After several difficult weeks, many of the former Source Interlink retailers have begun to transition their business to Hudson News, to TNG (formerly The News Group). The two big players that remain have begun a rapid and disciplined process of creating distributions for some of the copies that have been languishing on docks and for copies being printed and shipped now.
As part of that process, TNG is “asking” publishers for return of signed copies of what we laughingly call an “agreement.” Covering several hot-button issues that have perplexed many of us in the past, such as what a Pay-on-Scan business might look like, this agreement begins to outline how this business will run now that a single wholesaler calls the shots. The choice to the publisher seems to be: Do you want to play? Or do you want to take your bat and your ball and go home?
A few publishers are going gentle into that good night, lambs to the slaughter. Others are going kicking and screaming. Some, as they make their choices today, are defaulting to a Niebuhr-esque approach, seeking to parse what is necessary and what is not, taking on the things that might be changed and letting go of the things that can’t.
But Catherine Lee, the Founder and CEO of Discovery Girls magazine, is looking to the future.
“This is an opportunity for us all,” she said when I made that tough call—the one in which I had to tell her what her options were. “We have endured, as an industry, so much over the past year, two years, five years. Now it’s time to pick up and go forward.”
I had called her with the expectation of a very different response. Catherine, like most independent publishers, has been challenged by the increasing demands of the business, the dropping revenue, the slipping efficiencies. Would she, I privately wondered, even want to stay in the game? And if she, and many other publishers, were to choose not to, what then? What happens to the newsstand distribution business? What happens to consumer magazines? What happens to print?
“We need to turn this into an opportunity,” Catherine told me. “An opportunity for channel partners to get together and help each other. We need to be successful, and the remaining wholesale groups need to be successful. We need to work with them, and to make the best of this.”
With wholesalers representing over 40 percent of the business exiting within the past nine months, and the rest desperately looking for ways to survive, how could this be viewed, I wondered, as an opportunity?
“The forces in the market are bringing us together,” Catherine responded. “It is important for us to stand together to meet the future. We need to get together with TNG, with Hudson News, with everyone still out there, and create a platform for success for all of us.”
Every remaining channel partner, I suggested, was still trying to navigate this transition and keep their heads above water. Would anyone be ready to begin those conversations, to figure out what comes next?
“Our wholesaler partners need our magazines to sell,” Catherine said. “We need our wholesaler partners to distribute our magazines efficiently. We can’t sink into a black hole. We need to make things better. We need to get together with the players, to start brainstorming, to start creating our future. We’re going to figure this out. It needs to start somewhere.
“This is the first time in a long time that I’ve been excited about our industry’s prospects,” she concluded. “The first time in a long time I could begin thinking that things are going to change.”