the newsstand world. If you work in our little backwater of the publishing universe, at some point in time, everything circles back to porn. Like it or not, whatever your opinion, at some point samples of the stuff winds up on your desk.

Or at least it used to.

Porn: Ughhh. I’ve sold it. Represented it. Promoted it. Done signings with models. Hell, I’ve checked rack fixtures in adult book shops all over the states of Michigan, Ohio and Indiana (This is a recurring nightmare of mine). I’d like to think that I know what porn looks like.

The Newsweek cover is not porn. It’s not even mildly sexy.

As political blogger Taylor Marsh opines:

“Cue heavy breathing and the R rating and for God’s sake hide the children!”

This isn’t even mildly intersting PG-13 stuff. This is stuff that got a PG-13 rating so 14 year old boys wouldn’t feel so bad when their parents force them to take their 11 year old brothers out to the movies for a Sunday afternoon.

At the end of the day (or choose some other over used “Business Speak” phrase that suits you), the interesting aspect of this story is how Newsweek managed to re-use a stock photo for a cover. Now that strikes me as mildly shocking.

For the record: This is what a porn magazine looks like:

Any questions?

Things Placed In Front of The Magazine Rack Part 7 0f…The Fully Charged Edition

This just in from our US News and World Report correspondent, Mark White, V.P. of Specialty Marketing. I’ll let his words describe what he found:

The good news is that our new Secrets of the Civil War got placement by checkout that we didn’t pay for. The bad news, of course, is that the retailer committed such assault and battery against its highly profitable magazine business that no shoppers will actually see our bookazine. More bad news: The title is not displayed on the store’s mainline.

Lasts just as long, costs less, and delivers even fewer profits…

Encroachment at the front end has long been an issue for the publications that participate in check outs, with the encroachers enjoying the benefits and the “encroachees” left scrambling to defend their turf. “Things Placed In Front of The Magazine Rack” is part of an informal calculation I now consider when budgeting for check out programs.

Although in this particular case, we’d have to argue that Mark’s “encroachee” title didn’t get much benefit because of the dump display of batteries.

I wonder if there is an algorithm that would define this? Could it be turned into a charge back “Marketing Fee”? Who would have to pay the carrying and inventory costs? I’ll have to get the accounting department on that right away.

In the meantime, Mark should know that I found Secrets of the Civil War on the mainline of my neighborhood supermarket and I thought it was a really good read (I bought a copy).

If you have a good example of “Things Placed in front of the Magazine Rack”, please forward them. Checkout, mainline, specialty rack, all are accepted and appreciated.

Brides Goes Back to Bi-Monthly. Why are We Surprised?

It was big news when Conde Nast shuttered Gourmet, Cookie, Modern Bride and Elegant Bride Magazines. Conde is one of our premiere magazine publishers. As someone who never had the opportunity to work for one of the bigger New York based publishers, I can only imagine what it would be like to work for a publisher with that kind of editorial strength and industry clout. So when the recession struck with brute force, it was a little shocking to see a premium publisher respond by closing some property.

Back to the 6X frequency!

Brides Magazine, the remaining bridal magazine in the Conde portfolio then went to a monthly frequency. And that strategy lasted until this week’s announcement.

Of course, the trade press immediately jumped on the news:

Brides Switched to Bimonthly

Brides Overhauls Strategy

Brides to go Bimonthly

Conde Nast Taking Brides Bimonthly Boosts Mobile Interaction

The gist of each article is that the publisher is ramping up it’s digital strategy after being disappointed with single copy sales results and advertising revenue.

Yes, and….

No doubt, the bridal market is a tough one. On the newsstand alone, I’ve seen more than thirty titles with some sort of national content. In the bookstore market, the competition heats up with some excellent imports from the U.K. If you’re working in the regional market, something Conde also abandoned in the past year, I’ve counted at least one hundred or more regional titles all across the country.

I can only imagine how hard an bridal advertising rep has to work to make a sale. That seems like an impossible job.

If we add the competitive print market to the wireless way many brides to be live today….

Well, then the strategy makes some sense. That’s some shocking news, eh?

But I also can’t help wonder if it may also have something to do with the publisher finally fulfilling the subscription liabilities they took on when Modern Bride and Elegant Bride were folded. After all, at one time Modern Brides had more than 200,000 subscribers.

No one mentioned that.

Brides is also on the checkout. It often shared pockets with it’s sister title. If you paid a lot for your pocket, and you were a bimonthly, and you don’t want to leave copies sitting in a pocket that long…

Care to share?

Go monthly, right?

So, yes, declining advertising revenue, declining newsstand sales, brides being more mobile. We get it. Been there, heard it all before.

But I can’t help wondering if it you combine that trend with  major national retailers starting to re-do their front ends, subscription liabilities coming to a close. You know, circulation stuff…

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