One Year and One Month and a Few Weeks In…

One year and one month in I have learned that:

  • I need to sit up straighter during my Zoom calls.
  • My dog mostly sleeps behind me while I am working.
  • A month after he passed away, I found out that one of the two people who helped me set up my business had passed away.  
  • Losing a mentor can be as upsetting as losing a family member.
  • Sometimes, a Zoom, or Team or Google meeting can be fun. Sometimes.
  • The hours you put into work are just the hours you put into work.
  • There are a lot of people out there in the world who need help.
  • Sometimes people don’t really want help.
  • If it’s clear that someone is asking for help, you’ll feel better if you offer to help. So offer to help.
  • Sometimes people just need to complain. Just listen.
  • Volunteering for almost anything (so long as it’s not a committee) is better than not volunteering.

Publishing guru Bo Sacks aptly pointed out that the Covid-19 pandemic advanced the timeline in the magazine publishing business. I think he was right. Titles that would have dragged out their death throes over the course of several embarrassingly painful years found that the combination of the pandemic, their anemic ad sales, subscription revenue, declining newsstand sales or marginal digital revenue quickly brought their demise. Sometimes quietly.

We witnessed similar instances of fast corporate deaths in both the worlds bricks and mortar retail, and e-commerce.

In the shallow tidal pool of the newsstand world, we discovered that we’re still very good at rapidly adjusting print orders in response to wholesale or retail closures. I suppose that was a good thing. How it’s not a skill I want to advertise, practice or maintain. Not surprisingly, some retailers that may have kept magazines in their stores a while longer, like Costco, simply looked at their bottom lines and kicked their magazine racks into the dumpster.

And now that the world, or at least the USA is opening back up? What will we do with these lessons?

Well, I do intend to try and sit up straighter throughout the day because it doesn’t look like Zoom, Teams or Google meetings are going anywhere. I promised my dog that I will periodically take more breaks and engage her a bit more. Why should her days be so long and boring?

My sometimes helpful editor. You can find her on Instagram, of course, @iamsummerdog

Beyond that, the optimist in me thinks that we could see a blossoming of print magazines outside of the traditional channels of distribution and circulation and that would be an excellent source of revenue for small publishers. Even better, we may see more cooperation within the newsstand channel: Publishers, retailers and wholesalers cooperating on opening up racks, testing new approaches to distribution, opening up magazines to single copy e-commerce (Note: The latter is something I have been rallying for since, oh, say, the dawn of e-commerce?).

Of course, the other half of me, the cynic, thinks much of the opposite to the above. This is also a wonderful opportunity to shrink the size of checkout and mainline racks down to just a handful of titles and SIPs produced by the largest and most profitable of publishers. Retailers can sell the space off to the latest three month wonder. On the subscription side, there’s no reason to think that anyone will ever regulate how autorenewal subscriptions are managed and why would anyone think that subscription prices should reflect the actual costs to produce?

Sometimes it’s just easier to fall back into old habits. Update the app or website? Why? It’s working. And look at all that revenue now that we can have live events again…

Until the next pandemic.

I’ve learned to try to be more hopeful and optimistic.

I like to think that those of us who are still here have learned. Managed. Grown. Survived. Thrived? That would be nice. Magazine publishing remains one of the most interesting careers available. Honestly, all facets of the business are fascinating, to me at least. With a regular publishing schedule you have the opportunity to create, and distribute, and sell, something new every time you press the button that sends your publication to the printer and/or out into the ether.  Each time you press that button? You also get to meet new people? How about that?

I trust that we’ve learned. I hope that we’ve learned. I would like to keep learning.