Evaluating the winners (the New York Times, Gawkerâyes, Gawker) and losers (Bonnie Fuller).
Heath Ledgerâs death this week rocked New York, Hollywood (most of which seemed to be at Sundance) and the rest of the country, as well as Australia, where the actor was born. It rocked the celebrity magazine world too, working editors and production staffs into a deadline frenzy to beat the rush at the newsstand. People magazine was able to close with a Ledger cover while most of its newsstand competitors, which close Monday, did not; Entertainment Weekly, which closes on Tuesdays, managed to produce a Heath Ledger cover, too.
As Ad Age's Nat Ives pointed out, the later close is going to benefit People in âthe relentless checkout-lane war against Us Weekly, Star, OK, In Touch and Life & Style.â Undoubtedly true, but is checkout domination all these magazine publishers care about?
Maybe itâs because I identify more with Heath Ledger than other celebrities (he was 28, liked to party and altered his facial hair frequently). Maybe itâs because Iâve never bought a copy of People. But talk of a checkout-lane war in the wake of a death like this feels a bit tacky.
Particularly when the news of Ledgerâs death was exhaustivelyâthoroughly and well, by the wayâreported in real-time on the Web, more so than cable news coverage. (Donât get me started about this guy. I mean, please.) Radar appeared to be the first to post the news; the New York Times' City Room blog delivered continuous updates; and Gawkerâwhich has the reputation of being tad insensitive in times like theseâposted perhaps the most eerily poignant video of the scene, replete with natural audio (you ever hear a crowded New York street this quiet?) of the removal of the body.
And what does this say about magazine Web sites? Bonnie Fuller, editor-in-chief of Star magazine, chose to blog about Ledgerâs death. Not for Star magazine, mind youâfor the Huffington Post. And a wildly speculative post at that:
None of his gifts, neither talent nor family, appears to have been enough to combat the demons that apparently led Heath to take the pills that could have ended his young life.Heath, perhaps if you had just re-watched your old film you would have been inspired to stay with us and to have "changed your stars."For more coverage of Heath's life and tragic death, go to Starmagazine.com.
None of his gifts, neither talent nor family, appears to have been enough to combat the demons that apparently led Heath to take the pills that could have ended his young life.
Heath, perhaps if you had just re-watched your old film you would have been inspired to stay with us and to have "changed your stars."
For more coverage of Heath's life and tragic death, go to Starmagazine.com.
Bonnie, perhaps you should've considered if anyone cared what your Netflix queue looks like. Or waited, like everyone else, for an autopsy. And maybe a fact or two, while you're at it.
Speaking of tacky, look at the âtagsâ used by HuffPo for their Heath coverage:
Thatâs right. Theyâre tagging their stories with misspelled variationsâand rumored causes of deathâon purpose in order to boost their traffic with people who type âKeith Ledgerâ into search engines.
A couple months ago I agreed to do an interview with a major national magazine that I enjoy and respect. I rarely do face-to-face interviews because I have significant trust issues with how an interview can be reflected in a story.
I try to stick exclusively to email for all my interviews. In this case I made an exception because I had developed a good relationship with the magazine.
The interview process was unexceptional. Meaning that it went well. The writer and I got along and I thought it was a fun interview to do.
The article came out last week and I liked it. No problems at all.
Then the person who interviewed me, who is also a blogger, decided to blog about our interview. The blog ran on a site that he is associated with, but is not affiliated at all with the magazine the interview was for. He never asked, nor told me that our interview would be blogged about. While I respect the magazine, I am not a fan of the site he works for, or of its affiliated site that the blog ran on. A point I let him know. I would not have done the interview had I known he would blog about it for this site.
As it turns out, he did not clear the blog with the magazine either.
So he traveled on their dime to do an interview for their magazine and then used the interview to generate a blog for his site from a subject that was not expecting to be blogged about.Ethical or not?[EDITORâS NOTE: There's been a lively debate regarding this issue on Mark Cuban's blog. Check out and join the debate here, or in the comments section below. And see Mark's answer to the question here.]
Hereâs to taking customer satisfaction to the extreme.Each year, the Menâs Journal advertising staff participates in what it calls the âDare Your Repâ campaign, an initiative to help engage their clients and to promote the magazineâs May âAdventureâ issue. So what awaited the magazineâs eager sales staff this year?
Firewalking? No. Winter surfing off Montauk? Nah. Taking more than 40 percent of clientsâ votes was swimming with sharks. Of course.
So, last week, 15 advertising reps donned wetsuits, hopped into a tank at the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, New Jersey, and got up-close-and personal with several varieties of sharks. Even publisher Will Schenck got in the tank.
Swimming with sharks is apparently just another notch on the belt for the Menâs Journal ad staff. Last year they ate from a menu of tasty delectables such as honey-glazed spiced tarantulas, herbed cream cheese with glazed scorpion, filo dough pastry cups with prickly pear cactus jelly and roasted ants.
Anything for a sale.
A year apart, and in two different management regimes, two executives use remarkably similar language in describing remarkably similar priorities.When Colin Ungaro [pictured, left] came on board as president of the magazine division of F+W Publication in April 2007, he was brimming with ideas and priorities in e-media, events and more. He predicted significant growth for the 60-title company and described a business with a strong bond to its readers, poised for great things. He left the company in December 2007. Now David Nussbaum [above, right] has come on as CEO. In an interview this week, Nussbaum was brimming with ideas and priorities in e-media, events and more. He predicted significant growth for the company and described a business with a strong bond to its readers, poised for great things. He sounded very much like Ungaro did in April 2007. In a way, itâs not surprising. This is an industry where executives often work off the same script when it comes to major announcements. Has anyoneâanyoneânot heard these kinds of phrases?âą âWe are closing (selling) these properties to focus more on our core strengths ...ââą âIâm delighted to be forming this partnership with [fill in the blank] and its talented team. With their strong positions in their served markets...ââą âWeâre thrilled to have an executive of [fill in the blank]âs rare level of experience and skill joining us as we aggressively build out our [fill in the blank] businessâŠââą âThe variance to budget was a timing issue related to [fill in the blank] ...âSome excerpts from Ungaroâs Q+A then, and Nussbaumâs Q+A now:On what b-to-b and consumer-enthusiast media have in common ...Ungaro 2007: âItâs serving a particular audience, which is what you do in b-to-b. There are a lot similarities between the two.Nussbaum 2008: âI see b-to-b and enthusiast media as very similar. We serve highly defined markets. We have very interested and passionate communities. We are very vertical in our approach.â On their plans for e-media expansion at F+W ...Ungaro 2007: âWe already have the infrastructure in place to grow online. The infrastructure was in place before I got here. We have an interactive media department. So what Iâm doing is building out what we already have.âNussbaum 2008: âF+W started aggressively building its e-media infrastructure about a year ago. In June 2007 it hired a top-notch talented leader in John Lerner. There is a lot to work with here from a talent perspective. And the current budget calls for a further meaningful investment in people, technology, and services to continue that investment.â On new product development ...Ungaro 2007: âWeâll be rolling out new products at a very fast pace.âNussbaum 2008: âThere is an opportunity for the growth rate to be excellent. We think there are a myriad of new product ideas that need to be brought to market. Frankly, I took this job because there is such a deep and natural path for new revenue.âOn the strength of F+W events ...Ungaro 2007: âEvents are a very profitable part of our business. It helps us to serve our audiences much better and, I would say, weâve only just scratched the surface in the market. Weâre very bullish about the business and the growth we can achieve.âNussbaum 2008: âWe are also going to be focused on event launches. For example, the annual How Design conference, which consistently experiences sell-out capacity, has given life to two additional conferences to better serve our customers. Both new conferences are well-attended, without sacrificing the success of the how conference.â On serving enthusiasts ...Ungaro 2007: "Weâre serving different needs in different markets, but the common thread is that weâre serving enthusiasts that want to get very specific information in whatever they are interested in.âNussbaum 2008: ââProsumersâ are willing to pay for information and products that are their passions and hobbies, and thus are committed to their media offerings and brands. There is a sacred pact between the media brand and its community to provide networking, information, data, and help in deepening the readersâ knowledge about the subject.â
If you're a journalist who believes, as I do, that the best way to improve your skills is to teach yourself rather than wait for the boss to invest more money in you, there are a couple of interesting announcements today.
First, check out Wired Journalists, a social-networking and information-sharing site born in the wake of Howard Owens' call for non-wired journalists to learn the skills of new media.
Wired Journalists has been in beta for a few weeks now. (I was the seventh person to join.) But now it's open to the world.
You can read Howard's announcement here. Read Ryan Sholin's take here. Check out Zac Echola's thoughts here.
I'm looking forward to seeing more folks from the world of B2B journalism on the site soon. So if you're willing to share what you know, and willing to learn more, join Wired Journalists.
Second, longtime readers of this blog know that I'm a big fan of WordPress, the content-management system popular with thousands of bloggers. I've long argued that WordPress and similar open-source systems are vastly superior to the systems used by most publishers.
Now comes news that WordPress has landed $29 million in new financing ... including an investment from the New York Times.
Check out Matthew Ingram's thoughts on the deal here. Read Wall Street Journal coverage here. For an earlier post of mine on WordPress, click here.
In the a last few weeks I have heard of several ad programs being cut back or put on hold because of concerns that a recession is coming. During the 2002 ad recession, I wrote and distributed this letter with great effect. It shows how advertisers who maintain exposure during the slow times move ahead of competitors who don't and gives a great example of a product that benefited from this exposure, Kellogg's Corn flakes. Here is the introductory copy:
Should You Advertise During a Recession?Consider this ad from 1935 and how it affects buying today. Advertising dollars spent during slow times are the best investment a company can make. In 1929, rival cereal makers Kelloggâs and Post were in a close race to win the breakfast cereal market. When the Great Depression started, Kelloggâs maintained their advertising spending while rival Post cut back.At the end of the Depression, Kelloggâs had achieved a category dominance that they maintain to this day.
On your next call, Download and print out the memo. Show them the old Kellogg's ad that ran at the height of the American Depression and remind them that it was during The Depression, when Post cereals cut their ad budget and Kellogg's did not, that Kellogg's became the category leader. Now ask, "How many more boxes of Kellogg's product have been sold long after The Depression ended because someone had the vision to see a time of economic slowdown as the time to pull ahead of competition?"
DOWNLOAD: Cornflakes Promo Letter
Lots of buzz online about the termination of editor Dave Seanor over this cover, which refers to a thoughtlessly stupid remark by golf anchor Kelly Tighman.
Itâs worth noting that the controversy over this cover is inextricably wrapped up in its conceptual quality. The insipid stock image brings nothing to the package that isnât explicit in the headline. The noose may be a loaded clichĂ©, but that doesnât mean itâs not just as tiresome on a magazine cover as any other over-used icon.Now, clichĂ©s have their place, and all visual communicators must rely on them (at least once in a while) because they provide a shared visual language. But the trouble with using them unthinkingly and without a context that makes them story-specific is that either theyâre boring and obviousâor they convey unintended meaningsâor both.If the noose (or better yet a netââCaught in a Netâ works just as well, once you arenât relying on the noose to provide a link to Tighmanâs quote) was clearly catching a television set showing Tighman on the golf channelâit might not have been wonderful (especially if the new cover maintained the phony small caps and clunky outlining on the headline), but itâs hard to imagine it getting the same strongly negative reaction as the generic âominous nooseâ pictured here. And, if nothing else, a reader would have knownâjust by lookingâthat this is a media story.[Editor's note: For more intelligent design talk, buy Jandos' new book.]
ABRY Partners is a private equity firm. David Nussbaum is a publishing company executive. But right now, it looks like Nussbaum's the most influential advisor at ABRY.
Right now, Nussbaum's got ABRY under a spell. Or vice versa. He's the de-facto magazine publishing troubleshooter for the financial firm that owns F+W Publications and Cygnus Business Media, and in the past held a controlling stake in Penton Media.
Boston-based ABRY named Nussbaum as CEO of its F+W unit earlier this week, replacing David Steward. Prior to that, Nussbaum was CEO of Penton Media, leading ABRY to a successful divestment of that company in 2006. What's more, key Nussbaum associates are sprinkled throughout ABRY holdings, including David Blansfield, the president of the F+W magazine division, and Jim Ogle, CFO of Cygnus.
In naming Nussbaum, ABRY indicated that it trusts him above all of its publishing-operator partners. Cincinnati-based F+W is, after all, a big companyâwith about 60 magazines and more than $200 million in revenueâand one in a market where Nussbaum has no experience. F+W owns consumer enthusiast magazines, along with related book lines and affinity clubs. Nussbaum is a career b-to-b publishing executive with little consumer magazine experience and highly-focused on e-media-which apparently is not a major part of F+W currently.
That may change. As mentioned, Nussbaum is especially skilled at e-media businesses, and Blansfield, in one of his first moves as magazine-division president, shut down five magazines last month and laid off 13 staffers. "It needs to be emphasized that we're a diversified media company, and we remain committed to these markets," he said at the time.
This week's naming of Nussbaum, who built a track record of cost cutting at Penton, caused some to take a second look at Blansfield's shutdowns last month. "I guess Blansfield wasn't moving fast enough closing magazines," one source wrote, somewhat cynically. "You can expect that Nussbaum will cut the hell out of costs." Said another: "If you're an employee at F+W you'd better strap on your seatbelts and wait for David Nussbaum to change the cost structure dramatically in anticipation of an exit."
Nussbaum challenges that analysis. "The key to F+W is the major revenue opportunity due to the deep well of content and data that the company currently owns and produces and taking that info online and getting it digitized, as well as expanding its events business," he said. "On the expense side, every company, always, should be vigilant about managing its cost basis. We'll certainly look closely there too."
He also said that ABRY's F+W investment is relatively recent, so a quick exit is not anticipated. "They are a large and very successful PE firm with investments in media, but also many other sectors. I don't think I have all that much influence. They are honest, smart, and always, always good to their word," he said.
The naming of Nussbaum to replace consumer magazine veteran Steward also indicates once again that ABRY is not afraid to put people in charge of its holdings from outside the served market. In 2006, ABRY replaced publishing and event-industry veteran Paul Mackler as CEO of Cygnus with Carr Davis and Anthony O'Brien, two content distribution entrepreneurs who in 1993 launched FDCH e-Media, which specialized in b-to-b partnerships and online news delivery.
"What this tells you is F+W is another ABRY investment that is not going in the right direction," one source said. "And they're not afraid to bring in new executives from outside the industry to infuse new ideas and new processes. The surprising thing is they didn't tap Nussbaum to go and clean up the mess at Cygnus, where he has much more domain experience."
Whatever your thoughts are on the state of the magazine industryââItâs strong!â âItâs resurging!â âItâs receding!ââat least publishers, in general, donât have to deal with this:
Thefts of newspaper machines in a pair of Colorado countiesâGreeley and Weldâhave reached high levels, with the 47th Tribune newspaper dispenser stolen this week.The thieves are apparently taking the machines off of street corners, then taking them to remote areas where they use a power grinder and bolt cutters to get into the machine and take the change. They usually then dump the machine alongside a road. Most of the thefts have occurred between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m."It doesn't seem like it would be worth the effort," said Gary Doering, single copy manager for the newspaper. "They have to cut through everything to get the coin box, and it might have only a few quarters in it."
After reading the news on Friday about Wal-Mart removing 1,000 magazine titles from its nationwide stable, I got to wondering. What can you buy at Wal-Mart? Since I was going to my hometown of Jackson, Alabama this past weekend, what better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than perusing the magazine selection?Some background: Jackson is a rural town of around 6,000 located in the piney woods of southwest Alabama. The nearest city, Mobile, is an hour away. With the local economy almost wholly independent on a paper mill, the town is one plant closing away from being a statistic. There are other mills and chemical plants in the area but the nearest one is a half hour away. Hunting and fishing are the most popular pastimes here. In my youth, I remember spending time at the magazine rack at the Delchampâs grocery store (now closed) reading MAD magazine while Mom shopped for the weekâs groceries. I was also the first in line to buy one of the three issues of Fangoria that the convenience store/gas station in the middle of town would get. Like Delchampâs, the Junior Food Store has also gone with the wind. Yes, Fangoria and MAD were my favorite magazines as a kid and I still seemed to have turned out okay, despite what my Dad would tell his friends.The magazine stock at the Wal-Mart (or Wal-Martâs, as some call it) consists of two racks, three shelves each, for a total of roughly six feet. At first glance there arenât too many surprises: Shotgun News, Bassinâ, Guns & Ammo, 14 different car magazines, and two four-wheeler magazines. As far as womenâs titles go, all of the usual suspects were thereâRedbook, Glamour, InStyle, Oprah, Vogue, Allure et al. However, there were no menâs magazines other than the aforementioned with the exception of three bodybuilding books: Flex, Muscle & Fitness, and Muscular Development. Menâs Fitness and Menâs Health could not be found, but neither could GQ or Details, which is no surprise. Also, there were no newsweeklies: Time, Newsweek, or US News & World Report.Other titles on the shelves included Tiger Beat, Southern Lady, Playstation, Small Room Decorating, Country Living, EGM (Electronic Game Monthly), three quilting magazines, a scrapbooking mag, a baseball card magazine, and three different guitar magazines. Much to my surprise, Jackson seems to have its fair share of weight lifters and guitar heroes. Who knew?There were no surprises at the checkouts either: Soap Opera Digest (among other similar titles), Us, People, TV Guide, Readers Digest, National Enquirer, and plenty of digest-sized recipe books. These are, more or less, the same magazines that have been on checkout stands around the country as for years.The biggest surprise to meâand the biggest amount of real estate on the newsstandâwas taken over by puzzle books. Crosswords, Find-a-Word, Word Seek, Sudoku took up an entire shelf on one of the racks with 50 different titles alone! I was also surprised not to see any faith or religious-themed magazines, considering Jackson is the first notch of the Bible Belt. Another notable omission was the lack of Spanish language magazines such as Latina or People en Espanol. The Hispanic population has drastically increased in recent years and this is a population that is being totally ignored.With the exception of TV Guide, not a single magazine that I subscribe to could be found at Wal-Mart. I remember looking for the new Entertainment Weekly on one trip home and was out of luck. (It would be easier to find a pork roll at a bar mitzvah than a Vanity Fair at an Alabama Wal-Mart!) My own magazine, Southern Breeze, was nowhere to be found either. No matter, Jackson is out of our coverage area anyway! The ONLY regional on their shelves was Southern Living which, again, was no surprise at all. Unfortunately, for future magazine editors/teenage nerds like myself, MAD was MIA.Iâm not sure what this selection says about the population of my hometown but I do know what it says about Wal-Martâs magazine mavens: they know their audiences pretty darn well!NOTE: If anyone reading this column from other parts of the country would like to comment on what they find at their local Wal-Mart, please let me know in the comments section below!
As upsetting as this news may at first appear, it is not a reason to panic. The presses are running, the paper is rolling and ink is being placed within tolerances of 1/1000th of an inch, as per usual with a rhythm and a predictable schedule.They have received $1 billion dollars to create and sustain moderate stability. And all they need for now is the stability to forecast the next few quarters of business cycles. After that I don't know what will happen and neither do you, but I suggest that for today and tomorrow it is business as usual. If your titles were to ship this week, I would expect them to do so. If your titles were scheduled to ship next week, the same holds true. It is a time of transition and change, but not of wholesale upheaval. It's my experience that, under conditions like this, all titles will get out and all publishers will continue to publish. The details of this and the plains of action, lay with the accountants of the world.As I heard New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick say last night, "Be smart, stay alert and do your job, and we will get through this just fine."
Dear Quebecor World Customer,Quebecor World has applied today for court protection in Canada and the United States to conduct restructuring for the long-term interests of the company, its customers, suppliers and employees. As part of this process, Quebecor World has secured US $1 billion of new financing to continue to provide you and all our customers with reliable, quality services on a business-as-usual basis. Our operations in Europe and Latin American are not included in these filings.The approval of $1 billion in new financing through Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley was included in the court applications under Canada's Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act and Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. In addition, Quebecor World is seeking the appointment of Ernst & Young Inc. to monitor the company activities in the Canadian proceedings.Despite the difficult economic conditions in general and in the credit market in particular, Quebecor World continues to have a positive cash flow, expert teams of experienced employees, valuable, performing assets and an impressive roster of customers such as you. In the months ahead we will be reviewing the company's performance and developing ways to make further improvements in all our operations.The prudent action we have undertaken today and the vote of confidence represented by the $1 billion of new financing means that we will continue to operate on a normal basis as we restructure for the future.We look forward to maintaining our business relationship with you.Quebecor World's commitment is to keep customers, suppliers and employees and other stakeholders informed of all significant developments, either directly or through our webpages on the Internet. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you require further information. We will make every effort to respond in a timely fashion.Thank you in advance for your patience and support as we work to achieve an outcome that serves the best interests of our customers, employees, suppliers and other stakeholders.Sincerely,Jacques Mallette
Clearly our recent article ("The Emptied Prairie") touched a nerve. The genesis for it came from my own personal experiences driving through North Dakota, seeing those deserted houses on a lovely landscape and wondering what tales they have to tell. I suspected those tales might be incredibly revealing about people's relationship with the land. That's why we did the story. It was never intended to be a profile piece of the state as a wholeâwe were looking at something very specific to the rural landscape.What I hear and see are comments from people who live in a state that they love. While I understand their frustration with our article, it is not sensational. It is factual and it is sensitive to the plight of those who have had to leave and those who've been left behind. I'm proud of the story and stand behind it. Photo courtesy of National Geographic.[EDITORâS NOTE: Below, Johnsâ letter to North Dakota Governor John Hoeven.]
Dear Governor Hoeven:Thank you for your interest in âThe Emptied Prairieâ in this monthâs issue of National Geographic magazine. There seems to be some misunderstanding about our intent in writing the article. Our article was never intended to be an in-depth look at the economy of North Dakota, nor were we attempting to offer a portrayal of the state in its entirety. We were looking at the rural North Dakota landscape and probing the stories behind some of the abandoned homes that still stand. We are well aware that there is more to the state than these abandoned towns. In fact, we have written or mentioned North Dakota in 17 articles in the past 10 years, including a short feature on Fargo in November 2003. In the case of our January â08 article, we wanted to tell personal and touching stories of North Dakotansâ relationship with the land and how that landscape has shaped their destiny. The stories we told in the article speak to me of fortitude, and, yes, sometimes regret. Iâm confident our readers will understand what these stories tell us about North Dakotansâ strength of character and resolve â both of which will shape the future described in your letter. Again, thank you for taking the time to write. We always welcome our readersâ thoughts. Sincerely, Chris JohnsEditorNational Geographic magazine