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Linda Ruth

A New Era of Newsstand Sales Begins

Linda Ruth Audience Development - 06/24/2014-13:37 PM

 

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.”

 

 

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Mitch Speers

The Programmatic Threat

Mitch Speers Sales and Marketing - 06/17/2014-14:54 PM

According to some publishers, programmatic is just a way for agencies to commoditize ad inventory and make sales teams irrelevant. The truth is, software has mostly replaced travel agents, and it will replace some ad salespeople and media buyers too. The benefits to advertisers are too compelling for this not to happen. Amex has already announced it is going 100% programmatic, and others will follow.

So hoping it will just go away if you do nothing is not a healthy option.

If you sell display sponsorships with an effective CPM of $1,500 and agencies aren't pushing you to demonstrate ROI, then go ahead and keep milking it. But start working on a plan B now, because as programmatic expands, you'll have fewer places to hide–whether you choose to participate or not.

Many publishers still equate programmatic with low-quality remnant inventory ad networks notorious for "black box" programs that are rife with fraud. That is not the reality of programmatic now. Amex isn't going to buy crap audiences. They want the most efficient way to reach great audiences. Programmatic is starting to deliver that, and it's getting more efficient as competition and participation grow.

If you're already delivering performance-based campaigns and your audience is valuable and engaged, programmatic could theoretically deliver higher CPMs than you're getting now. Programmatic will almost certainly improve sell-through, meaning fewer unsold impressions every month. Forbes is generating 30 percent of digital revenue from programmatic selling already.

A lot of the fear and confusion comes from the singularity-like speed with which the industry is evolving. That pace will only accelerate. If you are delivering demonstrable value to your advertisers now, it's time to get working on your programmatic strategy.

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Bill Mickey

Get the Recognition Your Content and Design Deserve

Bill Mickey Design and Production - 06/12/2014-15:59 PM

 

FOLIO:'s annual Eddie and Ozzie Awards are coming up quickly—don't let this early summer lull fool you. In fact, the final deadline to enter is Friday, June 27.

So after June 27, that amazing November-issue cover your creative director built, or the blockbuster feature package your editors labored over, officially won't get industry-wide recognition if you miss the deadline.

And this is an industry of fan boys and girls. We're all watching what everyone else is doing. So the Eddie and Ozzie Awards, which feature an army of 300 judges who pour over more than 2,000 entries, is the best and biggest forum to get your hard work recognized and honored.

I can't tell you how many times my team and I have heard the phrase "it's all about quality content" when we're talking to publishers about a new initiative. And it's true. Technology may change, new trends emerge, but at the end of the day, it's the content and its design that matter to the audience.

The Eddie and Ozzie Awards are your chance to let our industry know your brand has one of the best teams behind it.

Good luck and enter here.

 

 

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Katelyn Belyus

Should More Publishers Join Hachette in the Amazon Throw-Down?

Katelyn Belyus Consumer - 06/12/2014-12:17 PM

 

Last fall, I commended Condé Nast on its partnership with Amazon, but also suggested that we keep an eye on the retailer and not give them too much power. Now, Hachette is doing just that, as it and Amazon engage in public fisticuffs over royalty payments.

You're familiar with it now, but I’ll recap: Amazon and Hachette are in a fight over royalties. Hachette refused to cave to Amazon's allegedly crappy deal (the talks are happening behind closed doors). As a result, Amazon has discouraged customers from buying Hachette titles, including saddling them with up to month-long delivery times, offering alternative lower-priced titles, and, bizarrely, encouraging people to purchase Hachette titles from its competitors.

As Jack Shafer at Reuters wrote, “By essentially banishing many Hachette titles from its stock, Amazon, which ordinarily puts its customers first, has put them last.”

Hard to argue that it's being customer-centric. Way to let your freak flag fly, Bezos.

All I can say is: Go for it, Hachette. I'm into it. It's one thing to partner with a giant company that is well-liked by customers and quite another to be asked to submit to a monolith while they squeeze out the competition. In fact, it has the look and feel of an anti-trust lawsuit waiting to happen.

On some level, customers are complicit. The notoriously pro-consumer company is acting to the contrary. And customers need to demand a better business for all involved, if for nothing other than to enhance their experience. Pressure from one of the big five book publishers will help. We’re not talking about customers losing access to Susie Down the Block’s chapbook or someone’s published grad school thesis; Amazon customers are going to lose access to writers like James Patterson, Malcolm Gladwell and America’s golden child: GMA’s Robin Roberts.

Tim Worstall, a blogger for Forbes, suggests that we just let them fight it out themselves. I understand why other publishers are loathe to get involved, and to instead wait it out on the sidelines, hoping for Hachette's triumph, particularly since Amazon has proven to be a no-holds-barred negotiator. As Jonathan Mahler wrote in his piece for the Times: “[Other publishers] have their own relationships with Amazon to protect, and they do not want anything they say to be construed as antagonistic, all the more so now that Amazon has demonstrated its willingness to punish booksellers when negotiations become contentious.”

Publishers are wary, and rightfully so, but where is the FTC on this? Some judge has got to be dying to write the definitive opinion on Amazon v. Hachette.

As companies consider the odds, I'm hoping more get involved, not less. Do I want my company to throw down? I'm not sure. As a struggling independent publisher that relies on Amazon for a source of revenue, I'm not certain I can make it up on our own, particularly because Amazon owns the customer, not me. Amazon customers appear beholden to Amazon, but this past month has proven that even Amazon has a breaking point.

Then again, isn't a bar fight much more fun when every drunk joins the fray? Sure, the whole place is gonna get thrashed, but it's probably time to gut the thing anyway.

 

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Robert Newman

Face Up Online: Lucky Peach

Robert Newman Design and Production - 06/09/2014-09:32 AM

The Spring 2014 cover of Lucky Peach magazine is a tasty, illustrated concoction that highlights its "All You Can Eat" issue. It's a very unusual and very creative cover with a 3D illustration by Jordan Speer that looks straight out of an old Gumby claymation cartoon. I think this is a brilliant cover, very different and unique compared to most other food magazines. And it's simply one of the most fun covers I've seen this year. Not only did this delightful cover illustration convince me to buy the magazine, but everyone who has seen my copy has grabbed it away and started reading.

"I was a chef for 10 years," says Caysey Welton, associate editor at Folio:. "So I'm bored by a lot of food covers these days. But this one is fresh and cool." He is spot on with his analysis. At my local Whole Foods, this cover jumped out at me, amidst a wall of food and health magazines, all of them featuring beautiful, sensual, refined photographs, very sophisticated and well-polished in their design and styling. By comparison, Lucky Peach looks like a funky homemade dish that cares less about being perfect and pristine in its presentation, but with a much greater sense of passion, delight and soul.
Lucky Peach is the quarterly food and eating magazine brainchild of Momofuku restaurant owner and chef David Chang. Originally published in partnership with McSweeney's, Lucky Peach ended the relationship late last year; this is the second issue published as a completely independent operation.

This cover, art directed by Walter Green, is a big departure from Lucky Peach's first few independent issues. Those covers were raw, punky, graphic and somewhat off-putting, with photographs of big slabs of raw meat, knives, and burly tattooed arms and hands. The typography and headlines were aggressive, and the overall feel was very masculine and almost fatally hip. Honestly, I didn't like it and thought it was the wrong approach, although it was certainly effective in getting attention.

After six or seven issues, the Lucky Peach cover direction changed dramatically. Recent covers have boasted colorful, playful illustrations, like something you'd see in a children's book. Headlines have been minimized and, the original hand-drawn logo remains, which in the context of the lighter illustrations looks charming and homespun. The covers are now accurate reflections of the inside pages of the magazine, which are a lush, visual treat. It's a rich, diverse, multi-textured look, with very little of the "food porn" photography that fills most epicurean magazines these days.

Fun is really the key to this cover, and that's what makes it so unique. It's rare to see a magazine cover that looks like it was actually fun to make, while also keeping it representative of the richness and quality of the material inside. For a sense of what Lucky Peach looks like, visit their Tumblr page, which is an explosion of exciting graphics and visual inspiration.

Lucky Peach is somewhat of a throwback to the illustrated Gourmet magazine covers of the 1940s and 50s. Those covers were artful but zany and quirky. Often illustrated by Henry Stahlhut, the illustrated Gourmet covers were the total opposite of the perfectly styled plates of food and gourmet dishes on magazine covers today. The "All You Can Eat" cover reminds me of Bloomberg Businessweek, with its pure disregard for any of the standard operating techniques of its genre.

I took my daughter to the Momofuku Noodle Bar in the East Village of New York City over the past weekend to celebrate her 14th birthday. She's a big fan of the Momofuku Milk Bar on the Upper West Side, where she favors strawberry milkshakes and pork buns. At the Noodle Bar she ordered Momofuku Ramen, while I gave up my meatless diet for a bowl of Spicy Miso Ramen (with chicken and pork broth). The food was hearty and delicious, and sitting in the restaurant at one of the long communal tables, I was reminded why the Lucky Peach cover is so perfect. It's a lot like the Momofuku restaurants: funky, uncompromising, hip (but not hipster), downhome and totally delightful and tasty. Like any great cover, it engages the readers in a visual conversation and invites them inside to discover a world of wonders, while at the same time maintaining the essence of its brand.

 

 

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Linda Ruth

Goodbye to Source Interlink Distribution

Linda Ruth Audience Development - 06/03/2014-10:57 AM

 

We are stunned, we are blindsided, or we saw this coming all along. We are scrambling for distribution, we are crying for attention, we are vying for our places in the lifeboat. Messages in my inbox and voices on my phone reflect fear, concern, survivors’ guilt, schadenfreude.

But most of all, in the scramble to find our feet, to ride this out, to get our copies out of the printers and off the docks and into the retail outlets, we—or at least I—feel grief. Old-fashioned, honest-to-God grief, like the kind you might feel when you lose a human friend.

As one of Source’s executives wrote me: “This is such a sad day as you note for not only Source, but for the industry as a whole. We did our best to keep it afloat but, in the end, the model is just broken and it has to be fixed. One can just hope that in the midst of disruption that something positive can evolve. As you can imagine, my priority has been trying to work through the human aspect of this, as it affects so many good people who dedicated years and years of their lives to Source.”

Among the first people I ever met in this business were Bill Jech and Dave Buescher, founders of IPD, later sold to Source Interlink as the basis of their distribution business. I watched as the direct distribution model was scaled up to national, merged back into mainstream, broken out in tielines and pick and packs; I watched as warehouses were set up and taken down, and information evolved and was reworked, as people came and went and systems improved or were replaced.

And in the course of those years, I met smart, hard-working people doing their best to find a way to keep their business afloat. People who worked to improve merchandising, to improve customer service, to improve warehousing, to improve efficiency. People who helped me, and my clients, solve difficult problems.

Practically, there are lots of questions that are not yet answered. Who will pick up all that retail business, and what portion of it will go away? Which publications will survive this upheaval—and which will not? What will happen to our industry when only two large wholesale groups, both of which share ownership of one major national distributor, control virtually all the distribution? Is there still a role for a national distributor when what you have is essentially a national wholesaler? And if no one has been making money until now, how will this change enable them to start doing so?

Those questions won’t be answered today, or tomorrow, or this month. We will revisit those questions, again and again. But for today, I can only think about the 6,000 Source Interlink people who are out of their jobs, and the company executives I have known for years, and the magazine business without a Source Interlink to turn to.

Goodbye, Source Interlink. We will miss you.

 

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Roy Beagley

Imagine If You Could Clean Up Your Personal Data on the Internet

Roy Beagley Audience Development - 06/03/2014-10:48 AM

 

Usually I try and offer helpful ideas and hints on items relating to various aspects of publishing. Therefore, it may seem that I am going off on a tangent in this post, but please bear with me.

It is not very often Europe has better ideas than America but it happens occasionally—Champagne and cheddar cheese chief among them—but recently the European community sort of demanded that people be allowed to clean up, indeed remove, data from search engines and I think we should do that here.

I have never ever submitted any data about me to any search engine, yet if you Google me you will get over 5,000 returns—not as many compared to Googling “champagne” with 71,200,000 returned or “cheddar cheese” with 3,250,000.

A great deal of the information online about me is out of date. There is also information about me that I regard as personal, rather than business related, and there is information about me that is just untrue. At no point did I actively ask for my information to be added and I am not really aware of ever having been asked about it. Sometimes you are asked to agree to “conditions” and I expect this is how my data get added, but if search engines are making money out of my data, or websites, or telemarketing companies, why is it only Europeans that get to clean their data up? Why can’t I?

Supposedly, if you do not want telemarketing companies calling you, you can get on the “do not call” list. There is a “do not mail” list as well. The trouble with these two lists is that disreputable companies do not subscribe to them, so “Rachel from Card Member Services” feels free to call at any time. Much of this information is collected from the Internet, so why should we not all be allowed to clean up data about us, and remove it if we want?

Back in the 1980s the United Kingdom passed the Data Protection Act, which basically says you have to opt in to get information rather then opt out. The direct mail industry recognized this was a good idea because the people opting out would not buy anything anyway. List costs dropped because there was less to rent, postage costs dropped because you mailed less, and response measured as a percentage increased making promotions more cost effective. In other words, by making the data more accurate, we got better results.

The Internet has a few good uses—listening to any radio station online, downloading music, getting the news, and so on. Another good use of the Internet is obtaining information and it makes sense to ensure that information is as accurate and up-to-date as possible, so why can’t we delete information that is wrong, irrelevant or just plain embarrassing? Often it is said that once “it is on the Internet, it is there for good”… but why can’t it be got rid of? It does not take that long for information to appear on the Internet, intentional or otherwise, so getting rid of it should be just as easy.

 

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Tony Silber

Business Conversations That Make Me Lose Sleep

Tony Silber - 06/02/2014-08:48 AM

Which workplace exchanges do you find to be most difficult? For most people, they're centered on two things: personnel and performance. Both of these things straddle the worlds of internal communications and HR, and both are also general managerial challenges.

I recently read an interesting column in Business Insider about the toughest conversations you can have at work. They were:

1. The Emotional Dismissal Conversation
2. The Awkward Personality Conversation
3. The Underperformance Conversation

All these are tough, but they are typically part of the same progression, and the progression usually starts with number three above, and ends with number one. Here are the toughest workplace conversations, from my perspective, and how I proceed.

Personnel
These kinds of issues run the gamut-from people who are squabbling, to turf wars, to folks who simply don't work well together. Sometimes goals don't sync up. Other times, actual performance doesn't fit the needs of the job, and that's typically when the three-conversation pattern that Business Insider described kicks in. To my mind, all of these things are a huge challenge and all of them divert from the common business goal.

I've learned over the years that a sustained, tight focus on performance is the way to go. There should be no politics, no gossiping, just set a tone for the group that all you care about is results. Results require collaboration. Keeping everyone focused on that creates a sense of confidence that relaxes a group and empowers them to experiment and achieve.

Business Relationships
This is another difficult area, but it's critical. Everyone from entry-level account managers to CEOs deals with either external clients, or with the public. Think of how frequent it is that a lower-level employee embarrasses a brand on social media, either when representing the company, or through some personal post that goes viral.

Of course, we're talking about conversations-whether with a subordinate or a colleague, or with an external customer. I've learned you can't wing it when it comes to customer conversations. Too much is at stake. Policies that everyone knows about and understands are critical, and these have to come from the top. I've had many conversations with customers in my career, and when business is on the line, they can be really tense. For me, the way to ensure that you preserve the business-if that's the goal, sometimes it isn't-the relationship has to come first. (This is a bit counter-intuitive, because I just stressed the importance of policies.) If your customers trust that you have their interests at heart, and you have thought through their challenges and understand their objectives-you'll keep the business. If they feel like you're officious, and policy-bound, you won't. Never use the word "unfortunately." That conveys a focus on your internal policy, not on customer-service. It is also condescending. Never use the phrase, "We're not set up to do that" for the same reasons. Always be ready with a solution or two.

Business Performance
For a lot of professionals, this is always a stress-inducing conversation, especially if you've fallen short of your goals. But it doesn't have to be. Putting aside the possibility of the fundamental lack of skills to do a job, most business-performance shortfalls relate to external factors in the market, not to your execution. So it really is an opportunity to shape a conversation about missing goals into the cool ways you're going to pivot to adjust to changes in the market.

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Robert Newman

Face Up Online: High Times

Robert Newman Design and Production - 05/20/2014-13:04 PM

"What were they smoking?" is a common joking criticism used by editors and art directors when referring to badly executed magazine covers. Well, in the case of the June 2014 cover of High Times, we know exactly what they were smoking. But the herb definitely helped with some wonderful creativity, because this is one of my favorite magazine covers of the year. I think a few more magazines could use what High Times is smoking; this cover is powerful, engaging, memorable and just plain fun (and funny).

The "Mount Kushmore" cover of High Times features a photo illustration of four top hip-hop artists, Snoop (Lion these days?), B-Real, Redman, and Method Man, all of whom are well-known weed enthusiasts. For FOLIO: readers who don't fully get the reference of the headline, the Urban Dictionary describes "kush" as "a high-grade strain of marijuana."

This is a gonzo cover that reminds me of some of the best altweekly newspaper covers, with an image that is very high conceptually, and somewhat funky (in a good way) in execution. But the idea and the passion behind it are what gives this cover such a great buzz and makes it a standout. Editor Chris Simunek explains that the idea originated with Snoop, who has been a regular cover subject–most notably as 2007's "Stoner of the Year." The original idea was to have the four heads carved out of hash. When that didn't work out (for obvious reasons), photographer Mark Mann was called in, along with creative director Bianca Barnhill, who organized the entire session. Additional tweaks to the cover came from art directors Roxanna Allen and Frank Max.

Speaking of Snoop, back in the 1990s I worked as the design director of Vibe. We were all hard at work one afternoon when a buzz went through the office because Snoop had arrived for an interview and was in the upstairs conference room. Within five minutes of his arrival, the sweet sticky smell of the most potent weed imaginable came drifting through the walls and floors. Needles to say, there wasn't any more work done that day (although the interview turned out great!).

This cover of High Times feels like it was crafted by people who love making magazines and who have an intimate connection with their readers . As editor Simunek says, "We definitely enjoyed doing this cover!" It's bright and refreshing, and the image mixes perfectly with the bold cover lines. The cover headlines are all winners: "40 Best Stoner Movies," "Pot in the NFL," and "Growing for Maximum Flavor." It's also a change from the regular High Times covers, which tend to feature beautifully photographed exotic strains of pot or a still life of a bong.

High Times has a rich history of cover design, stretching back to its launch in the early 1970s. Over the years they've had a series of talented art directors, and while the magazine has had its ups and downs, it's overall design has never been stronger than it is under the guidance of art director Frank Max, who has given it a structured, lively format with strong, engaging imagery and, of course, lots of beautiful weed pictorials.

When I was in college in the 70s, my friends and I would get High Times from the local head shop every month and rush home to read the heady (to us) mix of dope, rock ‘n' roll, politics and counterculture news. We would scour the Trans High Market drug price quotations every month, hoping to find our little town in the list (it never was) and marveling at what was available for purchase in other locations.

Years later I visited a friend who was working at the High Times office in New York City. After getting through an elaborate multi-lock security system (it was the 80s), I was ushered into a dark, heavily smoke-filled room. This was the office of the legendary High Times typesetter, who banged out endless galleys of type surrounded by piles of the most potent herb I had ever "seen." Perhaps it goes without saying, but I don't remember much else about my visit.

Those days are long gone, though, and High Times today is a much more professional operation. The magazine's ads are booming thanks to medical marijuana and the movement to legalize or decriminalize pot smoking. Celebrities like Oliver Stone have been on the cover, celebrating their sticky love. And the editorial content is a potent and polished blend of service, news and strong opinion.

I was worried that I was being too uncritical about this cover, so I reached out for a second opinion from Dan Zedek, a former High Times art director (in the mid-80s), and now the design director of the Boston Globe. He confirmed my opinion of it: "Two words for this cover: not shy," he said. "It has attitude to spare! It helps that the illustration is a little crude, the type colors a little loud. It's a perfect match for the subject matter: fun, noisy, and a bit bratty. For a magazine about not working hard, this cover works hard in the right ways."

So, I guess the obvious question here is: What was I smoking when I wrote this review? This answer is: nothing, or it wouldn't have been finished! Still, I hope High Times invites me to their next cover shoot.

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Linda Ruth

Inside the Wholesaler Distribution Dynamic

Linda Ruth Audience Development - 05/15/2014-15:36 PM

 

While readers of my blog often contact me with intriguing and sometimes unexpected information or ideas, it isn’t often that anyone brings up topics that I don’t think I already know something about.

Larry Scheur succeeded in doing that in a recent series of communications.

Larry is a real old-time independent wholesaler from Buffalo New York. He created “The Buffalo System,” which pioneered the use of title- and retailer-specific formulas into order regulation. And he asserts that NO ONE truly understands the economics of magazine distribution from the wholesaler standpoint.

Based on what he’s been telling me, that is certainly an assertion that applies to me.

What the wholesalers are saying about being unable to make money under existing conditions, Larry told me, is absolutely true. In fact, he says, wholesalers rarely—if ever—made money from sales. Profits, he says, came from “service charges, retailer under claims, retailer bankruptcies, return over claims, shortages, unreported overages, and special deals with national distributors.”

Naturally I—like anyone who’s been in newsstand distribution for enough years—had heard rumors of some irregularities in the old days of our business; but the concept that these irregularities might be so institutionalized as to provide the very basis of the survival of our business was (and is) astonishing to me. Larry, however, was willing to provide many examples.

“A highly respected EVP of a major national distributor once took to me to lunch,” he offered. “He said he would approve all my affidavits, no matter what the claim, for a 10 percent fee. I was shocked and upset. He called after me as I ran from the restaurant, ‘It's all right, I already have three wholesalers on board.’”

The Buffalo System was, Larry tells me, the first single-entry returns system. The purpose of the single-entry system is to ensure that the total (bulk) sales on the wholesaler system reconcile with the sales tracked by individual retail outlet.

As an example, Larry told me about a wholesaler whose system showed two programs. One was designated “OverReturn” and the other was named “ShortReturn.” OverReturn added the totaled retailer returns for a title and issue and compared it to the wholesaler bulk record file for the same title/issue. If the retailer returns were higher, the program added a compensating amount to the bulk record for processing to the ND. The ShortReturn program functioned similarly. If the O&R returns totaled less than the bulk return, the program determined the missing amount and either created a stock account or multiplied returns over a determined number by the factorial difference.

Improvements in auditing and tracking must have cleaned up these irregularities to a fair degree, though Larry maintains there is still an element going on today. Although, he admits, there were some wholesalers—Bob Cohen of Hudson News was one—who kept everything strictly above-board. “He wanted everything legit,” Larry said. “A very clean system.”

Regardless of what may have happened in the wild-west days of magazine distribution, the situation is considerably more precarious today. I told Larry about a consultant who contacted me with to talk about “Plan B”—code for, “how are we all going to keep our jobs?” This consultant asked, “Even with all of the recent technology, how are returns going to be handled if, as some people have suggested, we bypass the wholesaler? What happens to the affidavit? Can the retailers scan returns the way the wholesalers can? And doesn’t setting up direct relationships give the retailer a license to steal?”

Larry thinks there are possible direct-distribution-based solutions to our current predicament; and to put them in place he suggests, as another former independent wholesaler did not long ago, going “back to the future.”

His suggestions:

1) Re-implement the once highly successful Family Circle/Woman's Day direct model, devoid of national distributor involvement, utilizing cross-docking. (Cross-docking is a term used in shipping logistics that involves moving product from truck-to-truck without the intermediate warehousing; WalMart has used it to move retail product since the 1980s).

2) Similarly, Larry suggested, the industry should take a look at the once highly controversial Kresge/TV Guide system. This system, Larry explained, was similar to the Family Circle/Woman’s Day model, with the addition of expedited delivery. “TV Guide printed on Saturday and shipped 20 million copies with over 170 editions to wholesalers expecting Monday on sale,” Larry explained. “TV Guide made deals with national chains—Kresge, Neisners, F.W. Woolworths, W.T Grants, etc.—that were not typically wholesaler serviced. They required the wholesaler to deliver the predetermined allotment as well as collect the unsolds (if any) for a small fee paid by TV Guide. A store stamp verified delivery. As some of these stores were in rural areas, wholesalers sometimes used busses and trains, hiring a delivery agent in these areas. A reship allowance was paid by Triangle Publications to wholesalers providing this service. 

These solutions, I thought, appear tailored to the large general-interest publications whose day has come and gone. What about the special interest publications and the independent publishers?

Systems today, Larry pointed out, are also tailored around those mass-market publishers. “Look at the Order & Regulation systems,” he said. “Prior to UPCs, only 10 percent of titles were tracked issue by issue. Comparatives worked. They built the crosswords category. Wholesalers maintained O&R on the top two or three crosswords and used those sales to determine retail store allocations for the rest of the line.”

What does that mean for the special-interest publisher? I asked. Was he expressing the idea that a more targeted publisher can be hurt by over-regulation?

But Larry was talking about more than a publisher or a publication. His point was that a whole category—a whole industry—can be hurt by over-regulation. “O&R destroyed comics,” he said. “You start a downward trend which then negatively affect allocations. Thirty percent sell through—what you get with the niche publications—needs no O&R. Look at history, and you will see how it works.”

 

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Caysey Welton

Wired’s BizCon: An Intersection of Technology, Design and Enterprise

Caysey Welton Event Strategies - 05/14/2014-16:14 PM

New York–On Tuesday, a capacity crowd gathered at The Museum of Jewish Heritage to listen in as disruptive business leaders from various industries discussed how they are confronting an ever-changing landscape. Wired's BizCon was a daylong event that tied together a common theme–how technology and design intersect with business.

The day's speakers were a mixed bag, including brand leaders like Tumblr's founder David Karp, Twitter Amplify's founder Glenn Brown, UNRULY CEO Sarah Wood and several others. Few stones were left unturned, meaning that everything from social media to gaming, robotics and even experiential theater was covered. Catherine Mohr, senior director of medical research at Intuitive Surgical put it best when she stressed the importance of "looking into adjacent fields to find solutions in your own."

Technology Connects

This was a Wired event, so naturally the solutions were often steeped in technology–and with good reason, given the rapid evolution happening all around us. In essence, technology is presenting both challenges and opportunities for every business leader, which is why merging thought leadership in various disciplines is a chance to rethink strategies and best practices.

For media brands, some of the new challenges discussed were not brand new, however the paradigms are shifting. Take for example social media, which both Brown and Wood discussed. The sizes of your followings and vapid engagements are no longer in focus. Now it's more about staying in and in front of the bigger conversation.

Brown admits that Twitter Amplify tapped into more than they expected when they launched the product to tweet instant replays. That is, the company discovered they could use objects to tweet messages in real time as conversations develop, enabling Twitter to keep up real-time and offer a valuable second-screen experience. He also tipped his hat to magazines for being out in front of this trend. "Magazines knew early on that it's a lot to ask readers to always go to the newsstand or wait for their hard copies," he said while reviewing the importance getting out in front of trending topics.


Wood concentrated on the importance of sharable content–specifically video. She dispelled a couple of myths that have surfaced about video, 1) it's done easily and, 2) it's unpredictable. UNRULY has the data to show that viral content can be predicted, but there is something brands must keep in mind: "It's hard to compete with friends and family," she said. And added, "for bands that are serious about video, paid media is the solution; don't post and pray."

Karp's Tumblr platform purportedly is a hub for brands that wish to share their content through the viral Web. Remarkably, sponsored posts average around 10,000 reposts versus an average of 14 reposts from a common user. But Karp confesses that it is the smaller number he takes the most pride in because "brands are some of the most capable content creators," and his platform complements that attribute. But for the common user, that multiplyer offers the potential to tap into a new audience, which is paramount to what Tumblr is all about. 


Design Communicates

Wired has been at the forefront of the design movement. In fact, even at its Data|Life conference, design surfaced as an essential element for progressing the healthcare space. BizCon further supported that thesis, and extended it outward to all industries.

What was once considered an aesthetic element is now becoming the basis for brand identity and user experience. So whether it's the architecture of a building, an immersive theatrical production or the user interface for a mobile game, design determines the experience.

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Roy Beagley

If You Don’t Know, Then Test

Roy Beagley Audience Development - 05/12/2014-16:53 PM

 

Recently I was sending out a series of email re-qualifications. The process is mercifully simple. I design them, send the html to the email dispatcher who loads it into the email equivalent of an electric toaster, and presto, out pops my email effort.

In addition to the html, I also have to provide a promotion code, the subject line copy and who the email is from—and hereby hangs the tale.

I changed the name of the email sender from the last time the email was sent in the belief that familiarity breeds contempt. It could be the very fact the email is coming from “Subscription Department” that is putting off the recipients from opening the email. I don’t know, so I tested it.

But when I got the test, the sender name wasn’t “Roy Beagley,” it was still “Subscription Department.” I was intrigued by this and called the person in charge of the email toaster, who said that it was not “considered good practice” to change the sender name. Always wanting to learn things, I asked how this conclusion was reached, was there a report, had someone done a test, who had discovered this and how? The answer was there is no report, no test and no discovery, someone once again decided not to let the facts get in the way of a good story and just decided this was the new protocol.

In an email promotion there are several things that could account for a bad response: bad copy or bad design being chief among them. There is also the spam filter that has decided certain words demand automatic banishment to the trash can—even though those words help sell subscriptions. The text-to-picture ratio has an effect on whether an email will eventually end up in the recipients’ inbox or trash; can you imagine postal carriers deciding if they are going to deliver mail to you or not depending on whether they think there are too many, or too few words on an envelope?

I would also have thought who the email is coming from would matter too. A letter informing me I may have won $50,000 excites me; a letter with the letters “I”, “R” and “S” causes my heart to go in to arrhythmia. An email from the “subscription department” may not excite me, but an email from “The Publisher” or “Xmag Subscriptions” or simply a name like, well, “Roy Beagley” may induce me to open the email. I don’t know, that is why we test, and, based on those results, decide what is “considered good practice” rather than letting a good tale debase the facts.

 

 

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