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

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.


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?

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.



In Which Captain Obvious Drops in for a Visit

Earlier this month, the release of the latest rounds of newsstand sales numbers from industry data consolidator MagNet resulted in yet another flurry of concerned articles from the magazine industry trade press.

News reports about newsstand sales fascinate me. They tend to follow the 21st century digital reporting trend of reviewing someone else’s work and then writing about it. The Folio report was thorough and it went through the numbers and pointed out what was up and what was down and how dire the numbers looked.

Thank you. There’s no way anyone in magazine media couldn’t have have sussed that out on their own

Medialife performed a similar feat. However they also helpfully pointed out what category was down the most. In case you missed it, it was the celebrity and weekly titles. They also informed us that this could be because of free stuff on the web.

Free stuff on the web! Who knew?

Folio upped the ante a few days later with some stern warnings from industry Cassandra, Baird Davis* who continues to point out some practices contemporary audience development practitioners use to prop up their circulation numbers that seem to contribute to the problem: Verified subs, sponsored subs and other free or low revenue generating copies.

I’m convinced that no self respecting audience development/circulation professional would challenge any of these assertions because they have a point.

But that’s not the point. Circulation people are doing these things either because we’re being told to (so we have to), or it may actually be working for that publisher’s big picture (Which may not take newsstand distribution into account because – well, it just doesn’t).

So here’s the thing:

We can blame the decline of newsstand sales on the expansion of the mobile web. We could blame it on the fact that no one wants to read “magazines”.

Newsstand professionals may also cite the rapid consolidation the industry experienced, the high level of discount and promotional demands put on publishers that prevents them from investing in any further newsstand development. Other people close to the business might bring up merchandising failures, failures to follow on-sale dates. They may cite what they consider to be a weak wholesaling system. You name it there are dozens of reasons for a declining newsstand sales.

Then there is the issue of ridiculous subscription pricing tactics. That’s a good one. Why would you spend $5.00 at retail for one copy of Time Magazine when you can buy a six month subscription to the magazine for just $5.00?

That is a very good question. And I’d love to see a study that answered it.

Baird, and others who have written about the newsstand correctly point out that the rise of SIPs and Book A Zines creates a zero sum game where the consumer will spend $9.99 (or more) for a fat magazine filled with pictures and articles and then decide not to pick up the $4.99 monthly.

Good point, that one.

In fact, they are all excellent points and have some validity.

People do walk around these days with their noses stuck in their smart phones.

The industry did consolidate rapidly and it feels like we continue to endure earth-shaking re-arrangements that impact our finances, our ability to merchandise, our relationships with our retailing and wholesaling partners.

Subscription pricing is a challenge.

I found it very interesting that while these articles did a great job of consolidating the MagNet numbers and repeating Baird’s warnings, none of them reached out to any actual publishers. They could have talked to the publishers who experienced growth in the last year: Kappa, Trusted Media, Topix, Hoffman and asked them what they were doing differently and what was working for them. They could have asked other publishers why they thought sales were down so much and what they were trying to do about it. I know a few in both categories.

Sometimes I wonder if it matters. Does anyone really care about single copy sales outside of reciting “frightening” numbers every six months and offering casually obvious observations:

Because in the end, I would asset that the problems at the newsstand have more to do with the problems facing bricks and mortar retailing than anything else.

In the 1990’s retailers demanded wholesaler consolidation, one bill, uniform pricing and service because that was what they needed as they experienced their transition from regional chains into national and global chains.

Now Retailers are closing stores at an accelerating rate because they overbuilt in the last two decades. Why did they overbuild? You may as well ask why the sun rises in the east. I think it’s called competition. Or capitalism. Some may call it hubris.

The rise of e-commerce has impacted traditional retailers in a number of ways ranging from the “show rooming” effect to the cost of trying to compete with e-commerce retailers at the game they invented

One of the most important retailers to the newsstand industry, Barnes and Noble continues to generate a significant amount of sales for the business (they are a top 5 retailer for every single title I work with) and maintain the most extensive list of titles in the business. However they continue to close stores even as they experiment with new store formats.

Meanwhile, Amazon not only competes with books and discounted subscriptions online, but they currently have four bricks and mortar stores and plans to open another six. Do you think they’re interested in playing in the current existing distribution structure?

We see other online retailers experimenting with bricks and mortar stores as they realize that a physical presence can extend their brand reach.

What we are seeing in retail, at least as far as I can tell is a reorganizing of how consumers shop and socialize. Just as print and ink is not going away, bricks and mortar is not going to go away either. People are social animals. We like to be out and about.

But we are seeing a restructuring of who will lead the market, what that market will look like. And that clearly will impact the place for magazines in the new order.

In other words, it is no longer enough for circulators to consider all of the steps they need to take to get the magazine onto the rack. We now must consider how we will interact with potential readers and get them to come to the rack for the magazine. We will need to think about how we interact with the retailer to let them know how we are trying to drive traffic into their stores.

That is quite a challenge for an industry that likes silos.

I suppose that in the end this is nothing but a lot of nitpicking. But we now live in a world where the exchange of information is very easy. The fact that newsstand sales are down and still declining is not “fake news” to be angry about. Newsstand sales are down. This a challenging business. But I would asset that we are doing ourselves a disservice by doing nothing but repeating the obvious. There’s a lot more going on here.

Don’t stop with the numbers. Tell us what is working. Tell us what is not working. Tell us what is new and interesting. Talk to the big publishers. Talk to the small publishers.

Six months from now, the numbers will still be down. And circulators who are audited will still be discounting subs and using verified and audited bulk circulation. Because that is what they believe they need to do to stay competitive. Disagree with them? Well, go and ask them why they do it.

So let’s do something different the next time around. I’m busy. I need information. I don’t want obvious.

*Editor’s Note: I used to work for Baird and I happen to like and admire him very much. He’s been warning our industry for years about best circulation practices and it would be very nice if some of our leaders would heed his very rational warnings and observations. It would be even nicer if some of our industry news outlets would talk to publishers who practice what he warns about to get their side of the story.

From the Foredeck of The Titanic

In searching for a name for this blog, I tried a many ideas and discarded all of them as too clever or pretty. Everything I came up with seemed tired, trite, overwrought, uninspired, doomed to failure. In other words it sounded like most of the articles you read about single copy sales: trite and overwrought.  You get the picture.

Eventually I hooked onto a memory that seemed appropriate for what I am trying to do here. But to get there, let’s back up first so I can explain to anyone who may pass by what the blog is supposed to be all about.

I’ve spent my entire adult career in the single copy sales business. I’ve worked for national distributors, publishers of all sizes, consulting firms and I’ve consulted on my own like I do now. Part of the reason I stay in the business is that I’m good at what I do. It’s fair to say that I love magazines and can’t think of anything else that I’d like to do. But the biggest reason for my longevity is that in spite of all of the consolidations we’ve endured, in spite of the incredibly bad management some of our premiere companies and trading partners have encountered, in spite of the ridiculously uniformed and badly written press our industry has had to read, I’ve never met more interesting, inspiring, productive, funny, and lovely group of people. It is the people who keep me working away in this industry.

The goal here is to write stories about how we market our products , who we are, what we really do. I don’t really care how many readers I attract.  And I also want to write about the products that we’re responsible for: magazines. Why we love them, how we hope to be relevant in a changing world. My hope is that this becomes the story of how we adapted, changed, learned new skills, charted new paths.

If that is the story I get to tell, the ending will be very different. It will be about how we approached the brink of extinction and pulled back from it. How we turned onto a new course that brought us into safe harbor.

Or maybe not.

So the fact that the ill-fated Titanic is in the title of this blog may seem a little obvious. But I didn’t arrive at it easily. It’s related to that distant memory  I wanted to share:

Sometime in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s, I was calling on the Western Michigan News Agency. It was then managed by the funny and sharp edged Ron Lankerd  and owned by the Stoll family. Several national distributors had representatives based there. One of the things that made working there so much fun was the fact that these guys were the funniest and motliest crew in the area that was then my territory and the interactions between them and Ron was worth the long ride to Grand Rapids. Working in their “rep room” was sort of like being in the Cheers Bar without the beer (At least until lunch time).

One day a local publisher came into the room to review her distribution and meet with Ron. After a few minutes of working through the printouts, it became obvious that she was upset. There was a lot of huffing under her breath. A lot of hair tossing (so maybe it was the late ‘80’s ).  She went in to meet with Ron. She returned about a half hour later and was visibly pissed off.

Like most “Rep Rooms” of the era, this one was a modest sized room in between the front office and the warehouse. We worked on a random assortment of desks and tables that faced the four walls of the room. She whirled around in her chair, faced me and the other reps.

“You guys better go and find something else to do with your lives,” she fumed.

“That’s the goal, sweetheart,” said one of the reps. The others chuckled.

“Yeah, sweetie,” said another. “I keep trying to get fired, but they keep me because no one else wants this f*cking job!”

“I’m not your sweetheart,” she growled.

“Ain’t that the truth!” The third rep replied.

“You idiots don’t get it do you?” She said. “You’re dinosaurs! You’re like the damn Titanic. It’s all a nice party to you but you don’t see the iceberg and you don’t realize that when you sink, it’s going to go fast and you’re all going to be gone.”

She grabbed her things and left the building and I never saw her again. I heard from the Grand Rapids reps a few months later that her magazine went out of business.

Western Michigan News is closed and the Stoll family has moved onto other pursuits. Our industry has consolidated, and then consolidated again. The Grand Rapids reps were let go in the first round of consolidations.

Are our lives accident and chance? Or fate? Is it destiny? I’ve read articles where it is suggested that the Titanic didn’t have to sink. Captain Smith could have gone more slowly through the ice pack. There could have been more life boats. The designers could have built better bulkheads and water tight compartments.

But the Titanic did sink because none of that happened. So what about our business? Industry leaders have warned for years that that we’re heading for an iceberg. Are we? Many of the articles about our industry suggest that we are on the brink of disaster. Or that we have already passed that critical point and are now sinking beneath the wave of digital and web.

I could have named this blog “From the Bridge of The Titanic.” After all, I own my own business. I’ve been a reasonably well placed executive at a publishing company. I’ve worked in some visible places and I have longevity and experience. But I like the foredeck better. I’m closer to the waves. I can still see what’s coming but I’m not so removed from it.  And maybe, just maybe,  if I shout loud enough, the people on the bridge may hear me and steer clear of the iceberg.

If not, at least I’m close to one of the life boats. I have no interest in drowning.