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.


Did Miley Cyrus Save The Newsstand?

You may remember that back in February, singer, former Disney star and social media queen Miley Cyrus made the cover of the March issue of  Cosmopolitan Magazine. When the issue went on sale, she encouraged her fans to spread her image all over North America’s newsstands with this Tweet to her 11 million fans:


Let me just say that one more time: 11 million fans (Currently 11.9 million fans).

Unsurprisingly, many of her fans took her exhortation to heart and went around and did this:

From: Twitter
From: Twitter

And they also did this:

From: Allieiswired.com
From: Allieiswired.com. I wonder who bought the Feature Checkout spot on that rack?

There was a decent amount of coverage in both fanzines and publishing related journals about her “takeover” of the newsstands.

Of course, we covered it at the Foredeck because we believe that not everything has to be all doomy and gloomy all the time.

So the question now is: Did Miley Ray Cyrus actually save the newsstand? Or at least the March issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine?

The answer is an unequivocal: Well, yeah…

I went old school and took a sampling of what I believe is about 45 – 50% of the Cosmo draw in the continental US.  Based on that limited data sample, I can report:

The March “Miley” issue sold about 7% more than the February issue within my sample, and:

The March “Miley” issue sold about 7.5% more than the January issue within my sample.

I’m sure the good people at Hearst already know the actual and more accurate results.

But there is a simple and obvious moral to the story:

Social media and an active fan base can help newsstand sales in certain instances. Since the “Hannah Montana” show ended, Miley Cyrus has been more famous for her hair styles and tattoos than her music and acting. That’s not a knock on her. She clearly knows how to manage her “brand” and public image and she does a good job at it. Despite the lack of TV, movie and music exposure she has 11.9 million Twitter fans and 26 million Facebook “Likes”. More importantly she  has people who will go out on their own time and do stuff for her. Like merchandise magazines. And buy them. You know, pay full, single copy price with US dollars for old fashioned media printed on wood pulp.

In other words, what Mr. Magazine(tm) calls magazines.

So imagine, even with a small niche magazine, what could happen if you merged an active fan base and a dedicated group a readers.

Spend some time on Twitter or Facebook and scroll through the postings of any bookstore (chain or indy) or major retailer. Or many magazine publishers for that matter. On the publisher side, other than a few callouts that this or that issue is on sale and this is what the cover looks like, how much single copy promoting (or subscription promoting) is going on? How about the obvious place to promote single copy sales? Bookstores?

Very little is going on. And I’ve never understand the reluctance. Are the social media and circulation silos still that hardened? How much effort or energy or even creativity does this take?

If you’re going to drop some serious promotional dollars on a special issue, why wouldn’t you make note of it on your social media feeds? At least more than once on a Wednesday at 4PM? And why wouldn’t you get with your retail partners to promote that?

If you are going to go through the time and energy to print hundreds of thousands of copies of your magazine, pay tens of thousands of dollars per issue to ship them, pay tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of dollars to pay for premium display space, why on earth would you simply leave it to accident and chance that your audience just might, maybe, perhaps, possibly walk by a magazine rack and suddenly have an urge to buy your product? Why would you limit your audience to only people who occasionally browse a magazine rack?

If anyone has some stories about their efforts with social media and single copy sales, please ping me and let me know what happened. I’d be happy to help you publicize your story.

Thoughts on Amazon’s Price Check App and Independent Bookstores

The American Booksellers Association responded to Amazon’s Price Check App promotion yesterday. In the letter, CEO Oren Teicher pointed out:

We could call your $5 bounty to app-users a cheesy marketing move and leave it at that. In fact, it is the latest in a series of steps to expand your market at the expense of cities and towns nationwide, stripping them of their unique character and the financial wherewithal to pay for essential needs like schools, fire and police departments, and libraries.

Although the app does not directly apply to books, many independent bookstores are clearly upset as the app could apply to their sideline items like cards, gifts and games. Already under enormous pressure from the online retailer, many retailers are clearly fed up with customers who come in, check prices, look for new things to read and buy, then leave to get them more cheaply, and often without having to pay local sales tax, on Amazon.

What does the future hold for independents. Survive? Thrive? Extinction?

There’s a school of thought out on the ether that the internet always wins. Most likely true. We will be a poorer society if thirty years in the future we buy everything online and public spaces and daily routines are limited to a few mega corporate show rooms. While nature may abhor a monopoly, the crash that occurs when monopolies fail, as they ultimately do, is not something anyone should have to live through. Especially when we don’t need to have monopolies (except as fun board games).

Does Amazon play fair?

I’d like to offer three additional thoughts regarding this issue:

1) Amazon’s policy with regards to hiring, firing, and maintaining warehouse facilities is simply wrong. The use of “facilities” companies and hiring these workers at extraordinarily low wages and as “temporary” workers when they  really are full time employees is inexcusable. I know, they do it so I can buy stuff from them at incredibly cheap rates. But I don’t want to be responsible for the fact that some person in another state has to work two jobs so she can drive a twelve year old car and skip lunch so her kid can have cough syrup just so I can buy a cheap scarf or the latest Stephen King novel for half the price I would pay at Anderson’s Bookshop. It’s just wrong.

2) Their efforts to not have to charge local taxes  strikes me as rather unpatriotic. No one likes to pay taxes. I’m self employed so I know what it’s like to feel overburdened with taxes, paperwork and health insurance. No, it’s not like a major corporation, or even a small one. But I get it. However, I live in a community. That means I have responsibilities. I want my roads paved, my police and fire. I want safe water. Roofs on schools. Taxes are a part of life. Deal with it.

And of equal importance:

3) Markets need to be flexible. When markets consolidate in the name of efficiency, what you really have happen is the market becomes fragile. We’ve seen it in the newsstand business with the consolidation of magazine wholesalers. The fewer there are, the more fragile the market becomes if a major player gets into financial trouble. Or, if you, as a member of the market fall foul of one of the few remaining major players. If ultimately there are only three or four places to get either your e-books or your physical books, how healthy is that market? How much will the consumers choice be at the whim of the remaining major players?

I would contend that a community that is a mixture of independent and small franchise retailers and national chains is a healthier community than one with an empty downtown and a strip center on the outskirts full of big box stores and the usual remora retailers. The money stays local. The jobs stay local. The rents are reasonable.

This isn’t a screed against big, corporate America. I am enough of a realist to know how things work and understand that nothing is ever how it was and there are no clocks to turn back. But what I am opposed to is movement without thought and reflection. What, exactly, are we building and will it be better than what we have? Amazon is not inherently evil and independent retailers are not always good citizens. However, there’s no reason that we can’t have Amazon and independent bookstores. There is no reason they can not strive to provide not only affordable goods but also quality service. One does not have to be the death of the other. Both can be good corporate citizens.

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