Things Placed In Front of The Magazine Rack: The (Post) Valentine’s Day Edition

According to an article that appeared in Business Insider this week, print magazines are dying because people in check out lanes are spending all of their time looking at their smart phones and not looking at all of the magazines, iced tea, pop, candy, cookies and wiffle bats in the check out racks.

I don’t think that any reasonable person who spends time living in the 21st century would argue that many people spend much of their spare time checking things out on their smart phones. And anyone who spends time considering the impact of mobile technology on single copy sales is aware that people waiting in a checkout line may prefer to look at their smart phones rather than at the merchandise they could pick up.

But while it’s nice to speculate that smart phone technology is distracting people from spending money in the checkout, if you’re going to make a grand generalization like that, you may want to back that up with something that is generally called a “study.”

If I were the publisher of a major checkout publication and worried that people weren’t looking at my carefully posed models or beautifully laid out food designs, I’d consider trying out some of the new virtual reality designs on my cover. Entice people with attractive offers and QR codes.

Of course, we can generalize that there may be other reasons that single copy sales were down this year.

Here’s one:

Dear Star and Enquirer, Happy Valentine's Day. Love, Bunny
Dear AMI, Happy Valentine’s Day. Love, Hallmark and the plush toy industry.

There’s bound to be a great backstory to this and as soon as I can get it, I will update here.

Note: Please keep sending your photos. It’s been enormous fun  seeing views from other parts of the country. Of course, if you come across an interesting and creative display that works, I would be more than happy to post and celebrate that. Innovative titles and merchandising are the lifeblood of our business. Pending another round of interesting “Things Placed in Front Of” photos, next week we’ll return to some scheduled discussions of “Disruptive Technology” and editing (Yes, this blog in particular).

More of “What I Believe” FWIW

If you’ve been paying attention, the last few years were hard on magazine, book and newspaper publishers. Some of this had to do with the decline of the economy, the struggle of many over extended publishers to adapt to new technology (which is hard to do when you’re company is leveraged to the tune of a few hundred million dollars), the loss of circulation revenue as production and distribution costs crept up, and a sense that what you do is just not that interesting or important to your audience anymore.

This is your brain on a mainline rack.

In spite of it all, one of the surprises that I have experienced is how little the core work that I do has changed in the two years since I left the corporate world to go back out on my own. There’s a lot of new work to do, but the core remains constant. Many of my original clients are still working with me to one degree or another. Most of them are doing quite well in spite of everything our industry has thrown at them. Others are struggling and I appreciate the opportunity to help them sort out where they are going with their businesses.

Recently, a client asked me to justify the newsstand promotional expenditures that some of our retail trading partners now seem to “demand” we participate in. Below is a lightly edited version of how I explained it to them. What I had to say also fits in with where I think print, and contemporary retail, for that matter, may be going. Tell me what you think:

The commitment (of the retailers to the newsstand) shows up in several ways:

1) Neither chain has relegated the magazine section to the back of another section like we’ve seen in Wal-Mart and Target. Nor have they shunted the newsstand off to a dead aisle like you will sometimes see, for example in supermarkets or drugstores. In my last meeting with  the buyer, (it was) pointed out that they’ve been able to hang onto their space in part because of the revenue that they gain from publishers continuing to promote. I know that … much of the profit they make in the newsstand department comes from promotions. ..

You see this scenario played out in many “hard goods” retailers and food retailers. Our situation is not that unique. Promotion is the profit for the retailers.

2) … chain has significantly cut the floor space that is available for the newsstand. While they’ve cut space elsewhere in what is their core business, magazine space, for the moment, remains constant. The goal of the buying dept. is to maintain their floor space presence…

…Will these (chains) stop selling print and shut down? Maybe. Maybe in two years, or five years or ten years. It’s hard to know exactly. That is why I read most of the articles that I see about this business with a … cynical eye. That isn’t healthy, but it’s one way I maintain my cool. Most of the people who write about magazine and book distribution – or even the publishing process for that matter,  don’t seem know what they are writing about. They don’t know our business, our business model and, in many cases, they don’t know about the the new media that has them so excited. Their ideas for “fixing” us are interesting. But they’re ideas. If they were workable, wouldn’t we be putting them into action?

An excellent example is the offering this morning that BoSacks promoted. The first paragraph, about five sentences, contained enough misinformation to keep me busy debunking it for a week.

And I’ve already spent most of my day doing that for another client.

So what do you believe?

What I Believe (FWIW)

Sometime in the past month, I passed two years of posting thoughts, facts, and links to articles on Twitter. The experience has been revelatory in that I have learned much from the people I follow. Learning the discipline of posting to Twitter has helped me focus on the publishing business and stay on track with other tasks.

In a month or two, I will pass one year posting to this blog and two years since I left the corporate world to go and work for myself again.

This week, a new client asked me to introduce myself, via a presentation, to his senior management team. He asked me write up an introduction that would state who I was, what I believe about my end of the publishing industry, and where I think it’s all going.

In lieu of anything earth shattering report on, I thought I would share it with you:

Since 1988, I have provided single copy sales consulting services for a wide variety of magazine publishers. These companies have ranged in size from small regional sports publishers to Ziff-Davis Communications, Fox Sports and the former Emap-USA.

The one constant in this business, from the day I entered it as a newly minted professional to the moment that I put these words into an electronic file is: change. Throughout all of this time, people have wanted magazines. Publishers have strived to produce them for their readers, and retailers and distributors have tried (often successfully, sometimes in spite of themselves), to make them available to the public.

Will all of this business go up in a blaze of e-ink, Flipboard and Facebook? Maybe. But certainly not tomorrow. The beauty of a magazine is it’s durability, it’s ubiquity, and it’s simplicity. No owners manual is needed. No need to fear a power surge or a low battery alert. If you drop it in the pool or bathtub or it get’s stolen from the beach, your loss is a few dollars, not a few hundred dollars. If people didn’t want to be magazine publishers, then no one would call me saying they wanted to publish magazines. If publishers didn’t want to produce magazines then why would Samir Husni and MediaFinder vie to count the number of new title launches each quarter?

Where will this business be in two years? Five years? Ten years? I don’t entirely trust the prognostications of many of the consulting firms daily e-blasts that flood our in boxes every morning. They have services to sell and someone paid them for their research. We do know that people are snapping up e-books and digital readers and tablets. But people are also still buying print books. And the book market is very different from the magazine market.

I firmly believe that a savvy consumer magazine publisher working in today’s environment will offer the reader both a digital and print experience. I believe that in order to thrive in this market, you must have a promotional plan that complements both offerings and encourages the reader to participate in both experiences. Paper only will not work. Digital only leaves money on the table.

What do you believe?

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