The Trailing Edge of….

Shortly after the national distributors reported on the new fee structure The News Group was rolling out, I started to work on a post for this blog. Through that first weekend and into the limited off time I had in the past weeks, I wrote, edited, pared down and and re-wrote.

Ultimately what was put together was a pretty good explanation of what had happened, what it could mean, and what, if anything positive, could come from this new arrangement. The people who previewed it for me thought it was a pretty well written piece that was fair, balanced, and for me, low on snark.

Then, I decided to leave it in the draft bin.

A colleague asked me if this was self preservation. That’s too obvious. Discretion could be a better answer. Or maybe just let’s wait and see.

The mysterious print blogger, D. Eadward Tree published an interesting piece last week entitled “A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to the Funeral of Print Media”. In it he pointed out a series of reasons why print hasn’t died. They range from the unwelcome return of junk mail to the launch of print versions of digital properties.

Hmmm, I thought, interesting.

Things finally slowed down late last week.  I got a clearer vision of both where the News Group initiative may go and what was happening with some of my clients beyond News Group (Day to day operations will often tell you a bigger picture). One afternoon I found a response to Mr. Tree’s article from the Media Shepherds’ Noelle Skodsinski.

She rightly suggests that the question should no longer be “Will print survive?” but more along the lines of how print will change. She amusingly compares the whole “Print is Dead” question to an annoying gnat that buzzes around your head. Well, thank you for that earworm!

Which lead to this train of thought: At one time, about the only thing we saw in digital in terms of magazines were web sites full of free replicated content. Over the past few years, we’ve seen the advent of the following:

  • Interactive web sites
  • Pay walls that work
  • Tablet replicas
  • Unique tablet editions that readers will pay for
  • A whole new digital subscription industry that looks like it’s here to stay and grow beyond what we can imagine
  • Social media marketing

And I’m sure there’s more I can’t think of at the moment.

What’s happened to the newsstand business during this time period?

  • Declining sales
  • Consolidating wholesalers
  • Consolidating national distributors
  • Shrinking racks

To be fair, we have had some solid new title launches like the Food Channel Magazine, the rise of book-a-zines, and the advent of digitized store level data has made it easier to see where we sell our magazines. But overall, the negatives from our side of the business often seem to outweigh the positives.

So is the newsstand world condemned to be the trailing edge of the publishing world? The last piece that touches the digital air? The horse and buggy industry didn’t die off completely. Many suppliers  tranformed themselves into suppliers for the automobile industry. But it is also true that other manufacturers could not change. They were held back by their legacy businesses and if they survived they remained much smaller niche businesses.

The question remains, does our newsstand DNA prevent us from transforming how we do business? Is there a way that we can take the initiative back, sell more product? Become profitable?

Seems to me that it’s sleeve rolling time.

Five Simple Steps To Fix The Newsstand Industry

Nope. This post won’t address the Pay on Scan issue. Nor does it contain specific financial or production advice to the remaining three biggest wholesalers. There is no “10 Point Plan!” demonstrating how our four largest national distributors can remain relevant.

Are these the right steps to fix the business? My nose has been on the grindstone for much of the past four months and these thoughts are what smacked me upside the head yesterday afernoon after reflecting on what passed for a heavily revised and reviewed print order landed in my in-box.

So…

Five Simple Steps To fix the Newsstand Industry:

1. All sales are local.

2. Sell local. Can you learn what sells in that store? If you can’t, why are you messing with that make order? If you don’t know, why are you servicing that store?

3. Promote the category. If publishers, national distributors and wholesalers can’t get together to promote our product, then who will? What reason are we giving readers to go out and “discover” our product?

4. Stop undercutting our own category with cheap subscriptions.

5. Stop whinging about digital. It’s here. Deal with it. Work with it. Learn it.

Any questions?

Upon further review, I’d add the following:

2a. Make the tools to discover what sells in that store readily available and CHEAP to acquire. Most publishers, mainline publishers at least, already give up 60% or more of their cover price to get to that store (Not including promotional dollars). They should be encouraged to understand their distribution and have input into how it is developed. After all, they know their readers. Their customers are the retailers customers.

2b. Make the tools that drive distribution more universal in nature and marketing driven. Everyone involved in distribution should be able, at a quick glance, to know rack size, number of checkouts, store demographics and store volume when they make a distribution decision.

Where’ve I been? Very busy. And there are about 12  transcripts sitting in the edit que waiting to be edited. But for a solo practioner who’s also trying to learn a new facet of the business one can either work or write blog postings. Blogging is important. But I have to admit that paying work and reasonably satisfied customers takes precedent. I hope to be back up to speed with more topics as we move towards the end of the year.

On a related front: I am intrigued with the hints we’ve received from media guru Bob Sacks and fellow consultant Luke Magerko. So far, they’ve revealed some pretty straightforward suggestions that daily practitioners like this writer and many of my colleagues attempt to practice. Hopefully there are more reveals that will hape this industry rethink, in a positive, sales growth oriented manner how we work.

Because who in their right mind wants to work in and manage a declining industry?