Some Places Remembered

In the very first post of this blog I pointed out that one of the reasons I started it was to write about some of the great “characters” I met. During the years when I traveled frequently I met many people who left indelible memories with me. Most of these people were friendly, hard-working and interested in doing a good job. Some of them were complete characters. A few of these “characters” were very lucky to avoid incarceration.

Earlier this week I wrapped up rolling over all of my files to the new year. More than 90% of them are now completely digitized (They never get printed and filed). That meant it was time to clear out some old “analog” files, folders and binders. That also meant it was long past time for some of the old “wholesaler” files to make the final trip to the shredder.

But before that last trip, here’s a few “memories” to share:

  • The “old” Rep Room at CLCC’s (Chas. Levy Circulating Company) 1140 North Branch location was one of the loudest places I ever worked…
  • That is, until it moved to 1200 North Branch. Then it was one of the more unsettling places to work because I could never get used to the feel of the building trembling when the semis would back into the loading dock and bump the wall.
  • Whenever I drove to Southern Michigan News in Jackson, MI in the first quarter of the year, it always seemed to snow. I would always keep a count of how many cars were off the road and in the ditches on I-94. It was a big number.
  • Ron Lankerd, the GM of Western Michigan News in Grand Rapids wouldn’t let me park my foreign-made car close to the building. He is a GM man.
  • While working for a publisher early in my career, I was sent on a trip in early November that took me from the ARA agency in Spokane, WA to the wholesaler in Coeur D’Alene, ID, and finally on a circuit of all of the wholesalers in Montana (There were at least five at the time). When I arrived at the agency in Missoula, the manager looked up from his desk and said, “You’ll probably never get out of here if it starts snowing. Can you work a tie line?” It did start snowing and I did (barely) get out of there. I really didn’t want to work that tie line.
  • Ladies of a certain career choice used to walk the street next to Buckeye News in Toledo, OH.
  • The state of Iowa serves the best pie.
  • The state of Minnesota serves the next best pie.
  • I never found a decent Chinese restaurant in Mankato, MN. Hopefully things are better now.
  • The original location of Iowa Periodicals in Des Moines, IA (pre-consolidation) was next to the airport and you could hear the Iowa Air National Guard practice take off and landings.
  • While the wind chill made it -50F in Chicago last week, I worked at Badger Periodicals in Appleton, WI one week when the thermostat read -40F before the wind chill.
  • Ohio Periodicals in Cincinnati, OH had one of the smallest Rep Rooms I ever worked in. I believe Tom Doddy liked it that way. That is one of the numerous reasons I like Tom Doddy.
  • I often wondered if the pipes that ran next to the Rep Room (located in the basement) at Klein News in Cleveland, OH carried toxic waste.
  • There was a “warehouse cat” in the pre-Anco Lexington, KY warehouse.
  • One of the owners of M&M News in La Salle, IL brings his dog to work. Dogs, warehouses and magazines all go together better than you would think.
  • I used to time how long it took for the donuts I brought in to disappear from various break rooms. In Jackson, MI, they consistently were gone in about 5 minutes. At Ludington News in Detroit, they took about an hour. Steubenville, OH took most of the morning (it’s a small office). Lima, OH, about the same. Dubuque, IA seemed to prefer bagels.
  • Pat’s Donuts in Lima, OH are incredibly good.
  • The security guard at the Ludington News parking lot often seemed pretty angry about something and I always wondered what it was.
The former Ludington News building. Source: Google
The former Ludington News building. Source: Google
  • The rep room in Ludington News was surprisingly nice.
  • The reps in Ludington News were all pretty nice to work with.
  • Actually, everyone at Ludington News was good to work with.
  • The Scottsbluff National Monument in Scottsbluff, NE is very impressive.
  • I always seemed to have to go to Gopher News in Minneapolis in either the dead of winter or the height of mosquito season. Timing is everything.
  • The warehouse at Wholesale Distributing in Burlington, IA was a former WWII era Quonset hut. John Sandell, their owner, was one of the most interesting (in a good way) people I ever met.
  • For a few years, I would take a trip in early spring that would start at Norton News in Dubuque, IA and then run down the Mississippi River to the agencies in Burlington, IA and Quincy, IL. Then I’d either turn north and finish in Springfield, IL or south and wrap up the week in Johnston City, IL. We flatlanders often only look at Lake Michigan and forget about the river and the prairie. They are truly impressive.
  • Bob Pilkey, the general manager of Joliet News and later M&M News in La Salle, IL was one of the nicest people I ever met.
  • The warehouse for City News Agency in Canton, OH was a former horse barn. As late as the 1990’s, the office decor was strictly 1950’s.
The former City News warehouse. Source: Google
The former City News warehouse. Source: Google
  • The best MAPDA/PACIMWA convention I attended was in Tucson, AZ. But that was because I mostly wanted to sit on the balcony of my hotel room at stare at the mountains for the duration.
  • It was generally considered unwise to attempt to visit Louisville News during Kentucky Derby week.
  • It was generally considered unwise to attempt to complete any work at Louisville News after lunchtime at any other time during the year.
  • I recall particularly good bar food served in the bar across the street from Indiana Periodicals in Indianapolis.
  • The Pekin News Agency in Pekin, IL was located in a candy shop. The candy shop (which is also a newsstand) is still open today.  You can buy their delicious candy online. Like many retailers, they’re also on Facebook
  • I could never get a trip approved to the ARA agency in Hawaii.

None of these memories are intended to be maudlin. As I’ve said numerous times before, I’m not one of those believers that “things were better in the good old days.” Heck in the newsstand biz, the “good old days” were considered horrible.

But we should consider what worked in the past, and how the creative and hard-working people who came before solved the problems they encountered. There is a warehouse of knowledge there and maybe a key to solving today’s challenges can be found in how they were approached in the past.

And why not call up a good memory sometime, put a smile on your face, and then dig into your day?

In the comments below, please drop in some of your favorite memories. If you have something longer to share, or a photo or two, send them my way via email.

The Trailing Edge of….

Shortly after the national distributors reported on the new fee structure The News Group was rolling out, I started to work on a post for this blog. Through that first weekend and into the limited off time I had in the past weeks, I wrote, edited, pared down and and re-wrote.

Ultimately what was put together was a pretty good explanation of what had happened, what it could mean, and what, if anything positive, could come from this new arrangement. The people who previewed it for me thought it was a pretty well written piece that was fair, balanced, and for me, low on snark.

Then, I decided to leave it in the draft bin.

A colleague asked me if this was self preservation. That’s too obvious. Discretion could be a better answer. Or maybe just let’s wait and see.

The mysterious print blogger, D. Eadward Tree published an interesting piece last week entitled “A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to the Funeral of Print Media”. In it he pointed out a series of reasons why print hasn’t died. They range from the unwelcome return of junk mail to the launch of print versions of digital properties.

Hmmm, I thought, interesting.

Things finally slowed down late last week.  I got a clearer vision of both where the News Group initiative may go and what was happening with some of my clients beyond News Group (Day to day operations will often tell you a bigger picture). One afternoon I found a response to Mr. Tree’s article from the Media Shepherds’ Noelle Skodsinski.

She rightly suggests that the question should no longer be “Will print survive?” but more along the lines of how print will change. She amusingly compares the whole “Print is Dead” question to an annoying gnat that buzzes around your head. Well, thank you for that earworm!

Which lead to this train of thought: At one time, about the only thing we saw in digital in terms of magazines were web sites full of free replicated content. Over the past few years, we’ve seen the advent of the following:

  • Interactive web sites
  • Pay walls that work
  • Tablet replicas
  • Unique tablet editions that readers will pay for
  • A whole new digital subscription industry that looks like it’s here to stay and grow beyond what we can imagine
  • Social media marketing

And I’m sure there’s more I can’t think of at the moment.

What’s happened to the newsstand business during this time period?

  • Declining sales
  • Consolidating wholesalers
  • Consolidating national distributors
  • Shrinking racks

To be fair, we have had some solid new title launches like the Food Channel Magazine, the rise of book-a-zines, and the advent of digitized store level data has made it easier to see where we sell our magazines. But overall, the negatives from our side of the business often seem to outweigh the positives.

So is the newsstand world condemned to be the trailing edge of the publishing world? The last piece that touches the digital air? The horse and buggy industry didn’t die off completely. Many suppliers  tranformed themselves into suppliers for the automobile industry. But it is also true that other manufacturers could not change. They were held back by their legacy businesses and if they survived they remained much smaller niche businesses.

The question remains, does our newsstand DNA prevent us from transforming how we do business? Is there a way that we can take the initiative back, sell more product? Become profitable?

Seems to me that it’s sleeve rolling time.

Five Simple Steps To Fix The Newsstand Industry

Nope. This post won’t address the Pay on Scan issue. Nor does it contain specific financial or production advice to the remaining three biggest wholesalers. There is no “10 Point Plan!” demonstrating how our four largest national distributors can remain relevant.

Are these the right steps to fix the business? My nose has been on the grindstone for much of the past four months and these thoughts are what smacked me upside the head yesterday afernoon after reflecting on what passed for a heavily revised and reviewed print order landed in my in-box.

So…

Five Simple Steps To fix the Newsstand Industry:

1. All sales are local.

2. Sell local. Can you learn what sells in that store? If you can’t, why are you messing with that make order? If you don’t know, why are you servicing that store?

3. Promote the category. If publishers, national distributors and wholesalers can’t get together to promote our product, then who will? What reason are we giving readers to go out and “discover” our product?

4. Stop undercutting our own category with cheap subscriptions.

5. Stop whinging about digital. It’s here. Deal with it. Work with it. Learn it.

Any questions?

Upon further review, I’d add the following:

2a. Make the tools to discover what sells in that store readily available and CHEAP to acquire. Most publishers, mainline publishers at least, already give up 60% or more of their cover price to get to that store (Not including promotional dollars). They should be encouraged to understand their distribution and have input into how it is developed. After all, they know their readers. Their customers are the retailers customers.

2b. Make the tools that drive distribution more universal in nature and marketing driven. Everyone involved in distribution should be able, at a quick glance, to know rack size, number of checkouts, store demographics and store volume when they make a distribution decision.

Where’ve I been? Very busy. And there are about 12  transcripts sitting in the edit que waiting to be edited. But for a solo practioner who’s also trying to learn a new facet of the business one can either work or write blog postings. Blogging is important. But I have to admit that paying work and reasonably satisfied customers takes precedent. I hope to be back up to speed with more topics as we move towards the end of the year.

On a related front: I am intrigued with the hints we’ve received from media guru Bob Sacks and fellow consultant Luke Magerko. So far, they’ve revealed some pretty straightforward suggestions that daily practitioners like this writer and many of my colleagues attempt to practice. Hopefully there are more reveals that will hape this industry rethink, in a positive, sales growth oriented manner how we work.

Because who in their right mind wants to work in and manage a declining industry?

About All of This Harrumphing About The Fate of Newsweek

The ongoing introspective bouts of introspection, mustache huffing and harrumphing about the final disposition of the weekly newsmagazine formerly known as Newsweek leaves this columnist with some questions and “Harrumphs” of his own. Oddly, the biggest question seems to be:

“What is all of this chattering about?”

Is it really that surprising that we discovered our readers were at first reluctant to pay for content that we once gave away for free back when the internet was young? Is it really surprising that when we finally charged for a digital version of the content, we charged a lot less for it than the print version? Why is your spreadsheet so surprised?  And why are we surprised that people remark about it? We have whole class of reporters and bloggers who fulminate about how digital should cost so much less because it’s so cheap to produce (Apparently they’ve never entertained a proposal from an app developer).

Newsweek1972_GoodbyeVietnam

Let’s be clear, while Time and Newsweek were a pretty big deal in the past, were they really that big a deal compared to other forms of mass media?

And let’s be honest, if it was announced  tomorrow that the CBS television network was going out of business, well that would be a story. But the endlessly dreary drone that has been the Newsweek saga?

The Pew Research Center wrote up an excellent report on the state newsweeklies not so long ago. On the whole, it made some excellent points and conclusions. Their selection of titles for the category was very interesting.

Far be it for me to really criticize the Pew Research Center. There’s them, and then there’s me: a sole proprietor with limited time and resources.

But is The New Yorker, The Economist, The Atlantic and The Week in the same category and class as Newsweek and Time?

The Economist is an import. Its British tone and analysis is its appeal. And while it’s been in this market for some time, and competes to an extent with Time and the former Newsweek, it’s not really in the same ball park. It does cover news, but it’s called The Economist.  Spend some time with the content and you’ll see why I’ve always considered it significantly different from the other two titles.

Frankly, if you’re going to put these titles in the analysis, then BusinessWeek should have been included. Unless, their 6.8% increase in overall circulation from 2007 to the second half of 2012 would have skewed the results.

The New Yorker is a news magazine, of a sort. But its market and demographics is not the same as the Time and Newsweek. Those audiences are much broader.  The Atlantic is also in a different demographic class. Hell, if we’re going to toss those two titles into this analysis, why not include Harper’s? Who doesn’t love their index? Is it because they never offered a digital clock in their subscription offers?

While all of these magazines offer news and analysis, there is a big difference between the newsweeklies, the imports, and titles with less frequency in their publishing schedule.

In our market, the single copy world, the newsweeklies were their own category. And for a long time there were really only three titles: Time, Newsweek and US News & World Report. Three titles in a category. They were sort of big because of their weekly frequency and you could often find them at a checkout. At one time Newsweek and US News & World Report even had their own field forces. But well before industry consolidation hit us in 1990’s, they were long gone. And I recall people talking about the decline and fall of the newsweekly subcategory back in the early 1990’s.

As I’ve repeatedly maintained (And this is my opinion, nothing more, nothing  less), the issues that we see in the continuing decline of the newsstand have a lot more to do with the long standing issues we have with marketing, display and the dysfunctional nature of our supply chain. Is the general public giving up on print? Perhaps. At the worst, they will be giving up, over time, some of their print. But in the long list of illnesses our industry has, that particular symptom is near the bottom of the list.

Things Placed In Front of The Magazine Rack: The Actors Edition

How many romantic comedies and television series from the 1990’s and the last decade featured characters who worked for newspapers, magazines or book publishers? We don’t see a lot of Norma Raes (or Roseannes for that matter) up on the big screen  these days. But we sure do see producers diving into the publishing industry pool for their storylines.

In the ’90’s we had the groundbreaking TV series “Sex and the City” following the life of columnist Carrie Bradshaw and her friends. Most of the stories focused on Carrie’s love life and her obsession with shoes. But we did get an occasional glimpse into the writing process. As the decade closed, actress Drew Barrymore gave us a somewhat laughable look at life at the Chicago Sun Times in “Never Been Kissed”, which was something like newspaper reporters meet “21 Jump Street”. But allegedly in a California version of Chicago instead of a Toronto version of Hollywood.

In the last decade, we saw a tidal wave of movies and TV shows taking on the publishing world. From 2006’s “The Devil Wears Prada” with Meryl Streep playing an Anna Wintour type editor to the “Confessions of a Shopaholic”,  with its pretend fashion and financial magazines. The English import, “Love, Actually” had a side story about life in an English magazine of undetermined editorial content.

This Friday, comedienne Tina Fey will star in the new movie “Admission” and in it there is apparently a scene that takes place in front of a magazine rack in a retail store (As I understand it, Tina is looking for parenting magazines). We’ll also see ever energetic and entertaining Wallace Shawn showing off a “US News & World Report College Guide”. I hate to tell Tina this, but the parenting category is very small on the newsstand. The chances of finding something in the real world would be pretty slim. Even in Barnes and Noble, parenting magazines don’t make up a big part of the category.

This Friday you can see this scene at the movies. Photo by David Lee, copyright by Focus Features.
This Friday you can see this scene at the movies. Photo by David Lee, copyright by Focus Features.

All of this makes me wonder two things: How much longer will Hollywood’s romance with the print publishing world continue? And when it ends, will the romance shift to digital publishers? At some point, will we have a contemporary twist on “You’ve Got Mail!” ? In this version perhaps we would see a tycoon of the digital age put a plucky but cute cute and single single title publisher out of business because she doesn’t have an Android platform.

In the comments below, drop in your favorite TV show or movie that involved magazines, books or newspapers.

Measure Twice. Then Cut, Paste, Spindle, Fold and Mutilate

I’ve been diving deeper and deeper into the digital subscriber waters over the past year and I can’t help but wonder if this is a little like what the newsstand distribution sea was back in the mid 1970’s when mainframes and service bureaus entered the business. Their initial uses were to manage the warehouse, distribution, tie lines and reporting. An industry trade journal at the time actually listed all of the magazine wholesalers at the back of the book by the type of computer system the wholesaler had installed. Everything was possible and everyone had a different way of looking at things. The new technology was all over the place.

The thing that has really driven me to distraction with digital circulation so far is the reporting. Maybe it’s the learning curve but not much is very helpful at first until I download, copy, cut, paste and then consider the fine art of self defenestration. The later is a helpful fantasy until I realize that I work on the ground floor. At best, I’ll scare the dog and sprain a knee.

To be fair, the reports I see from Curtis Circulation, Kable Media, Comag, Source Interlink, Ingram Periodicals and the like also require massaging, cutting and a fair bit of pasting to get the data to to where I need it to go. But over the years we’ve all learned to speak the same language. We all know what we’re looking for so the basic data is just waiting to be reinterpreted.

The magazine Audience Development recently published an exellent comparison guide that lists all of the many features digital subsriber services like Zinio, Nook and iTunes offer publishers.

Most notably, only Zinio pushes reports automatically to publishers. Want to report your digital numbers on your next audit report? There is very little audit bureau support. I can vouch for that last fact as I am currently struggling with a series of spreadsheets that the Alliance for Audited Media (Sorry, I still want to use ABC) has developed for reporting purposes.

So you see, digital providers and your legion of fanboys: If you want us boring circulation, um, pardon me, Audience Development types to show real appreciation for your potential and your wildly growing coolness and inevetiability….how about some data that actually, you know, uh, means something at first glance? You know, something that I don’t have to waste half a day scrolling around to get to the one piece of information that will let me tell my client, “Hey! We’ve got a winner on our hands!” Or, sadly, “Nope, that did not work. Let’s try something different.”

We're getting there, right?
We’re getting there, right?

Charts and graphs are really handy. And they are so pretty! But what I want to know (Quickly) is how many subs were served for the February issue, how many of those were new, how many renewing, and how that compares to a year ago?

Oh, and if you haven’t, please meet with the AAM folks. They are some of the nicest, most patient, extraordinarily polite and very helpful people around. Right now in fact, I can say they are my favorite people on the whole wide planet.

It’s that time of year again, you know.

If I Could, I’d Read it in the Sunday Papers

Editor’s Note: Here’s another post that’s been sitting in my edit que waiting for some buffing and the “publish” button to be pressed. Some recent experiences in the past week in the electronics department brought home the message that it was still relevant.

The phone rang and for a change, I was able to pick it up and plug in the headset before Vonage tossed the call over to voice mail.

“Joe,” my client said breathlessly, “Really bad news.”

“Ruh roh”, I thought. Wait for it….

“What’s going on?” I asked, wishing I had dropped the receiver, plugged the headset into the wrong phone, or simply let the phone answer itself.

“The printer called. The press broke down. We’re going to miss our print date. Maybe by a week or more!”

“They can’t move you to another press? Don’t they have something like twenty five locations around the country?” I asked while mentally figuring out how many wholesalers I needed to call, how many promotional programs I could reschedule without being fined. How this would impact sales four and five issues down the line.

“They’re all booked. We’re stuck.”

Silence. Then…

“I’m kidding. Relax, we just went to the bindery. We’re fine. It looks great.”

Oh, those publishers. They are such kidders.

And I used to be much taller.

Two days later I walked out to the curb to pick up the Sunday paper. The Sunday Trib was also waiting for me on my iPad and there are times when I find myself doing double duty with both the print and digital editions. During election season, I often went to the iPad first, but not for the Tribune. Sometimes I have serious disagreements with the folks on the editorial page. Replacing the iPad would cost some serious money. On the other hand, if I decide to toss those editors into the rubish (or worse), the act is not all that violent and costs me less than a buck.

But this week, there was some serious mis-printing (As you can see below) on my Sunday paper.

Of course this also happens in the magazine world too. Last month one of my clients sent me some sample polybagged copies. My samples came with the front cover placed upside down so the UPC code was hiding behind the black on white headliner on the polybag (Thus hiding the UPC code and preventing it from scanning).

Fortunately, that error seemed to only involve my copies. No wholesalers or retailers were harmed in the shipment of copies. So it was all good.

Which leads me to the following: In the past few weeks, my iPad has occasionally crashed while browsing in Safari. There’s a bounty of helpful forums about what to do on Google and on the Apple site. Fortunately the iPad is not the only way I go on line. Otherwise, we’d have some issues, wouldn’t we?

At the same time, a few settings somehow “changed” either in my anti-virus program or on my firewall on my relatively new and recently upgraded iMac. So getting to Google from my iMac is a challenge until I straighten that out. Maybe something to do with that software “upgrade”.

My Andoird powered smart phone just celebrated it’s 13 month birthday and like the smart phones before it, I am finding it’s software getting decidedly glitchy and the hardware shows signs of age despite the best efforts to be gentle with it. While the reviews of the phone called it “slick’, “durable”, “rugged”, and “well equipped to go the long haul”, well, all of the reviews were written 18 months ago when it first came out. The phone was brand new to the reviewers. What would they think now?

Let’s not even talk about the aging laptop that sits forlornly at the end of my desk. It used to proudly go almost everywhere with me. Now, not so much. The App store just told me that an upgrade wouldn’t work on my dusty old processor. Does it feel embarrassment?

The point is, digital media is still all about the tech. And the tech can be glitchy.

When this happens:

Ooops

It’s not such a big deal. Because you can deal. Inconvenient, yes. But it’s not a lot of change out of your pocket.

When this happens:

Safari Crash

Well, guess you won’t read that article for awhile huh? Better hope your investment is still under warranty.

Just to reiterate. I’m not a Luddite. I don’t want to go back to the bad old days. Digital is part of the way forward. But we’ve got a long way to go.