Things Placed in Front Of The Magazine Rack: Part 4 of…

For those of you who are paying attention, the correct title for this post should actually be “Things Placed in the Book A Zine Pocket”. But let’s not quibble.

This submission is from Mark White, the head of Specialty Marketing at US News and World Report.

On the plus side, texting and college goes together like chocolate and peanut butter.

Over the years, I’ve come across everything from empty candy wrappers to unopened cans of pop and discarded prepackaged seedless grapes in the mainline pockets. So while not shocking, this find certainly is amusing.

Don’t forget to keep sending in your photos of “Things Placed in Front of The Magazine Rack.” And while you’re at it, please follow this link to printbuyersinternational.com and check out the recap of Mark’s presentation at the Publishing Business Conference and Expo in New York last month where he discussed how US News broke the “11 Unwritten Rules” of Book A Zine publishing. It’s well worth the side trip.

Who knew our industry was so big on oral tradition?

“TMB” (Temporary Magazine Blindness) Considered Untreatable By the CDC

News from the present: By Felix Chartae

Magazine doctors on staff at the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA have determined that the common disease known as “TMB” or Temporary Magazine Blindness has neither a known cause nor cure.

“We pretty much tell staffers to hunker down and deal with it,” said Dr. Tristus Adversus, Dr. Pub., a consultant to the federal disease agency.

“TMB” occurs whenever a magazine publisher walks by a newsstand and fails to see their publication on that rack. This disease is also known to strike magazine advertisers. The magazine is there, but both the publisher and the advertiser not only fail to see the magazine, but they will believe they are seeing large quantities of their competitors magazine on display.

“It’s a very unusual sort of blindness or hysteria that seems to affect only people who work in this industry,” said Dr. Adversus. “We’re not sure of the cause or what we can do to alleviate their suffering.”

It’s the symptoms of “TMB” that have both publishing doctors and the staffs at many magazine publishing companies concerned.

“Oh, the rages that we have seen are quite destructive,” remarked Dr. Adversus as he left a tony midtown Manhattan office where he had just treated several senior magazine executives and their key advertisers. “All of the data, all of the pictures, everything was right there in front of them and they simply could not see it. It made them very upset.”

“All we can really do is help them get through it. I usually prescribe a placebo and a Power Point or two. After awhile, they move onto other things,” he mused. “It’s sort of like chicken soup.”

The CDC has identified other symptoms of “TMB” including but not limited to: Anger, resentment, the firing of staff, the hiring of outsourcing consultants to replace staff. Circulation departments, in particular those now rare and endangered newsstand circulation staffs are reduced to cowering in filing cabinets during an outbreak of “TMB”. The disease can also be transmitted throughout certain portions of magazine staffs.  Dr. Adversus has identified smugness in editorial staffs, extreme smugness in digital staffs, and surprisingly, flatulence and shortness of breath in the production staff.

Perhaps the most extreme case of “TMB” recorded in recent years was reported by this blog when the both the publisher and editor of the Eagle, CO based publishing company, Outside the Groove Media, failed to realize they were publishing print magazines for two years.

“I feel kind of silly about that now,” said Peter Westleigh, the publisher of Outside the Groove Media. “But I’m better, now. I only have a few relapses here and there.”

Peter Westleigh and Wendy Ashburnham of Outside The Groove Media discuss his occasional relapses of “TMB” with this reporter. (Source: in-this-economy.com)

“Yes,” sighed Wendy Ashburnham, Director of Audience Development at Outside the Groove, “He is usually pretty OK with things. But he still can’t seem to find our magazines at his local King Sooper.”

This reporter also contacted the drug manufacturer Astra Zeneca to see if they were working on a drug regime for this disease. The company responded that while they care, they can’t help.

Things Placed In Front of The Magazine Rack: Part 2 of…. (And One More Thing)

If I were a more fair minded person, I’d stop picking on this particular retailer. But this week, I was presented with a trifecta of bad. Perhaps even St. Thomas Aquinas would have had trouble holding back.

Hope you weren't counting on selling anything out of that tower.
Chocolate and magazines surely go together. But is this the best way?
Seriously? A buyer spent corporate money for green colored beach balls? And "they" write snarky editorials about the newsstand business?

I can be fair though. It’s my understanding that certain union rules keep the local wholesaler’s merchandiser from setting up the store. For those of us in the business who would then counter with, “Well, why doesn’t the route manager go in and work with the store merchandiser and manager”? Good question. My guess is that that has happened. Probably a few times.

In keeping with this week’s calendar, there’s only so much even St. Jude can do.

In other news:

I was hopeful last week that we were going to evade the latest round of ABC Audit reports with minimal breathless reporting on the certain demise of newsstand industry. Clearly, I had been spending too much time on the port side of the foredeck admiring the waves.

Audience Development Magazine published a column from former Ziff Davis VP of Circulation, Baird Davis that suggests that “the newsstand is nearing endangered species status”!

Still? Aren’t we dead yet?

Of course, this was picked up and distributed by Bo Sacks.

Davis does point out many disturbing trends in the latest round of ABC numbers. And it is helpful to have that staring at you in black and white. But for those of us who work on the front lines, it’s nothing new. We already knew, and the people we report to already know, and the people we work with in all avenues and all channels of the marketplace are aware.

Which doesn’t mean he shouldn’t or can’t report on what he reports on. It’s just that there’s little here that is new or helpful.

Like many people who have reported on it, Davis suggests that the recent purchase of Comag, the formerly joint national distribution venture of Hearst and Conde Nast by national magazine wholesaler, The News Group could be a positive thing. He and others have suggested that it may bridge the divides in our business and lead to better channel cooperation. Maybe between News Group and Comag. But I have yet to hear a serious explanation of how this will solve our industry problems.

Publisher’s consultant Linda Ruth, also an Audience Development Magazine columnist makes a more interesting and perhaps correct assertion that “on one level we have a massive paradigm shift here, on another it’s business as usual.”

The article wraps up with a call to our industry leaders, especially the largest publishers such as Conde Nast, Hearst, Time/Warner and others, to work together to solve the “dangerously viral” condition of the newsstand industry.

OK. How?

I must confess that I often make this clarion call myself. While I am alone in my office. With the dog out of earshot. And then I come to a “Full Stop”.

How do we get the major circulation directors of the major publishers into a room to decide the fate of a  multi billion dollar industry? Moreover, do they have the right to determine the fate for all of the participants in that industry? Can I be assured that the end result will be fair to the smaller, frequently still profitable players in the business?

“Full Stop”

On the other hand, please remove your chocolate bunny dump bin from Aisle 3. Thank you. Oh, and take those green beach balls with you too.

The View From The Newsstand (Doesn’t Entirely Stink)

Sometime next week, the Audit Bureau of Circulation will release the results from the first half of the year. The news from the newsstand side of the world will not be good. Sales are expected to be down for these industry leading titles. Possibly in double digits. On top of that, my colleagues at MagNet, the wholesaler owned repository of industry sales have already hinted at some preliminary numbers that suggests retail sales dollars could be off by as much as 8% or more.

No doubt the follow-up to this news will be a plethora of blog postings, earnest op-ed pieces, and journalistic dissections that will discuss in detail about how troubled the magazine business is in general and how deeply in peril the newsstand distribution is in particular. A good BoSacks vs. Mr. Magazine point/counterpoint may be just what the doctor orders to rinse away the summer doldrums.

I’d be a fool to dispute any of the numbers. So I won’t. While it’s true that statistics can be bent in any particular way you want to tell almost any story you want, there is no way to dispute that for many magazines, newsstand sales are down. Furthermore there doesn’t seem to be any quick turnaround in the immediate future.

The reasons for the downturn are staring us in the face:

  • It’s the economy, stupid. Store visits are down, unemployment is high. People are bypassing the magazine rack in favor of the Ramen Noodle display.
  • It’s the economy stupid, part 2: So long as we heavily discount subscriptions, single copy sales will be for someone who wants that magazine NOW. Not in six to eight weeks. If your pockets are feeling a little light, you’ll wait. Or you’ll just never get the magazine
  • File this one under, “Tell me something I don’t know, Sherlock. We have a dysfunctional industry.” Each link in the chain: Publisher, National Distributor, Wholesaler, Retailer, has a completely different set of metrics for measuring success and profitability. What works for the publisher, may not work for the wholesaler, or retailer, and vice versa.
  • You can also file this one in the same folder: “Tell me something I don’t know, Sherlock. We have a dysfunctional industry, Part 2”. On top of differing definitions of success and failure, we also have four participants in this industry who don’t seem to like or trust each other very much (Which really makes for a fascinating work environments).
  • Yes, we’d be foolish to deny that the web, tablets and e-readers are contributing to some of these sales declines.
  • Likewise, we’d be foolish to blame the downturn on just the digital side of the aisle.

I’ve maintained for a long time that we need to do a better job of marketing and merchandising our products, and tooting our own horns. If we were better at these simple tasks, the reports that get written about us would be very different. 

With that in mind, may I present to you some interesting features from the field?

Two Specials from Cooks Illustrated: 30 Minute Suppers and Cooking for Two
Us Magazine's Katy Perry Special. Wenner's other specials have performed quite well this year.
It's not all specials out there. The end of the NFL strike means it's safe for the sports annual publishers to release their pro football books. First to market is first to win the POS sales race. Usually.
The end of summer means that bridal magazines release their "Fall" issues. Here's The Knot's Fall 2011 Gown Guide. The Knot is entering it's second year on an expanded production schedule.
When was the last time you saw this many comics in a mainstream store? B&N has expanded the category.

If you work in our end of the magazine business, or in the magazine business in general and wish you could ignore everything you will read in the coming weeks, don’t. Read the articles and try to understand what they are saying and where they are coming from. Put yourselves in their shoes. If you disagree with their conclusions,  dispute their conclusions and where you can, and where it makes sense offer up a different conclusion and an alternative solution.

Politely would be nice. But if you’re of a different mind, have at it.

This is a mature and troubled business.  The future is not set in stone. We don’t have to go over the edge and into the abyss.

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