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Jason Fell

Obama Issue Best Selling in Ebony’s 67-Year History

Jason Fell Audience Development - 02/18/2009-14:01 PM

President Barack Obama has been a boon for more than just Time magazine.

Johnson Publishing’s Ebony said that its January issue featuring Obama recorded the highest single copy sales in the magazine’s 67-year history. To be exact, it sold 405,000 copies off the newsstand—or more than double an average January issue.

Time said newsstand sales for its commemorative election issue and Person of the Year issue shattered the magazine’s own single copy sales records. The November 17 election issue sold an estimated 575,000 single copies—or nearly five times as many copies as an average issue—forcing the magazine to go back to print four times. Time projects that its Person of the Year issue will sell 70 percent more copies than the average Person of the Year issues, making it the biggest-selling cover in the history of the franchise.

Indeed, the President has become a brand of his own. From street vendors selling Obama-themed artwork and t-shirts to enabling people to create their own digital versions of the iconic Barack Obama “Hope” poster, everyone is cashing in on the Obama phenomena.

And, why not? In this economy, every penny counts.

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Jason Fell

Connecticut Governor Cuts Magazine Subscriptions Out of State Budget

Jason Fell M and A and Finance - 02/13/2009-11:45 AM

Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell won’t be reading Glamour, People or any other magazine for that matter, on her lunch breaks anymore.

As part of a wide-ranging plan to save taxpayers $21.3 million for the fiscal year that ends June 30, Rell is canceling a number of state contracts for goods and services—including magazine subscriptions.

“Services such as car washes, giveaways like magnets and pens, niceties like magazine subscriptions and luxuries such as new office furniture are simply not affordable at a time when our budget shortfall grows every day and taxpayers are wondering how they will make their own paychecks stretch from month to month,” Rell said in a statement.

So how much exactly will Connecticut save by cutting magazine subs for state workers? As much as $40,248, Rell said. With annual subscriptions at many major magazines at or below $10, Connecticut workers must have been getting a ton of magazines.

I wonder how much recycling all those magazines cost.

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Jason Fell

A Sad End for Anderson News

Jason Fell Audience Development - 02/12/2009-10:06 AM

UPDATE: Anderson Files Antitrust Lawsuit

The Web site is down. E-mails and phone calls have not been returned. There may not be a business anymore.

On Saturday, Anderson News, the magazine wholesaler, announced it was suspending “normal business activity,” but would “continue to hold discussions with publishers and retailers, trying to develop a viable model that allows it to remain in business.” On a pre-recorded conference call, CEO Charlie Anderson informed employees that they were not to report to work on Monday and not to return until notified to do so.

Now, the company has notified “most” of its staffers they have, in fact, been terminated, according to a blog post on Tennessee’s Knoxville News Sentinel Web site (Anderson was headquartered there). “Employees were being escorted out of the headquarters building on Brookvale Lane with boxes of their stuff in hand,” the post said.

It was not immediately clear if the company was shut down or perhaps sold to a rival wholesaler, such as News Group.

Anderson’s decision to suspend normal operations came roughly three weeks after it, along with fellow wholesaler Source Interlink, threatened publishers with separate 7-cents-per-copy price hikes. Publishers largely balked at the surcharge and refused to pay, upset at the wholesalers' sudden and "unilateral" decision to boost costs. Source has since filed a lawsuit against those publishers as well as rival wholesalers, alleging a conspiracy to run Source out of business.

The decision to shut down or sell any company is a difficult one. This one, however, left Anderson staffers spending the better part of a week in limbo wondering what would become of their jobs.

Could this have been handled better? Could Anderson employees not have had to endure six days of just not knowing?

Maybe. Maybe not.

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Jason Fell

M&A Player’s Prediction: Recession Will End by June

Jason Fell M and A and Finance - 02/10/2009-12:43 PM

Get your proverbial crystal ball—and your pocketbook—ready.

In a press release issued today, Michael Alcamo, president of a New York City-based investment banking firm, boldly predicted that there is a “95 percent chance” the economic recession will end on or before June 1. Alcamo based the prediction on evaluations he conducted of empirical data collected by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“The NBER data show that we have had 11 recessions since World War II, and that the average post-war recession lasted 10.3 months,” Alcamo said in the release. “This recession may be different in character and causes than prior recessions, but we do not believe that this cycle will not be fundamentally atypical.”

When contacted by FOLIO:, Alcamo said his prediction of economic recovery has major implications for magazine publishers. Trade publishers serving sectors linked to President Obama’s stimulus package—including civil engineering, roads and bridges, home-building/ lumber, hydroelectric, electrical grid, etc.—are “likely to do well,” he said. Also, he predicts an increase in the allocation of advertising dollars by the fourth quarter.

“I would see shelter books doing better, and trade publishing that focuses on retail, including giftware, gourmet food, foodservice, and city and regional publishing, which depends on major regional retail advertisers.”

But isn’t it a bit risky to publicly predict the end of a recession? What if he’s way off?

“We feel that it is important and valuable to maintain a sense of the cyclical nature of history,” he said. “The depth of a recession can be a result of psychology … I think there now is a natural inclination to be optimistic and confident in Washington, and this will work to our advantage.”

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Jason Fell

OK!: Brownridge’s Dramatic Departure Not Based on ‘Strategic Error’

Jason Fell Consumer - 02/10/2009-07:27 AM

Kent Brownridge’s tenure as general manager of the U.S. edition of OK! was as tumultuous as it was short-lived. Not long after joining the celebrity weekly, Brownridge [pictured] fired publisher Tom Morrissy, hired a new head of public relations and named former Quick & Simple editor Susan Toepfer to replace founding editor Sarah Ivens, who announced she was leaving the magazine.

But OK! endured the same economic downturn that punished the entire magazine industry, and London-based publisher Northern & Shell last month decided to cut its losses and ousted Brownridge (as well as Toepfer) after only four months on the job.

In Brownridge’s defense, Northern & Shell group editorial director and board member Paul Ashford recently told England’s Guardian newspaper that his departure wasn’t related to any strategic error he made. An unnamed “insider” told the paper Brownridge joined OK! at the worst possible time. “We became more and more reluctant to hand over 100 percent control of management, and in the end decided the [Northern & Shell founder Richard] Desmond way, running it from London, was best."

In the report, Ashford said new publisher Lori Burgess (one the few Brownridge hires who remain) managed to increase advertising sales in January 30 percent over the same month last year. Ashford said the magazine has no plans of shutting down.

“[Desmond’s] happy with what he's done,” Ashford told the paper. “So we fight on."

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Jason Fell

Bauer Takes Beating at Newsstand

Jason Fell Audience Development - 02/09/2009-11:18 AM

Celebrity escapism isn't enough to save magazines anymore.

Bauer's celebrity magazines In Touch Weekly and Life & Style took some of the most severe hits at newsstands in the second half of 2008.

Newsstand sales at In Touch were 834,492, plummeting 32 percent from 1.23 million during the same period in 2007, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations’ FAS-FAX report released today. Single copy sales of Life & Style fell 31.3 percent to 461,969, down from 672,463 during the second half of 2007.

It should be noted, though, that In Touch and Life & Style both upped cover prices by 50 percent, from $1.99 to $2.99, in Novemebr 2007.

The other big decliners were Wenner Media’s Us Weekly, which saw single copy sales slide 20.7 percent during the period to 796,669, and Northern & Shell’s OK!, which reported 490,417 single copy sales, down 10.8 percent.

Not all the news was dire. Time Inc.’s Entertainment Weekly (up 6.6 percent to 50,437) and People (up 3 percent to 1.47 million) posted modest single copy sales gains for the period.

EW, which carries a ratebase of 1.73 million, does not rely as heavily on newsstand sales as its fellow celeb titles, with only about 3 percent of sales coming from the newsstand.

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Jason Fell

How Doubledown Double-Dipped

Jason Fell Editorial - 02/05/2009-18:44 PM

Earlier this week, FOLIO: reported that Doubledown Media, the publisher of magazines aimed at the Wall Street elite, has ceased operations. This morning, as I was scanning the newsstand, I came across a couple remnants of the once-rising enterprise—and was seeing double. Literally.

Side-by-side, the November/December issue of Doubledown’s Trader Monthly and the December/January issue of Dealmaker are nearly identical. The cover subjects—Dean Smith and Wray Thorn, respectively—are posed and photographed the same way. The coverlines are near mirror images of each other.

Flipping through, I found—wait, yes—identical feature stories. Word for word. Page for page. With little in the way of design changes.

Admittedly, I was not a subscriber to Doubledown’s magazines, so I don’t know if this happened often or was an isolated incident. While I understand that Trader Monthly and Dealmaker had similar readerships (and advertisers) there is no excuse for such blatant, lazy sharing of copy.

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Jason Fell

How to Cleverly Spin Your Next Round of Layoffs

Jason Fell Consumer - 02/03/2009-17:45 PM

Layoffs are always difficult—certainly for those losing their jobs, also (sometimes) for those who are wielding the axe.

Chicago-based Johnson Publishing came up with a clever spin on announcing them.

Yesterday, a Johnson spokesperson assured me no layoffs are associated with its “multi-phased” reorganization.  Current employees, however, are “eligible to be considered for new positions.” The spokesperson declined to offer specifics about the new staffing plan other than to say Johnson expects to “see a net gain” in employee head count as a result.

Translated, Johnson employees will find out later, not sooner, if they get to keep their jobs and who might eventually replace them and/or their former colleagues.

In a recent story posted to the CFO magazine Web site, Jeff Higgins, executive vice president of North American client services for Infohrm, a workforce analytics company, said job cuts are “one of the most unscientific decisions companies can make.”

“In financial statements, corporations often refer to employees as being among their most valuable assets,” he told CFO. “That's a complete contradiction. Employees are usually seen as period expenses. They're the same as a napkin. They're less than a chair, because if you bought a bunch of chairs, they are capital equipment. Computers rate far higher than people in accounting systems.”

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Jason Fell

‘Diverse’ Shelter Magazines Will Survive

Jason Fell Consumer - 01/29/2009-09:34 AM

Another shelter magazine bit the dust yesterday as Condé Nast announced plans to pull the plug on Domino and dominomag.com.

Recently, other magazines in this category have met a similar fate, with Meredith closing Country Home earlier this month and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia folding Blueprint at the beginning of last year.

The shelter category is suffering a pair of blows: the ill effects of the overall down economy, paired with the downfall of the housing market.

Despite all the turmoil, however, the shelter magazine category isn’t going away, says Kate Kelly Smith, vice president and publisher of Hearst's House Beautiful. Launched in 1896, the magazine, she said, saw ad pages increase 8 percent in 2008. Newsstand sales were up, too, also increasing by 8 percent last year.

“Shelter magazines as a category aren't going away anytime soon,” Smith told FOLIO: today. “But one thing is clear: The big trend over the past two decades was focusing your magazine on one style; they're great while they last, but they don't adapt to changes in taste or downturns in the economy.”

Smith admits there aren’t enough ad pages in the category to go around right now. “The only real pattern I see is business at its most basic: In a downturn, there's only room for the category leaders; the fringes fall away fast,” she said. “And the more diversified your business is, the less you're about one thing, the better you'll weather the storm.”

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Jason Fell

Unexpected Delivery: AARP Member Gets 1,000 Copies of Magazine

Jason Fell Association and Non-Profit - 01/22/2009-13:21 PM

As the saying goes: Ask and ye shall receive.

This, however, was a bit extreme.

When AARP member Tony Thomas first noticed he wasn’t receiving his copies of AARP Bulletin, the organization’s bimonthly news publication, he called to complain. That was 2007. After 18 months, and five phone calls, he still wasn’t getting the magazine.

That changed December 6 when the Post Office delivered not one but 1,000 copies of the January/February issue. “I called [AARP] back and said, ‘Thanks for the copy. I received it. What do you want me to do with the other 999,’” Thomas told the Las Vegas Sun newspaper.

Obviously, someone in circulation goofed. “A mistake occurred when the status of the member’s account was being updated–there is a code (999) that reflects Lifetime Member status and that was inadvertently entered into the number of copies to be delivered instead of the code field,” a spokesperson wrote in an e-mail to FOLIO:.

This time, AARP followed up promptly. The organization dispatched a staffer from its Nevada office to Thomas’ home to retrieve the 999 extra copies. They were to be distributed to various area senior centers and healthcare facilities.

“Anybody can make a mistake,” Thomas said, “but this was a big one.”

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Jason Fell

What’s Left of Gemstar-TV Guide to Sell?

Jason Fell M and A and Finance - 01/19/2009-11:11 AM

Looking back at Macrovision’s $2.8 billion cash and stock merger with Gemstar/TV Guide last April, and its recent divestments of the print edition and online networks, some questions came to mind.

What was Macrovision’s thinking when they bought Gemstar and has their strategy changed, if at all, since the purchase? What are they left with after the divestment of the print magazine and online network?

Do the divestments justify what they paid?

Earlier this month, the Santa Clara, California-based digital software solutions firm agreed to sell the TV Guide Network—including TVGuide.com—to film entertainment studio Lionsgate for $255 million. The agreement came about a month after it said it had agreed to sell the network to Allen Shapiro and One Equity Partners for an initial payment of $255 million and up to $45 million more in “earn out” to be paid through 2012.

Last fall, in what was one of the weirdest magazine deals in recent memory, Macrovision sold the financially ailing print edition of the magazine to TV Guide to Beverly Hills, California-based investment firm OpenGate Capital for, that’s right, $1—and agreed to loan OpenGate up to $9.5 million at only 3 percent interest.

I asked Macrovision these questions. Here’s what Corey Ferengul, executive vice president of marketing, wrote over e-mail:

Macrovision acquired several key assets from Gemstar-TV Guide, including worldwide interactive program guides, extensive entertainment metadata, a strong patent portfolio, and emerging mobile business.  We will continue to invest in and develop new solutions using and expanding upon each of these assets, as well as products that ultimately enhance the consumer’s total entertainment experience. Which includes new offerings for CE device makers, system operators, service providers and content providers of virtually all forms of entertainment. We plan to broaden the opportunities for our combined portfolio and IP by extending our solutions for existing and new Macrovision customers.

So, it appears there are, in fact, remaining assets from the initial acquisition Macrovision believes was worth the initial $2.8 billion investment. But perhaps there’s still one piece left to sell:

Macrovision has announced the sale of TV Guide Magazine, TV Guide Network and TV Guide Online. As to the remaining non-core media property, TVG, Interactive Horseracing Network, Macrovision continues to be actively engaged in exploring transactions to sell the property.

Who knew there was a TV Guide-branded horse-racing/betting site? Giddy up.

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Jason Fell

Long Live Magazines

Jason Fell M and A and Finance - 01/15/2009-15:49 PM

Sort of an ironic cover.

Masthead, a magazine that for more than two decades covered the Canadian magazine industry, said this fall the November/December issue would be its last (as of last month, the Web site will continue).  The big cover line for the final, collector’s edition?

Long Live Magazines.

It’s sad that Masthead, like so many other magazines, is closing down its print edition to exist only online. Although difficult, we see though that launching and publishing a print magazine, despite precipitously declining ad revenues, for some, isn’t as crazy as it might seem right now.

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