Pandemic Publishing Roundtable: The International Magazine Centre with Nikki Simpson

By Linda Ruth (Cross Posted at BoSacks.com

The first time I zoomed with Nikki Simpson, I knew that our little group—Joe Berger, Sherin Pierce, Bo Sacks, Samir Husni, Gemma Peckham, and I—had to have her as a guest at our Pandemic Roundtable. She’s got a great eventcoming up, and our Roundtable members will be there for it. And joining the Centre is the easiest thing in the world, all publishing people are welcome.

Nikki isn’t someone who sees obstacles. She sees only opportunity. So, when she noticed that publishers starting international offices in the UK were doing so, as a rule, in London, she saw an opportunity to welcome them to Scotland. What could be easier? Get a building where publishers can have space, office infrastructure, freelancers, and the support and inspiration of other publishers. In the meantime, while you’re working on that, there’s plenty of good you can bring the publishing community—training courses and events, ideas and introductions. 

Gemma: Is your Centre based in Edinburgh?

Nikki: It will be. We want to be somewhere it will feel natural to go to a coffee with a publisher. Now, while we’re saving money to open our doors, we’re doing as much digitally as possible. We’re currently working on an online training course, which will be free to our members.

Joe: This is a new and exciting concept.

Nikki: Yes, there are trade organizations, but they take a different angle. We in the publishing industry tend to be magazine geeks. We spend a lot of time talking to each other, but not enough, I think, talking to the people who read our magazines. We’re doing that. And we focus on the small publishers, something the few remaining organizations cannot afford to do to the same extent, given their business models.

The proposed exhibition space for the International Magazine Centre.

Bo: Till now there hasn’t been a real mechanism for the little ones. We as an industry need the small publishers, and they need support. I’ve spoken for years about the need to incubate young publishers.

Nikki: That’s part of what we’ll be doing. Sometimes it seems as if the industry is netting down to the top three publishers, but there are still a lot of very creative ideas, still a lot of up-and-comers.

Bo: When companies like Future buy out everyone else, it creates a vacuum that provides openings for new businesses.

Nikki: There’s still too much focus on audited circulation, because the big publishers generally use it, and, since the big ones newsstand-based, the message the advertisers get from these publishers is that the business is dying. This message trickles down to the advertising base of the little ones. So, every time the audit numbers come out, the advertisers lose interest in advertising, and the smaller advertisers who go to the smaller magazines also lose interest. It makes small publishers feel like imposters. You hear them saying, “Well, I’m not really a publisher, I’m not audited, I don’t go to conferences, I’m just someone putting out a magazine.” 

Bo: It’s a shame, because there’s a lot that can be learned at conferences.

Nikki: Not if most of the presentations are about things that don’t work on a small scale. As an alternative, we’re offering peer-to-peer support. We have a great mentoring scheme. We’re finding it’s making a difference; it’s changing the way people do business and making them more successful. 

Gemma: I started alone and built to four magazines. This roundtable has been a great resource. What you offer would be amazing.

Joe: So often when I work with small publishers, everything they do is self-taught. 

From Upper Left: Nikki Simpson (International Magazine Centre), Joe Berger, Bo Sacks, Gemma Peckham, Linda Ruth and Sherin Pierce.

Nikki: For me diversity is also really important. In the UK the industry is predominantly white and middle class. It’s only two percent black, for instance, which is ridiculous. As a business we pride ourselves on being easy access. But if you don’t know people, and maybe they all know each other, you don’t feel welcome. It’s another reason for the training course. You can watch it for free and pay a small fee to sit the exam. 

Sherin: Out of necessity, we small publishers must innovate. People who work for a smaller company get to do so many different things, it’s a great opportunity to learn. We can pivot. It’s nice to fly under the radar. It’s where innovation takes place. It’s more fun. We don’t praise ourselves enough, so you don’t hear so much about us. The press goes to the easiest thing. They don’t dig deep enough. 

Joe: I’ve got some robust publishers whose stories don’t get told because they aren’t audited, not counted. 

Nikki: Yes, for example in Scotland I discovered a publisher with 2 million pounds turnover, 20 people staff, and I’d never heard of them because they were digital and b2b. The scene is so much bigger than we imagine.

Sherin: All boats have to rise, and if small and independent publishers do well, we’ll have a much better industry. We’re always happy to share information with new publishers, and in the process, we might learn something too.

Nikki: That’s what I tell my mentoring people. They might know more, have more experience, but they can learn as well. We have a series of Hive events, in which one person will present a problem and then turn off their camera and mic and listen in while the others discuss. We mix the groups up, students with professionals, new publishers with more experienced ones, so that everyone gets a fresh perspective, a unique angle. 

Bo: What kind of problems do publishers bring to the Hive?

Nikki: It’s a real mix. Some people aren’t actually publishers but in adjacent businesses. They might ask questions like, “I’ve lost my Mojo over lockdown, what can I do?” or “How can I better connect with my audience?” Things like that.

Sherin: We’ll come to the Hive.

Gemma: What is your membership model?

Nikki: We’re funded through Patreon. I have about 53 patrons, most from the UK but also from the US, Spain, New Zealand, Italy. It’s nice to know people like what I’m doing enough that they want to support this effort. 

Bo: I did my newsletter for over 10 years without making a dime. Keep plugging away and you’ll be surprised what might happen.

https://www.patreon.com/InternationalMagazineCentre

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. And then help.
  • Sometimes people just need to complain. And you can 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 would advance 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 painful years found that during the pandemic, their anemic ad sales, subscription revenue, declining newsstand sales or marginal digital revenue meant the end came quickly. Sometimes quietly.

We witnessed similar instances of fast corporate deaths in the worlds of both 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, but it’s still a skill I would rather not have maintained. And, per Bo’s prediction, 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. And I have 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 traditional channels of distribution and circulation. 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. In the newsstand world 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. 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 actual costs to produce?

And 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. And 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. 

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

Pandemic Publishing Roundtable: “I Used to Be Somebody” – Planning Your Next Act With Carl Landau

By, Linda Ruth

Editor’s Note: The “Pandemic Publishing Roundtable” started a few weeks after the closing of most Barnes & Noble stores instigated a smattering of new articles proclaiming the end of that storied chain and the end of magazines at retail. While it is true that prior to the pandemic the future of single copy sales of magazines was at best a tenuous proposition, it’s death didn’t seem likely to happen any time soon. So once again, I was aggravated with the conventional wisdom of those who write about magazines. 

I reached out to my colleague, Linda Ruth and together we came up with the idea of starting a weekly roundtable discussion with other members of the publishing community. We could talk about almost anything. We could invite other publishers, distributors, consultants to come and talk with us. 

As we were all isolated from our places of work, the meetings became a great help this year in maintaining a feeling of connectedness to something, anything. 

The article below, is the write up my colleague, Linda Ruth wrote and was posted in the BoSacks newsletter, and on his website. Joe Berger January 19, 2021

Carl Landau, founder of Pickleball Media and publisher of the podcast and newsletter I Used to Be Somebody joined the Pandemic Roundtable—Joe Berger, Sherin Pierce, Samir Husni, Bo Sacks, Gemma Peckham, and me—to talk about what to do after you finish doing what you’ve been doing all this time.

Joe: You used to own and run the popular Niche Publishing Conference for the magazine industry, and sold your company a couple of years ago, so I’m very interested in hearing what you have to say about second and third acts. 

Carl: Yes, I sold Niche Publishing to Second Street Media a year and a half ago. They are a platform for contests—they bought us for our database of 18,000 publishers. I worked for them part time for a year to help with the transition—which was a peaceful one. The year gave me my first opportunity since my paper route when I was 14 to have a part time job. It was refreshing.   After that, my wife and I planned to travel. Then COVID hit. This left me thinking about what to do with my time, experience, and energy. And my mind turned to podcasting.

Eight years ago I did a podcast—Events: What Wakes You up at 3 am. It was a lot of fun, and garnered some interest, but I had a full time job, and really couldn’t sustain it. What I enjoyed most about it was building the audience.   And I love podcasts; I listen to four or five of them every day. You’ll find that media companies selling for a lot of money are podcast forward. Several that produce podcasts have sold for over 200 million. Now there are hundreds of thousands of podcasts, and smart companies looking for growth areas turn to them as another way to build audience. 

Sherin: Podcasts are great because they’re so portable. You can be out for a walk and learning about a subject. 

Joe: The podcasts that are successful—where does their money come from? The events they throw? Advertising? 

Carl: Sponsorship. Some podcasts have audiences of millions. That’s bigger than mainstream news. I just sold my first sponsorship, starting in March, after 12 episodes. My first weekly episode came out in October.   For me, the demographic that is most interesting is the Baby Boomers. There are 80 million of us. Ten thousand people a day turn 65. And that will continue another 5-6 years. For baby boomers, there are at least 25 podcasts about money, by financial advisors. I was more interested in what boomers might do for a second act.   Twenty years ago, you were done at sixty. Now continuing on is the rule, rather than the exception. 

Carl Landau of Pickleball Media – Source: https://pickleballmediahq.com

Linda: Do you think that’s because of the nature of the people turning sixty, or because Social Security has been pushed back? 

Carl: I think it’s a combination. We’re also living a lot longer. If you’re going to make it into your 80s, that’s a lot of post-retirement time on your hands. 

Bo: Does what happens vary by industry? In publishing we have a consistent pattern of getting rid of institutional memory. When you turn 65ish—you’re gone. You make too much money and you get to save the company’s bottom line. It is a historic pattern.  

Carl: I see that everywhere, in every industry. An amazing amount of wealth and intelligence is concentrated in this group—and yet it is mostly ignored by the media.  I Used to Be Somebody is for people who had successful careers and now want to do something entirely different. I like to get emotionally involved with them, find out who that person is, what they’ve done. That’s my format, and it’s how I engage my audience, which has grown in this short time to almost 1300 subscribers. 

Joe: Your company is called Pickleball Media. Should we be looking for a pickleball magazine to come out sometime soon? 

Carl: There is one. Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the US. Close to 5 million people play it, and no one’s heard of it! If it weren’t for pandemic, it was going to explode this year. This is what’s really helped me in this transition. Getting out of the familiar thing I’ve been doing for 20 years has energized me incredibly. I’ve been doing all this new stuff, podcasts, pickleball, and learning new things. It’s been really fun having this year to explore these opportunities. And that happens a lot with the people I interview. One big time lawyer took up photography and poetry. Those are the stories I explore in my podcast. It’s been really inspiring talking to these people. Having a podcast gives a forum you can talk to people you’d never have otherwise met. 

Linda: Could you distribute podcasts for other people? 

Carl: I wouldn’t, but there are lots of people who do it. There are so many opportunities, so many directions to go in. There is room for another event in the field, focusing on teaching people how to do podcasts, how to sell sponsorships. Right now I’m teaching older people how to listen to a podcast. So far I’ve taught 40 people, and it’s helped them a lot.   This is a field that costs next to nothing to get in. 

Sherin: What you need is good equipment and a good story. 

Carl: That’s right, and the equipment costs like nothing. You can get a good microphone for eighty dollars. I use Zencastr to record for $20 a month and it’s like I’m in the same room with my guest. Between the prep, recording, and editing, one episode takes 8 hours to put together.   I use Lidsyn for distribution and that’s $20 a month, and it gets you on Apple, Spotify, and 20 other platforms. They provide a report, too. I Used to Be Somebody is already in 60 countries. We have over 60 people in India alone that listen to my podcast.   Joe: How would somebody begin their second act?  

Carl: I’m the jump in the pool sort. My wife is more the ease into it sort. You could do it either way. But some people, if they jump in too soon, feel that they haven’t given themselves enough time to get a sense of what they could do. And a lot of times they end up doing the same thing they were doing—which is not what you want to end up doing.  Go within your network, talk to your friends. Ask them what they could envision you doing that you’re not doing, maybe haven’t considered. These are the kinds of things that come out in my interviews; it’s why interviewing is the most fun. It can take six or eight before you get comfortable. The way to bring it to life is, don’t worry so much about what your questions are, but make it a real conversation. 

Bo: It’s worth pointing out that you have a magic way of engaging. You did it in the Niche conferences, where you got people to engage with you and, most magically, got them to engage with each other. I saw that same methodology in the podcast.

  

Carl: Most of the people I interview have been interviewed dozens of times. I try to make it new, to humanize them with questions that they might not get as often. 

Joe: Is there a way to track if people listen to the ads? 

Carl: Not that I know of, and the download reports I get also don’t tell anything about the audience, except how many listened and where they’re from. That makes podcasts different from other media. What’s helped a lot is before I started the podcast I started the newsletter. You know your newsletter audience, and you drop the newsletter promoting each podcast.   Beyond that, audience growth tends to be word of mouth. Someone likes your podcast, and tells a friend about it, and the friend goes back and starts at episode one and listens on through. 

Sherin: AARP would be a huge audience. They have a ton of members in the demographic, many of whom would benefit. 

Joe: I can also refer you to a company called Get Set Up. It’s an interactive learning platform for adults 55 and above—taught by seniors, for seniors. 

Carl: Over half of aspiring entrepreneurs are Baby Boomers, and 1 in 5 people who remain working after age 65 are self-employed. It’s really different from what we’ve seen in previous generations.

Editor’s Note: You can download the Podcast, “I Used to Be Somebody” on Sticher, Apple and many other podcasting applications.

Season’s Greetings: An Update from the field from MagLiteracy.org

By John Mennell, founder, MagLiteracy.org

Editor’s Note: Earlier this year, the Pandemic Roundtable invited John Mennell, the founder of MagLiteracy.org to come and talk about his organization and the progress they’ve made during the pandemic in distributing magazines to the needy. Since then we’ve been in regular communication with him and received the note and pictures you will see below the fold.

As terrible as 2020 has been, what incredible success this organization has had in expanding their mission of bringing literacy through magazines.

An Update From The Field

Our new Mississippi MagLiteracy.org team covers the ground from Memphis to the Delta. They were inspired by Samir’s invite to Act 9 and it’s been made possible by the unstoppable Estella Dean and her daughter Courtney. 

Thanks to steady Barnes and Noble newsstand supplies we were able to ship a pallet of beautiful mags to the Delta from our Ohio Literacy Bank warehouse to get them started. They are already partnering with community orgs and the large Mid-South Food Bank in Memphis to feed children and families hungry to read in areas of the USA faced with the deepest historical poverty.

The Mississippi MagLiteracy team.

Estella mentions engaging Ole Miss and I can tell you that high school and college students fuel our successes in Madison, Wisconsin and here in Columbus. A group of Columbus high school students bundles mags for curbside food bank distribution. A club of 30 students to is already forming at OSU and assisting with our B&N store pickups here. 

Following on the 100,000 National Wildlife Federation kids’ mags that Quad delivered to launch our warehouse operations at the Atrium Company, we received 200,000 Cricket Media magazines. We are getting regular support from Kent Johnson at Highlights Magazine Publishing and Trusted Media Brands product via Milwaukee. The weekly Pandemic Roundtable helped expand our voice and got us noticed. We recently began to receive pallets from publishers like Dance Media via PubWorx.  Other children’s and regional publishers like the Dispatch Company, and Meredith are now sending us magazines to distribute.  

Magazines packed in with food deliveries.

I had the privilege and pleasure to receive some mentoring from Bonnie Kintzer of Trusted Media Brands earlier this year who emphasized the importance of focusing on high needs in middle America. We took that to heart and with the always unflinching support of Joel Quadracci of Quad Graphics and his team, and with Krifka Steffey  as tip of the retail spear at Barnes and Noble, we are getting in some good trouble supporting thousands upon thousands of eager readers. Many of our readers have had zero books or magazines in their home up until this point.

Tonight, I stood on a hill and wished upon two converged planets that 2021 will be the year that we all together plot a celebrate the enormous unique power of magazines for sharing the literacy love. This is our moonshot. Godspeed.

To help MagLiteracy reach their year end goals, please go to MagLiteracy.org.