A Letter to Victoria Hearst

Dear Ms. Hearst,

I would like to commend you for the success of your recent campaign against Cosmopolitan Magazine. That is, I would commend you if your goal were to raise your public profile and fundraise for the organization you are affiliated with.

On the one hand you say that if you were the Queen of Hearst, you would put the magazine out of business. Yet in the same article, you are quoted as saying that you are not trying to censor Cosmopolitan nor put it out of business. Frankly, that is confusing. Either you are trying to pressure the company your family founded to see things your way, or you are trying to eliminate one of their flagship publications from the magazine world.

If your goal is to shield minor children from “harmful” cover lines and editorial that denotes what you claim to be a “dangerous lifestyle,” I wonder why you are spending time taking on the display of magazines at retail. Especially since Cosmopolitan and many other check out titles have been behind blinders for a long time.  Foot traffic in retail stores is down. Newsstand sales of Cosmopolitan are down. In the latest report to the Alliance for Audited Media, Cosmopolitan sales at retail were down 31%.

Surely the researchers at the foundation you are affiliated with discovered the many reports suggesting that overall newsstand sales since 2008 have declined by 50%. Didn’t the researchers also uncover that the newsstand industry has always been a small part of overall circulation for many American magazines? I would imagine that your researchers reported that the newsstand industry has consolidated significantly over the past twenty years. In 2014 a major wholesaler went out of business. Even a casual analysis could conclude that may be a contributing reason to Cosmopolitan’s declining sales at the newsstand.

According to a variety of reports, most children between the ages of eight and twelve have cell phones and more than 30% of teens (and the number may be higher now) have their own smartphones. So I have to ask you: Have you heard of SnapChat? WhatsApp? GroupMe? I’m sure you’re aware of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Teens do read magazines. Children read magazines and books. But they also love their mobile computing.

Demi Lovato started the hashtag #unwrapmycosmo
Demi Lovato started the hashtag #unwrapmycosmo

Cosmopolitan reports a paid circulation of more than 3 million and a reach of 16 million readers. On the other hand, the magazine reaches more than 20 million unique digital users. If I believed as you did (which I don’t), I would try to sit down with the publishers at Hearst and see if I could work with them to create an app that would keep minor children out of Cosmopolitan’s web-based content.

I know. That would be hard. Hearst may reject your approach. Taking on an industry, the newsstand industry, an industry that is visible and on the ropes is rather easy. Retailers are skittish about negative publicity. Going after us will get you headlines and headlines are fun.

That wasn’t too snarky was it? My apologies. However, let me tell you what your campaign against Cosmopolitan just might achieve. It’s not your goal – but something that I consider hurtful. In my opinion, its insidious.

Did you know that the newsstand industry employs more than 15,000 people? While I’ve publicly wondered if some of the leaders of the publishing industry are trying to staunch the flow of lost sales at retail, I can tell you this:

Every week I work with line workers, account executives, marketing managers, sales representatives, vice presidents, and a wide variety of people who work very hard. They spend their days trying to make our industry profitable. They love this work, love our industry, and love the people they work alongside of. They want nothing more than to do their job and, frankly, keep their job.

Clearly you’re not helping the cause.

Do you really think that putting Cosmopolitan behind more blinders will keep children from seeing “pornography”? They can see it every day on their smartphones. They can call it up on their laptops in their bedrooms and the computer in their family room. They can turn on the TV and see “racy programming” on antenna TV, basic cable, premium cable and satellite. We’ve all heard arguments that advertisements on billboards, in magazines, newspapers and TV contain “pornographic” images.

I’m sorry, Ms. Hearst, but pornography has been with us for a long time and will not go away anytime soon. Want to diminish it? Let’s try to build a fair and equitable society where all people are valued regardless of their belief system or sexual orientation. That’s hard, but worthwhile work. You’re not going to accomplish that by putting more blinders on Cosmopolitan check-out pockets. That’s a picayune goal when you consider that the magazine is written for adult women who know how to make their own choices. Women who are certainly capable of expalaining to their daughters or sons what the magazine is all about.

Please reconsider your goal.


The Newsstand Can’t Catch a Break: Cosmo Gets Blindered

Any day now we could deluged by an onslaught of bad news from the upcoming AAM “SnapShot” report. Until then, we can contemplate the news that one of the nations’ leading newsstand magazines will experience some new retail challenges at two national chains.

Last week WWD Magazine reported that an organization that partnered with Hearst family heir, Victoria Hearst, The National Center on Sexual Exploitation, had won a major victory by convincing Rite Aid Drugs, and Delahaize (The corporate parent of Food Lion and Hannaford Brothers Supermarkets) to put privacy blinders over copies of Cosmopolitan Magazine because minors need to be shielded from Cosmo’s sexual content.

Let’s just pause for a moment and take a look at the August cover of Cosmopolitan.

Pretty darn racy, huh?

Cosmopolitan does have a long history of cover lines that push the margins. But let’s look at it this way, going after magazines distributed at a check out rack in a mass market retailer is pretty low hanging fruit. Maybe you can keep your minor child from seeing some “Hot Summer Sex” on a magazines’ cover. But seriously, have you checked your tweens’ Snapchat?

Victoria Hearst, a member of the founding family of the Hearst publishing conglomerate is reported as saying that she wants Cosmopolitan to be sold only to adults and have the cover wrapped like an adult (porn) magazine.

There is so much snark this publishing professional wishes to throw in the general direction of Victoria Hearst. However, unlike Ms. Hearst,  I will resist the temptation to go after such low hanging fruit.

For the record, Cosmo will be placed behind plastic blinders. That should make life slightly more challenging for wholesale merchandisers and add some costs to the single copy sales department over at Hearst. Adult magazines, porn magazines: Penthouse, Hustler, and dozens of other more aggressively sexual titles are often sold in opaque polybags that show only the magazine logo.

The Hearst corporation is quite possibly one of the most successful magazine media companies in the world. They have done some incredible work in maneuvering their  properties through the ever-changing digital and print landscape. Last year, they successfully launched the Dr. Oz magazine, a title that has half a million subscribers and sells over 300,000 copies on the newsstand. In a December 2014 interview with industry analyst Samir Husni, Hearst President David Carey sounded pretty upbeat despite the challenging environment most publishers had just navigated.

Let’s try and be serious for a moment. Or not. Are parents really all that concerned with the “smut” that their children see as they walk through retail stores? Don’t their kids already have their noses in their smart phones? And isn’t it possible that they are seeing a lot more graphic content than “Hot Summer Sex” while they browse their Snapchats, WhatsApp and Instagram pages?

In the second half of 2014, Cosmopolitan reported single copy sales of 632,000 copies with a retail sales value of $15.7 million. That sounds like a lot. Until one considers the fact that in the second half of 2007, Cosmopolitan reported single copy sales of 1.896 million copies at a retail value of $49.7 million.

That should get your attention and put the newsstand crisis in perspective, what?

Moreover, it also might explain why it feels like Rite Aid and Delahaize shrugged and said, “Whatever” when Ms. Hearst’s’ organization demanded they shield children’s delicate sensibilities from smutty cover lines.

Do you think the National Center will target these magazines next?

In the end, this campaign seems like nothing so much as an attention seeking malarkey. Children are much more at risk for injuring themselves while they walk around staring at their smart phone screens. Of course, that would presume they are walking and not sitting on the couch watching a smutty movie on Netflix.

If I learned anything while raising my two daughters, it was that open, honest, frank and age appropriate conversations got all of us much further in life than trying to hide, shield and keep them clear of today’s culture.

How would I suggest a parent handle a Cosmopolitan cover line? Simple: “Those are magazines for grown up women. Look, here’s Discovery Girls.”

That doesn’t seem hard, does it?

For the record, I’d like to point out to the folks at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation that this….

Genesis Magazine - 2011
Genesis Magazine – 2011

…is a pornographic magazine. About the only place you can see one in the wild would be in an adult bookstore and a few convenience stores or traditional newsstands.

However, this…

MILEY CYRUS at Cosmopolitan International Covers, March 2013 Issue
Miley Cyrus tried to save the newsstand back in 2013.

Is a well-respected, multiple award-winning national women’s service magazine produced by a much-admired U.S. corporation.

Other than the fact that they are both magazines, there’s really no similarity.

The Future of Publishing is Found in it’s Youth

I vividly remember my reaction to Dr. Samir Husni’s announcement that he was forming the Magazine Innovation Center at Ole Miss University. It was the winter of 2009. The economy was deep into a slump. The smoldering wreckage of Anderson News was still wreaking havoc on newsstand distribution. It seemed like every day there was another article in the industry trades about the death of print magazines. The web was full of snark and Schadenfreude and the Reaper at Magazine Death Pool was getting more coverage than most writers who covered the magazine world.

Dr. Husni had an interesting response to this roiling mess. Thoroughly fed up with the news that another magazine  was shutting down, he announced that he was fighting back. The Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi was going to be a place where publishers could re-imagine, amplify, clarify and testify to the future of print.

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 8.56.37 AM

I don’t think anyone would every say that Samir Husni isn’t bold. My reaction that day was a fist pump, and loud “Yes!” that startled the cat.

A year and a half later, after a job transition, several client changes, and more non-stop bad news in the industry trades, I made my way down to Oxford, MS for the very first ACT I conference. Two thoughts crossed my mind as I looked at the agenda during the first full day of the conference:

“I had never attended a publishing conference that wasn’t thoroughly dominated by the largest magazine companies in the industry.”


“I had no idea that so many students still wanted to go into magazine publishing.”

Over the next three days, an Ole Miss student and a young startup publisher and me swapped notes, ideas, advice and hope while we listened to a panel of speakers that included consumer, B2B, custom and foreign publishers. We learned about the potential, promise and pitfalls of digital publishing. We learned that in the world of print publishing, the future didn’t have to be an early grave and a post in the Reaper’s Blog if we were nimble, willing to change, willing to work hard and produce quality publications.

That was the best feature of the conference. Not that the speakers weren’t excellent. They were. Not that the speakers spoke about a diverse series of topics ranging from custom publishing, digital editions, social media and e-commerce. They did. But for the first time in a long time, I was able to interact with the next generation of magazine publishers and it was revitalizing to see how committed they were to their career paths.

Last week I landed in Oxford again for ACT V. ACT stands for “Amplify, Clarify and Testify” and there were surely plenty of speakers who attested to that fact. The keynote address was from Michael Clinton of Hearst who gave a good case for how and why Hearst print magazines and their digital cousins co-exist and mean so much to each other.

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 8.55.57 AM

But the next day, it was the students who responded enthusiastically to the presentation by Vanessa Bush, the eloquent and engaging editor of Essence Magazine.* Billy Morris, the CEO of Morris Communications connected the dots between magazine publishing and the need for continued journalistic integrity. Greg Sullivan, one of the founders of the successful startup Afar Magazine, kept the audience spellbound with his description of how the magazine got started and all of the other avenues, many digital, that the magazine has taken the publishing company into.

For me the experience was much like going back to college. And sitting next to the schools undergraduate and graduate journalism students reminded of how important it is for our business to recruit the talented, the dedicated, the enthusiastic, the committed. A few snarky comments written by a reporter who’s never spent five minutes understanding the intersection between social media and circulation shouldn’t control the future of magazine publishing. Clearly these kids don’t think so.

If the future of our industry lies in the hands of the four talented, engaging, thoughtful and interesting women and men who joined me for dinner last Thursday night, our business has nothing to fear and nowhere to go but up.

This week, it’s back to work. It’s back to the grind of airlines, presentations, galleys, reports and Account Executives. That’s fine. I’m armed with a bevy of information, hope and excitement for the future.

 *Note: Essence Magazine is the creator of the Essence Festival, a live event the magazine hosts each year. The Festival features performers, speakers and a wide range of activities that attracts African American families from all over the country. This year, the event was hosted in New Orleans and attracted over 500,000 participants. That’s larger than ComicCon, Coachella, South By Southwest and Sundance. Considering that this event doesn’t get mainstream media buzz, can anyone wonder or deny the power of branded magazine publishing?






Miley Cyrus Saves The Newsstand!

Back in the day, you know, way, way back.  Back when we rode our dinosaurs to work and peddled our stone wheeled cars with our feet. Way back then there were significantly more than four major national magazine distributors in the country. I can think of at least nine and I am sure there are some people who could come up with the names of some more companies.

At that time, there were more than three hundred magazine wholesalers located in large and small cities around the country. Those nine (Or more) national distributors, had a pretty large pool of publishing representatives working out in the field to manage the sales of their client titles.

In those days I flew pterodactyl coach class on all my business trips and I was guaranteed to meet up with a few publisher representatives in almost all of the primary and secondary sized wholesalers I visited. The major cities may have had as many as twenty or more located both at the wholesaler level and out in the field. With a few exceptions, these representatives could give me a very comprehensive tour of the best and busiest newsstands in each town.

Natural consolidation (Some of these companies bought each other up) as well as the forced consolidation we underwent in 1995 – 1997 has pretty much dried that all up. The major wholesalers now have merchandisers who put up magazines in the largest retailers. In some cases, these merchandisers no longer work exclusively with magazines and handle other products. The remaining ND’s have some people out in the field but their numbers have significantly dwindled. Want to know what your special display looks like in the Marsh Supermarket in Indianpolis suburb of Noblesville? Most of us would have to hop on a plane and go look.

So who’s out there to move our magazines?

Apparently Ms. Miley Ray Cyrus.

Miley is on the cover of the March 2013 issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine. If you haven’t seen or paid attention to her since your (Now college aged children) have left Hannah Montana  far behind, you may not have even recognized the former Disney child star.

Who's this, now?
Who’s this now?

I have to give Ms. Cyrus a ton of credit. She tweeted the following to her more than 11 Million (!) Twitter fans:

From Miley RayJust to put things into a little perspective: For the past year and a half, I’ve been keeping track of the number of Twitter and Facebook followers of some major and specialty magazine publishers. At present, People Magazine has just over 4.5 million fans.

Eleven million vs. 4.5 million.

Miley’s fans have responded to her call out. These are the results:

Team MilyNYMileyUpdates USA

Miley’s shout out to her fans started on February 1st. There’s even a hashtag on Twitter, #buymileyscosmo. It’s still very active as of this writing.

Of course, Cosmopolitan got in on the action and is encouraging the fans:

Cosmo RespondsFor those of you of a certain age and level of experience in the newsstand distribution industry, do you think the old Globe vs. Enquirer checkout wars could have ever reached this level? What would the blue coated/red tied TDS guys have done?

AdWeek Magazine reports Hearst President David Carey as saying “This was a natural force from her fan base… No big company could ever pull that off.”

He’s correct. For years, fans have been spreading their favorite actor and actress covers all over the newsstand. But not like this. Miley Cyrus’ fans are clearly motivated and are doing this 21st century style.

On the other hand, once upon a time, back when Tyrannosaurus Rex  roamed the land at will, we used to have a lot of people who could have lent a hand.

Special call out to all you newsstand veterans: How many ND’s were there back in the 1970’s? 1980’s? 1990’s? Please use the comment section below to list what you may remember. I’d be interested to know how many we can come up with.

Want to check out my list of Twitter and Facebook followers vs. their paid circulation? Click on the link. Tweet Followers vs Circ011313

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