Is 2014 the new 2009? Or 1998? Or 1995?
This time, I am an independent contractor instead of an employee on a contract. The second screen is a MacBook Air instead of the original white MacBook. The main screen is a nicely powered iMac instead of a sluggish Windows XP enabled HP that had the world’s noisiest fan. The cell phone is an iPhone 5 instead of a Windows Mobile enabled Motorola. The fax is virtual, not physical.
But other than that, this time it is pretty much the same. A large wholesaler has “exited” the business. They couldn’t make money. They tried to get their suppliers to pay them more and they were turned down. Then their suppliers cut them off when the couldn’t or wouldn’t pay the bills.
So we pick up the pieces. We care for the publishers needs by trying to expedite the removal of copies from closed or soon to be closed warehouses. We explain the terms of their national distribution contracts. We try to calculate what is covered and what will be a loss. We try to project what the landscape will look like when the dust settles. Again.
We look forward and estimate what print orders for the next six weeks may look like. Where will they be in six months. We talk back and forth with other colleagues: “How’re you doing? What’s going on? What have you heard? What are you working on? Did you hear that…. This worked, maybe you can try.”
We call our Account Execs and other service providers: “Have you heard about…?”
“When can you get me…?”
“How soon will we know….”
And we remember that we should ask them, “How’re you hanging in?”
We try not to think about people we know who will soon find themselves unemployed. Adrift in a sea of unemployed. Most are hard working people who regardless of their work ethic, worked in a business that others consider outdated, antiquated, “Should have been put out of it’s misery years ago.”
Dinosaurs. Dinosaurs re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
2014 is not 2009, but it feels remarkably similar. Places that I used to call on or visit will no longer be on itinerary. Short cuts, backs doors, people who you could trade with to get things done in short order will no longer be available.
The sky is closer. Is this sustainable?
The business needs rearranging so it is profitable. More importantly, we need a business that doesn’t cause the producers, our publishers, to throw up their hands in exasperation because they don’t understand how we work, what we do. We should not be black robed magi and high priests chanting unrecognizable prayers to the gods of sales. The new high priests, the web and app based demigods have no patience for our jargon, no interest in our drawn out production schedules.
Likewise, we need to make the case to publishers that circulation, audience development, whatever label you need to slap on it, should no longer be the red headed step child of a magazine’s organization. No audience, no magazine.
Is there a future for the print newsstand? Most likely there is. My hope would be that we finally get it right this time. I don’t want to be at my desk, or on a plane, or in a taxi (It was all of those this week) and ask myself, ever again, “What’s different this time?” and realize that the answer is, “Not too much.”
What do you think? How can we fix this and create a sustainable, profitable newsstand?