It’s been a fun week talking to some old friends in the industry. They all called to say hey, why was I depressing the heck out of them with all this talk of Plan B? And they offered me their thoughts.
Irwin Krimke, a magazine industry veteran, was on the phone with me recently with a penetrating question, namely: Why would I want to quote John Harrington and Baird Davis? “Linda, I have no clue why you would do that,” he said. “No clue whatsoever. I call them Dr. Doom and Dr. Gloom. They’re killing us. Retailers read this stuff and take away our space. Now do we need that?”
No, I conceded, we did want to keep our space at retail. “Bad enough,” Irwin continued, “that TNG has a virtual monopoly now. But listen, things are not so bad as that. I’ve got a magazine, Backwoodsman. I took them to Kable News Company, they were putting out 38,000 copies; now they’re sending 209,000 copies and selling at close to 50 percent. If I could take away the prematures I could sell in the 60s.”
But while the numbers are impressive, I admitted, wasn’t that part of the problem? The lack of follow up at retail. The loss of display. The prematures.
“Linda, listen, sure it’s part of the problem,” he said. “Before this consolidation the wholesaler route men took care of the display. But look, the wholesalers can’t afford that anymore. All they can afford are part time people with no benefits. These people are supposed to work 19 hours. They get three or four stores. The turnover is 100 percent a year. It’s been a mess for a long time. It’s always been a mess, so it’s the same thing today, only more so.”
What does he do, I ask, to grow his title? “It takes luck, is what it takes. Luck and a whole lot of hard work. Same as always. And hitting people on the head—over and over. I say to them, can you keep this title on sale instead of dumping it in the returns to pay your bills? A couple of these chain buyers have been very difficult. They love getting their money upfront, but the checkout is passé.”
And digital, I prompt him. Digital is a factor, isn’t it? “I don’t think digital has hurt magazines that much,” Irwin said. “It’s hurt the books. It’s hurt paperback and hardcover books tremendously. My wife switched us over. Before that we were buying our books at Sams. But you know what? I read faster on tablet than with the book. A third faster, because you don’t have to turn the page. But magazines, no. You still want them in print.”
Can I quote you? I ask. Lots of people call with their thoughts, but no one wants to be quoted. “Linda, I’m 85 years old. Of course you can quote me. What difference does it make?”
Then what, I asked, is your advice for the rest of us? “I have always had three little words for this industry: simple, practical and complicated. And everyone’s forgotten the first two.” Irwin said. “But let me tell you this, with all this talk about our industry dying. If this title, this client of mine, is able to grow 600 percent, don’t tell me there aren’t other titles out there that can do it. You find those titles and you work the heck out of them.”