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.

Dancing at the Apocalypse Bonfire

Every now and then Baird Davis, a retired Ziff-Davis Publishing circulation VP will pen an article that shows up in an industry trade journal like Folio, Publishing Executive or the BoSacks newsletter. He reviews the latest AAM (formerly ABC Audit of Circulation) statistics and offer some analysis. It may not be his intention, but Baird’s articles always felt like a slap upside the head to me and many of us magazine professionals. “Wake up, already” his op-eds  seem to say.

Years ago in what now feels like another reality timeline I was a consultant to Ziff-Davis and Baird was a level or two above my report. Sometimes he would come visit one of the magazine wholesalers I was calling on and it always felt like I was reporting in to my very stern (but fair) uncle. You know; the one you always double checked to make sure your pants were creased properly, that you were sitting up straight and your tie was tied properly.

This morning in a post titled “Saving Printed Consumer Magazines in the Social Media Era: It’s Significance and Challenges” Baird deals us magazine professionals a healthy dose of reality. Like truly sobering reality.

Yeah, It’s Not Like We Didn’t Already Know, But…

It’s not as though he isn’t pointing out things we already knew. But I think that these days, those of us who have some “history” in the business are just too darn busy to acknowledge what he’s pointing out. These days, we just “carry on:”

  • The number of major publishers has shrunk
  • The number of next tier publishers with influence in the business is now nearly nil
  • There were too many overpriced and overextended acquisitions in previous decades
  • Layoffs have decreased institutional knowledge
  •  Much subscription circulation is cheaply and poorly acquired
  • The newsstand business was allowed to consolidate, wither and decline

Go and read the article. Then come on back and let’s discuss. I have a few additional thoughts we can discuss.

It’s a procrastinators joke that we will always put off until the day after what we could have done tomorrow. So I would like to imagine that some magazine professionals  hesitated when companies like Ziff-Davis and Petersen were purchased in the 1990’s for $1.4 and $1.2 billion. Davis points this out, and I will highlight it. I had already witnessed up close the impact of highly leveraged purchases when a company I worked for, Family Media, collapsed in the go-go 1990’s. And yet, I remember feeling exhilarated when I heard the price Softbank paid for my then biggest client, Ziff-Davis.

I imagine, that there were circulation professionals who wondered if it was smart to load up their files with so much “verified” and “non-paid audited bulk” circulation. And yet, if that worked and the guys in the corner offices were happy…

I know of one or two newsstand professionals who murmured “This ain’t  good” into their coffee cups when the number of major magazine wholesalers collapsed from four to three to two to one. Do you think there were a few editors who wondered how they were going to review articles, get re-tweets and Facebook likes and come up with a new editorial calendar? And do their jobs with integrity?

Who’s minding the store now in consolidated America? Where can you get “lean back” immersive news (or entertainment) that is not dependent on either advertising, a stock price or the financial backing of some leveraged private equity firm? If you live outside a major city, can you even get news about what your local county board is up to?

Pro tip answer to that last question: “Most likely, no.”

Come On Down to The Apocalypse Bonfire

As a magazine professional, I have to say that it feels like I’m at the edge of some apocalyptic bonfire. The drums are hot, heavy, and completely out of synch. There’s dancing, but no one knows the steps. There is rote and tradition, but no one understands it. No one wants to follow along. A few people are having a fine time. But most are uncomfortable and waiting for that singular “Lord of the Flies” moment. It’s coming. Soon, maybe?

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This looks fun! Source: Wikipedia

What’s Next?

Baird offers “Suggested Next Steps” and as I often do, I find myself nodding my head in agreement. But it feels like he is offering us a West Wing moment. You know, in the West Wing television show, the music swells, President Bartlet comes out from behind the Resolute Desk, says something inspiring and we all feel a bit chagrined that he had to point out to us how to behave properly.

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You know you want to go and do the right thing, right? Source: Parade Magazine

Baird suggests that we try and put together a committee to help the industry navigate the Covid-19 and post Covid-19 era. The goal would be to try and hold the two major players, Hearst and Meredith accountable. Good idea. But I highly doubt that these two companies having survived and thrived to this moment (Either because they long range planned themselves to this moment or arrived here through luck and the foolishness of their competitors) would put up with that.

The magazine industry does need organizations that would speak for us and remind us to do the right thing. But at the moment, we’re all down at the beach, dancing at the apocalypse bonfire. If you’re still sober, you’re wondering what will happen next.

Billy Bush and Donald Trump Went For A Bus Ride – Fourteen Months Later…

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Source: Access Hollywood, The Washington Post

When I first heard about the rather vile tape of Donald Trump engaged in “locker room talk” with former Access Hollywood and suspended Today Show host Billy Bush, my thought was that Bush had experienced what I and many other people I know have experienced in their career: We were stuck in an awkward space with someone who has a lot of power over us and our careers. And we sat there and maybe nodded and laughed along while that person talked or behaved in a thoroughly unacceptable manner.

Billy Bush confirmed that in the past week when he wrote a op-ed for the New York Times that challenged the president’s rather odd assertion that it was not his voice on the tape.

The initial blow out from this tape, as you know, is that Billy Bush lost his job and a big piece of his reputation. Donald Trump went on to become our president and the commander-in-chief of our armed forces.

Let’s leave aside all of the politics for the moment.

And let’s stipulate that men should not sexually harass women and that there are no excuses whatsoever for sexual harassment of any sort. Yes, that’s obvious but I’ve noticed that some of my male counterparts are slow on the uptake and need a lot of educating.

Men harass women because they can. We men have privilege in our society.  It is unfortunately not all that uncommon for the fortunate and powerful to take advantage of the less fortunate and less powerful.

Beyond sexual harassment there is the harassment that I described in the opening paragraph of this piece: The taking advantage of another person because you hold power over them. That’s what I wish to address. That is something that I can speak to. It’s what has made me spend some time thinking about what is happening right now with the #MeToo movement and why I think it is a good thing.

Maybe you’ve been in this situation? You’re sitting across the desk from an important  buyer or potential client. You know this person well enough. Things seem to be going swimmingly. Then out of the blue the person tells a horrible joke, makes a sexist or racist comment. What do you do? You need to close this deal, right? What are you going to do?

Perhaps you’re at a trade show with a client. This client represents 25% of your business.    The representatives of a black owned business walk into the show hall. You’re client stares in their direction. And then proceeds to let out a stream of racist invective that stuns you. It rocks you back on your heels.  You never knew this person thought that way and you’ve known them for a long time. What do you do? Can you afford to offend this person and lose 25% of your business in one week? What they just said is horrible! Do you keep silent?

Let’s say you’re new to your trade. You’re traveling far from your home base and out for drinks late one night with some other traveling colleagues and the manager of the company that you’re calling on. The night breaks up and all of the other colleagues decline to drive the over-indulged manager to his home. They laugh when you politely volunteer to drive him. “Watch out” one of your “friends” calls out as you help him into the rental car. Later, in front of his house, his hands wind up all over you and you have to brush him off and kick him out of the car.

The next day you don’t make a sale. Your appointments are canceled. For the next year your calls go unanswered.

Maybe you’re out to dinner with some business associates and the discussion turns to a young CSR at a company you all do business with. The conversation turns to her attractiveness, how much they’d like to have sex with her, and then, of course, to her apparent “bitchiness” because she has turned some them down. You chime in that you actually like her and get along well with her and why would you proposition her? That’s wrong, she has a long time boyfriend – so what is their problem? The table turns cold. You’re not included in the rest of the conversation or any of the meetings the next day.

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The scenarios I just played out for you are real enough. They are the stories of people who are more powerful than the other person they are engaging with. Or as the case was with the trade show, presuming that their financial leverage over their business partner meant that they would either agree with their opinions, or keep their mouth shut. In the final story we see a typical example of the pack mentality.

None of these happened in Hollywood, Washington, DC, or in the vaunted halls of high-end publishers or the Fortune 500. The people who precipitated these events were not high-flying wealthy men. They were every day kind of guys. People who live next door or down the street or work one floor over.

When Sarah Silverman asked the question, “Can you love someone who did bad things?”” I understand. How do you keep liking someone who you know has reprehensible views? Has tried to force their will on someone else? In today’s do-it-yourself gig economy of the 21st century, you may have to work for that person. Do you take their money? Do you keep silent?

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Can you love someone who did bad things? Can you work for them?

What if someone you work for gaslights, harasses, overworks, mistreats and ultimately fires a business associate? And you get promoted into their position? Do you take the job? Do you walk out in solidarity? How much do you owe on your mortgage? School loans? Does your kid need insurance?

There are no simple and easy answers to these questions. I dare myself to walk in others shoes. I dare you to walk in mine.

I started this post right after the “Access Hollywood” tape came out. I never finished it in part because of the “heat” of the presidential race but also because I just didn’t know what I wanted to say. I am not sure that I do even now. But I feel like talking about it.

I wish the world were a better place. I wish we could be kinder to each other. I wish people in positions of power and authority, especially people in “business” would spend more time mentoring, teaching, elevating and less time preening, shouting, demanding and failing to understand or acknowledge the humanity of those who cross their paths. I find it sad that they can’t even understand their own humanity.

Author and journalist Daniel Pink wrote:

Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, but it makes the world a better place.”

He is right. We need more empathy – in the work place, and in our every day lives.