On Daughters Who are Young Women

Editor’s Note: Another post that is not about magazines. As this is Thanksgiving Week, it seems to make sense. Earlier this month, my youngest daughter turned 18. In six months, my oldest daughter will become 21. Supposedly, the hardest part of raising children is almost over. At least that’s what I’ve heard. But as always, I am skeptical. I have started, stopped, edited, torn apart and re-written this post. This is my best effort. I hope it will suffice.

An awful lot of advice, much of it awful, gets tossed at the parents of the very young. Rock them, don’t rock them. Let them cry it out. Pick them up. Give them the bottle, the breast. No sugar, a little sugar’s not so bad. Don’t go back to work, go ahead and work. How can you let someone else raise your children? Hire a nanny. Be careful when you hire a nanny.

You also get a lot of this if they’re girls: Guard them, lock them away, watch out for boys. Greet the boys at the door with a shotgun. Tea parties! Pink and purple! Aren’t they cute? All of it is confusing, much of it feels designed for some family other than yours.

Frankly, the best advice that about caring for infants I ever heard came from my very wise sister. I called her one day, almost in tears. The babies were crabby. We were tired and stressed. We didn’t know what we were doing. She listened quietly and compassionately and when I finally ran out of steam asked, “Did you change your underwear today?”

“Yes,” I responded. Confused. Was I hearing her right?

“Was it clean?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said even more confused.

“Well then,” she said brightly, “You’ve made quite an accomplishment today. If you’re ever really pressed for time, turn it inside out and you’re still good to go.”

A few years later, I sat in utter bafflement as a woman I worked with on a local political campaign announced that she was leaving our organization to spend more time at home. Her son was going into high school. Her daughter into middle school. “Isn’t that when you have more time,” I asked hopefully?

“Hah,” she answered. “Not if you want them to survive high school.”

There are an awful lot of young adult women in our family. My sister’s oldest daughter is in her 20’s and a public defender in New York. My sister’s son is in college. My older brother had two daughters before we even had our first. One is a history teacher, the other studying dance.  My wife’s sister also had two daughters before either of ours were born. One is in marketing and promotions, the other in a masters program. Her brother has one son who is a senior in High School.

Boys are thin on the ground on both sides of the family.

I have vivid memories of the things said to us, wished on us,  before either child was born. There were already so many girl children on both sides of the family that I got a lot of advice about having a son. But we don’t control nature. I sometimes wonder if we really control nurture.  And while I did have daydreams of tossing around a baseball with my son Samuel Jacob,  they all went out the door when my oldest was born.  There was a perfect girl in front of me and I was her dad. What more could I want?

When my wife announced she was pregnant with our second, my immediate thought was, “Sisters would be nice!” And while I played along with the endless sea of comments I got about “Don’t you want a boy?” I really wanted another girl. I couldn’t explain it. It was how I wanted things to turn out. And when she was born, and we saw she was a girl, I thought she was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen.

We live in a weird time. I think about the sacrifices my mother, my mother in law, my sister, my sisters in law and my wife have made to get through this modern world. My path was pretty easy and straightforward. Get an education, get a job, make your parents proud, get married and have kids. A boy would be nice.

This past election campaign made me think about it even more. What is traditional? What works well for one generation is not necessarily how the world will work for the next. Why is that so hard to grasp?

I often wonder if my wife would have to work as hard at her job as she does if she were a man.

The messages we give women are much more complex: Be pretty. Smile. Don’t take any shit. Be nice. Be a warrior.  Get an education. Have sexual freedom. Don’t be a slut. Go to work. Stay home. Have kids. You don’t have to have kids. How can you not want kids? Get married. Do everything for your family. Be free. Your kids are everything, sacrifice all for them and be with them every step of the way. Don’t be a helicopter. Be a role model. Be yourself.

Contemporary feminism is derided in our society. That’s too bad because the message is misunderstood and folded into an altogether wrong stereotype. Feminism isn’t about how we should think and behave. The message  seems to say (at least to me) that women should be valued as equally as men. Women are just as important and worthwhile.  Both sexes should be valued and are important. How hard is that?

Growing up, I saw that message in my parents home. I see it every day in ours. Wouldn’t our lives be more full if gender wasn’t destiny? If the only barriers in our lives were our own shortcomings not society’s?

And I often wonder if our society fears our young. We’ve cordoned them off in segregated schools. We’ve allowed our media, our corporations, our entertainers to create their own junior society within the adult one. Then we cry out in protest over the culture created by allowing our corporations and entertainment complex into their lives. Menus in restaurants are separate. Books and magazines cater to them and only them. On the one hand, we encourage them to emulate us, and on the other, most of what I hear seems to be, how do we control them? Keep them in line. Mold them into consumers and cogs in the great wheel.

Do we fear for our girls more than our boys? Or do we fear our girls? What they are becoming? We encourage the young girls to self segregate from the boys. Look like older women. In today’s society, raising girls is supposed to be a challenge. Contemporary society seems to say that they’re bratty, spoiled little daddies girls who are finicky, obsessed with some sort of pink girlie culture that we are doomed to never understand. They’re bitchy, flighty, moody and we had better keep them locked up, or else. You – know – what!

If they’re not that, then they wear glasses, are good at math and are sexually repressed. Until they meet a man child. How did this stereotype happen?

Common sense says that raising children is difficult. It’s also become apparent to us that parenting doesn’t stop at the age of maturity. The opportunities for my daughters are so much greater and varied than anything my wife or sister have had. If we can keep moving our society forward, if we can keep progressing, the opportunities for their daughters will be even greater than anything we can imagine.

What a worthwhile goal.

Things Placed In Front of The Magazine Rack: The Thanksgiving Turkey Edition

It’s the weekend before Thanksgiving. One of the busiest weeks in the supermarket world. In the magazine business, it’s the run up to the very busy Christmas season. Customers are in and out of the stores picking up all of the goodies they need for their Thanksgiving meals. Store traffic is way up.

We’re hosting Thanksgiving this year and the cashier and I had a good laugh when I announced that I’d probably be seeing her at least six more times this week (I’ll most likely break that promise by a few extra visits).

On the one hand, I can understand why stores will place additional displays in the check lanes. They’re temporary, the manufacturer probably paid a lot for the displays, and it’s hard to say no to ready cash when you’re in such a thin margin business like the grocery business.

Of course, we publishers and our wholesalers also operate on a very thin margin and it costs a lot of up front money to be in the check out so…

Magazines, chocolates and pretzels all go together. Just not this way.

This does make it a little difficult to promote the expansion of check out pockets.

You certainly wouldn’t want to catch a cold while you’re bringing your new magazines home.
Higher end chocolates and an empty pocket FTW.

It’s easy to say this is  a long standing problem (It is), and there’s no easy solution (Certainly seems that way), but it also doesn’t say a lot for how the retailers view our line of product. How do we change that?

The Long Tail of Borders Books

The past two months have been a long hard slog of budgeting, reporting, meeting, writing, re-writing, making calls, taking calls and yes, believe it or not, here we are well into the 21st century, making copies.

What’s it all been about? Publishers still want to be on the newsstand. I’ve been working with several publishers who want expand their physical visibility and they want it to happen in the coming new year.

Publishers continue to participate in check out pockets. They will pay for retail and wholesale based promotions. Magazine publishers will participate in airport programs. It’s important to be “out there.”

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have problems above and beyond the competition for people’s time and “eyeballs”. Within our own industry we need to address and solve the question of Scan Based Trading. Who owns this product? How do we square the circle when we try to market an impulse item, but manage it within the store the same way as peach rings, troll dolls or note pads because, “That’s the way the retailer wants it!”

We still have difficulty managing our distributions. Our remote, centralized way of managing order regulation takes a lot of local knowledge and instinct out of the equation. No matter how savvy the data is, now matter how good you are, no matter how well meaning, if you’ve never been to Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio and all you know about the stores there are the demographic keys and the rack size, well, you don’t know anything about Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio or the people who may buy magazines there.

So who buys magazines in this town?

But one interesting item made itself very apparent while working through all of the data I’ve been snowed under for the past sixty some odd days: The loss of Borders was not only very big, it is still being felt. Even now, as we compare issues where there was no Borders distribution in the prior year, and in some cases, where we tried to find alternative sources of distribution to replace that lost retailer, you can see and “feel” where the volume is not the same. Where the presence of the other bookstore chains and related retail expansion simply did not pick up the slack.

On a related front, I am still surprised that our industry never made an overture to the independent bookstore market and tried to expand our presence there. While it’s a small market, would it hurt to try and pick up a few points of unit sales?

There’s been a long and worthwhile discussion about finding alternate retail markets for magazines: Beauty supply stores, craft stores, auto parts stores, dollar stores, outdoor gear and office supply stores. All of our major wholesalers have divisions dedicated to these markets and they all do a good job of locating, pitching and servicing these accounts.

But from what I can see in the numbers, for many magazines, five copies in a beauty supply store simply does not take the place of more than 50 running feet of mainline space in a large format bookstore.

There’s just no way around that. And it’s just one more thing on the long list of things our industry needs to address.