Conan O’Brien May Be About to Push the Envelope (On Newsstand Sales)

It’s the second week of August and you know what that means. The first half of the year reports from ABC have landed and everyone who is anyone who has the slightest interest in magazines, print media and the future of print media (And access to a soapbox) has an opinion:

New York Times – August 8

Washington Post – August 7

Financial Times – Aug 7

Louisville Morning Call – Aug 8

USA Today – Aug 9

“Retiring Guy’s Digest” – Aug 9

Pew Research

Audience Development Magazine – Aug 15

They all say pretty much the same thing. Let’s focus on newsstand. Everyone’s an expert! Sales are down. Sales continue to go down. This must mean something. Fewer trips to the store. Less impulse buys! More digital! Prices are too high!

There’s plenty more where these came from, but I thought I’d  grab some links from the first page of a Google search and add in a few from my own incoming e-blast links.

As an aside, just when the article from Audience Development  that I linked to got interesting by discussing the importance of the future of Scan Based Trading, the author opts to leave it for another time. Frankly, the resolution of that issue is the one that could decide the future of our business. But it’s more fun to write about numbers, apparently.

If you’ve seen my Twitter feed over the past week,  you may have noticed that in between rounds of budget preparations, print order closings, marketing updates, new launches (Yup, we still do that!) I’ve had a pretty specific opinion about all of this coverage. Statistics, as we know, can be made to lie like a politician. These particular numbers, however do not and we ignore them at our own peril. I’d be a fool to try and dispute them. Our friends at MagNet back these numbers up. Although they do point out some interesting, very positive trends in between all of this doom and gloom and I thank them for that.  But the causes and effects of what is happening in the industry go so much farther and deeper than what gets reported. I’ve lived in this world for most of my professional life and I am still not 100% sure of everything. But I do have an opinion (which I’ve expressed here often enough).

I’ll leave it to you discerning readers to interpret it.

But, in closing, I’ll leave you with some thoughts from the very insightful, envelope pushing Mr. Conan O’Brien (Note: If you’re the impatient type, fast forward to the 1:20 mark):

Dear Newsweek Critics: If That’s Porn, Then I’m a Hottentot…

A few months back I took umbrage with a Time Magazine  story and cover image. This was not because I thought the cover image was shocking or disgusting like many critics did. No, I disliked the image and the coverlines because I thought the magazine unfairly stirred up controversy by asking women if they were “Mom” enough like the breast feeding woman portrayed on their cover.

In my opening paragraph on the topic, I mentioned that I wasn’t picking on Newsweek because it’s  so hard to take them seriously anymore. This was especially true after their “Lady Di At 50” fiasco.

This week Newsweek finds itself being taken to task on a whole host of fronts for their “Food Porn” cover. What are the alleged “porn”y aspects of the cover? The red lips? The two rather, ahem, small stocks of asparagus posed over the model’s open mouth?

Ummm, No. That is not porn…

This is all a shame because I’d actually like to know what the “101 Best Places to Eat in The World” are. I’d also like to read some of the other articles promoted on the front cover. But not because of the cover image.

As other writers have pointed out, the photo that Newsweek used for it’s cover is stock. It was last used in the U.K.’s “Observer Food Monthly” in 2008.

Now that, folks, strikes me as a rather shocking failure of editorial control. Laugh at Newsweek all you want. They still have a fairly large circulation and their combined print and digital strength is nothing to sneeze at. So if they make that kind of mistake it tells you that the host is rather sick.

As to the so called “porn” aspects of the image…

Oh please. No really. Grow up!

No,  I have to ask: Seriously? If this is all it takes to get writers and editorialists into a tizzy, then I think we have to question the conventional wisdom that says that porn has gone “mainstream” in America.

Look, I’ve worked in the world of print porn. This is not exactly something that I am proud of. However, it’s not something I am ashamed of either. It’s just a fact of life in the newsstand world. If you work in our little backwater of the publishing universe, at some point in time, everything circles back to porn. Like it or not, whatever your opinion, at some point samples of the stuff winds up on your desk.

Or at least it used to.

Porn: Ughhh. I’ve sold it. Represented it. Promoted it. Done signings with models. Hell, I’ve checked rack fixtures in adult book shops all over the states of Michigan, Ohio and Indiana (This is a recurring nightmare of mine). I’d like to think that I know what porn looks like.

The Newsweek cover is not porn. It’s not even mildly sexy.

As political blogger Taylor Marsh opines:

“Cue heavy breathing and the R rating and for God’s sake hide the children!”

This isn’t even mildly intersting PG-13 stuff. This is stuff that got a PG-13 rating so 14 year old boys wouldn’t feel so bad when their parents force them to take their 11 year old brothers out to the movies for a Sunday afternoon.

At the end of the day (or choose some other over used “Business Speak” phrase that suits you), the interesting aspect of this story is how Newsweek managed to re-use a stock photo for a cover. Now that strikes me as mildly shocking.

For the record: This is what a porn magazine looks like:

Any questions?

Things Placed In Front of The Magazine Rack Part 7 0f…The Fully Charged Edition

This just in from our US News and World Report correspondent, Mark White, V.P. of Specialty Marketing. I’ll let his words describe what he found:

The good news is that our new Secrets of the Civil War got placement by checkout that we didn’t pay for. The bad news, of course, is that the retailer committed such assault and battery against its highly profitable magazine business that no shoppers will actually see our bookazine. More bad news: The title is not displayed on the store’s mainline.

Lasts just as long, costs less, and delivers even fewer profits…

Encroachment at the front end has long been an issue for the publications that participate in check outs, with the encroachers enjoying the benefits and the “encroachees” left scrambling to defend their turf. “Things Placed In Front of The Magazine Rack” is part of an informal calculation I now consider when budgeting for check out programs.

Although in this particular case, we’d have to argue that Mark’s “encroachee” title didn’t get much benefit because of the dump display of batteries.

I wonder if there is an algorithm that would define this? Could it be turned into a charge back “Marketing Fee”? Who would have to pay the carrying and inventory costs? I’ll have to get the accounting department on that right away.

In the meantime, Mark should know that I found Secrets of the Civil War on the mainline of my neighborhood supermarket and I thought it was a really good read (I bought a copy).

If you have a good example of “Things Placed in front of the Magazine Rack”, please forward them. Checkout, mainline, specialty rack, all are accepted and appreciated.

Things Placed in Front of The Magazine Rack: Part 6 of…

No, I haven’t run out of things to write about. There is so much to discuss about the single copy business. Over the past few weeks I’ve received some some remarkably good material from correspondents around the country. It is nice to get these pictures and stories in a “I wish it wasn’t so” kind of way. It’s clear that my griping about things getting placed in front of magazine displays isn’t restricted to my little neck of the woods. But I guess I already knew that.

Consultant Linda Ruth of Publishers Single Copy Sales and Magazine Dojo was recently reviewing some magazine displays on behalf of one of her clients and sent along some of the things she witnessed. She also wrote a very engaging blog post on Magazine Dojo entitled, “Retail’s Failure to Honor Their Display Promise” and I encourage you to go and read it.

Strike One!

Part of the issue here is that store managers rightly have a lot of freedom to put displays where they see fit. They don’t have an enormous amount of room, magazines are at the front end, they’re already in pockets. For the most part store managers don’t have to worry about merchandising them and these one shot pre-packs need to go somewhere. So they go in front of the checkout.

As Linda points out, when pre-packs get stuck in front of a mainline, it’s the price we mainline publisher’s pay for just paying our discount and RDA. But the checkout is another animal because publishers pay discount, plus RDA, plus the rack construction cost. More importantly, it’s a three year commitment.

This would be way cooler if Barbie had made the front cover of People
Well, tea is low cal, but the aisle is closed so…

Barbies, wiffle balls and herbal teas are at best, a one week commitment.

The recent developments in the industry, most notably the purchase of Comag by News Group, the investment of Hudson News into the deal are supposed to be a “watershed moment” where we will see the elimination of overlapping marketing and distribution activities and a smoothing of the waters in the distribution channel.

From an accounting and staffing perspective, I get that.

Having all kinds of  junk dumped in front of checkout and mainline display space is nothing new – it’s been happening for years upon countless years. In the 21st century, though, it feels a little different. Magazines at retail are being challenged. Our distribution systems are fragile because there are so few avenues to market. All of them are stressed. Cost of entry has risen, not gone down.

Clearly we’re not making our case well enough to the retailers. Do they feel an obligation to maintain the space that our publishers pay a premium for? Our wholesalers are supposed to merchandise. Clearly our wholesalers are under pressure to get the job done and facing enormous amounts of competition for the space they do manage.

Years ago, the wholesalers used to maintain an industry trade group that tried to speak for them with one voice. Publishers and national distributors have IPDA, the MPA and the PBAA. There is a joint “Retail Conference”. Is it time for publishers, wholesalers and national distributors to try and speak for magazines with just one voice? Most of our disagreements are so much inside baseball. But the profitability of the product we represent is not up for argument.

Want some reading material on your picnic?

We need to do a better job engaging the retailer, checking up on our own distributions, and fighting for our space. How do we do this with circulation staffs and budgets that are shells of what they once were?

Increased “efficiencies” of all types is a noble goal. But ours is a sales oriented business.

Let’s sell something.

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