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Tony Silber

A Lesson in Execu-Speak 101 at F+W

Tony Silber Consumer - 01/24/2008-15:48 PM

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, it’s not surprising. This is an industry where executives often work off the same script when it comes to major announcements. Has anyone—anyone—not heard these kinds of phrases?

• “We are closing (selling) these properties to focus more on our core strengths ...”
• “I’m delighted to be forming this partnership with [fill in the blank] and its talented team. With their strong positions in their served markets...”
• “We’re thrilled to have an executive of [fill in the blank]’s rare level of experience and skill joining us as we aggressively build out our [fill in the blank] business…”
• “The variance to budget was a timing issue related to [fill in the blank] ...”

Some excerpts from Ungaro’s Q+A then, and Nussbaum’s Q+A now:

On what b-to-b and consumer-enthusiast media have in common ...


Ungaro 2007: “It’s serving a particular audience, which is what you do in b-to-b. There are a lot similarities between the two.

Nussbaum 2008: “I 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.”

On their plans for e-media expansion at F+W ...


Ungaro 2007:
“We 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 I’m doing is building out what we already have.”

Nussbaum 2008: “F+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.”

On new product development ...


Ungaro 2007: “We’ll be rolling out new products at a very fast pace.”

Nussbaum 2008: “There 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.”

On the strength of F+W events ...

Ungaro 2007: “Events are a very profitable part of our business. It helps us to serve our audiences much better and, I would say, we’ve only just scratched the surface in the market. We’re very bullish about the business and the growth we can achieve.”

Nussbaum 2008: “We 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.”

On serving enthusiasts ...

Ungaro 2007: "We’re serving different needs in different markets, but the common thread is that we’re serving enthusiasts that want to get very specific information in whatever they are interested in.”

Nussbaum 2008:
“‘Prosumers’ 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 readers’ knowledge about the subject.”

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Paul Conley

Getting Wired and Getting Funded

Paul Conley emedia and Technology - 01/24/2008-15:05 PM

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.

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Josh Gordon

What Will a Recession Mean for Ad Sales?

Josh Gordon Sales and Marketing - 01/24/2008-15:01 PM

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 Kellogg’s and Post were in a close race to win the breakfast cereal market. When the Great Depression started, Kellogg’s maintained their advertising spending while rival Post cut back.

At the end of the Depression, Kellogg’s 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

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Jandos Rothstein

Golfweek's Bland Rage

Jandos Rothstein Design and Production - 01/24/2008-14:50 PM

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.

It’s 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 isn’t explicit in the headline. The noose may be a loaded cliché, but that doesn’t mean it’s not just as tiresome on a magazine cover as any other over-used icon.

Now, clichés 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 they’re boring and obvious–or they convey unintended meanings—or both.

If the noose (or better yet a net—”Caught in a Net” works just as well, once you aren’t relying on the noose to provide a link to Tighman’s quote) was clearly catching a television set showing Tighman on the golf channel—it might not have been wonderful (especially if the new cover maintained the phony small caps and clunky outlining on the headline), but it’s hard to imagine it getting the same strongly negative reaction as the generic “ominous noose” pictured here. And, if nothing else, a reader would have known—just by looking—that this is a media story.

[Editor's note: For more intelligent design talk, buy Jandos' new book.]

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Tony Silber

Meet David Nussbaum, ABRY Partners' 'Fixer'

Tony Silber Consumer - 01/23/2008-13:38 PM

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 company—with about 60 magazines and more than $200 million in revenue—and 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."

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Dylan Stableford

At Least Magazines Don’t Have to Deal with Machine Theft

Dylan Stableford Audience Development - 01/22/2008-15:34 PM

Whatever your thoughts are on the state of the magazine industry—“It’s strong!” “It’s resurging!” “It’s receding!”—at least publishers, in general, don’t have to deal with this:

Thefts of newspaper machines in a pair of Colorado counties—Greeley and Weld—have 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."

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Mark Newman

Blogging from Wal-Mart’s Magazine Rack

Mark Newman Audience Development - 01/21/2008-16:22 PM

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 Delchamp’s grocery store (now closed) reading MAD magazine while Mom shopped for the week’s 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 Delchamp’s, 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-Mart’s, as some call it) consists of two racks, three shelves each, for a total of roughly six feet. At first glance there aren’t too many surprises: Shotgun News, Bassin’, Guns & Ammo, 14 different car magazines, and two four-wheeler magazines.

As far as women’s titles go, all of the usual suspects were there—Redbook, Glamour, InStyle, Oprah, Vogue, Allure et al. However, there were no men’s magazines other than the aforementioned with the exception of three bodybuilding books: Flex, Muscle & Fitness, and Muscular Development. Men’s Fitness and Men’s 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 me—and the biggest amount of real estate on the newsstand—was 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.

I’m not sure what this selection says about the population of my hometown but I do know what it says about Wal-Mart’s 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!

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Bob Sacks

No Reason to Panic About Quebecor

Bob Sacks Design and Production - 01/21/2008-14:36 PM

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

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Chris Johns

Why National Geographic Published 'Emptied' Article on North Dakota

Chris Johns Consumer - 01/21/2008-11:24 AM

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 whole—we 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.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Below, Johns’ letter to North Dakota Governor John Hoeven.]

Dear Governor Hoeven:

Thank you for your interest in “The Emptied Prairie” in this month’s 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 ‘08 article, we wanted to tell personal and touching stories of North Dakotans’ 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. I’m confident our readers will understand what these stories tell us about North Dakotans’ strength of character and resolve – both of which will shape the future described in your letter.

Again, thank you for taking the time to write. We always welcome our readers’ thoughts.

Sincerely,
Chris Johns
Editor
National Geographic magazine

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Phyllis Hoffman

Relaunching a Magazine—With Tears

Phyllis Hoffman Consumer - 01/21/2008-11:19 AM

The relaunch of Victoria is a dream of mine! I was one of the disappointed subscribers who felt as though a friend was gone when the magazine was closed. Victoria has a passionate readership of women who love every tiny detail of life. The magazine was a visual vacation for us and was a retreat from the hectic daily pace.

First, my challenge was prove to the prior subscribers that the magazine would be like the original magazine they loved dearly. Matching the voice, tone, physical presentation and spirit of Victoria was a concern that was voiced on blogs. Great skepticism existed regarding our ability to do that. Second, we have to prove that we were serious about the magazine and that it was not “going away” from them as the original magazine did. Hoffman Media was not known to the majority of the readers and they wondered who we were and where had we been all this time.

We were able to locate former staff members (hired one as the managing editor, Brittany Williams) and former freelance writers and photographers. We had hundreds of letters from readers requesting that we return many of the writers and columnist that they wanted. Finding them is not easy as many are working for other publishing companies or have retired altogether.

Relaunching on the newsstand was simply starting over ... we didn’t have an existing bi-pad to utilize. Curtis did a great job for us. Many of the buyers did not remember Victoria so we put great efforts into the “launch/relaunch.”

With the relaunch, the magazine has been received with the same loyalty and enthusiasm as before. I have received cards, office calls (tears and great emotion), along with flowers and calls to my home from women who are beyond words of gratitude of Victoria’s return. It has been overwhelming for me.

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Dylan Stableford

Did Golfweek's 'Noose' Editor Deserve To Be Fired?

Dylan Stableford Editorial - 01/18/2008-18:05 PM

Golfweek fired its editor earlier today, less than a week after publishing a noose on its cover. The noose was an attempt to illustrate a story on the racially-insensitive remarks made by a Golf Channel announcer about Tiger Woods. The anchor, Kelly Tilghman, suggested on-air that Woods’ rivals "lynch him in a back alley." She was later suspended.

"We apologize for creating this graphic cover that received extreme negative reaction from consumers, subscribers and advertisers across the country," William P. Kupper Jr., president of Turnstile Publishing Co., the parent company of Golfweek, said in a statement. "We were trying to convey the controversial issue with a strong and provocative graphic image. It is now obvious that the overall reaction to our cover deeply offended many people. For that, we are deeply apologetic."

Representatives for Woods called it a "non-issue." The PGA Tour, which had threatened to pull their ads from the magazine, told me that "Golfweek’s decisions around its editorial leadership to be purely an internal Golfweek matter and we have no further comment."

Did he deserve to be fired for "trying to be provacative"? Leave your answers/rationale in the comments below.

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Bill Mickey

FCC's Copps Worried About Big Media Private Equity Deals

Bill Mickey M and A and Finance - 01/18/2008-11:32 AM

Smart Money picked up a Dow Jones story reporting that Michael Copps, a Democrat and member of the Federal Communications Commission, is voicing a growing concern over the big private equity deals—particularly in media. Seems he's a bit skittish over the volume and size of these deals over the last year, especially in light of the subprime fallout and a grim economic outlook for the coming year.

"There's been a whole raft (of acquisitions) involving private equity in recent years and I think we need to ask questions about them," said Copps, who also believes that ownership structures are becoming unclear, which apparently makes it tougher for the FCC to crack down on companies when something goes wrong.

FCC chairman and Republican Kevin Martin so far is downplaying Copps' concerns.

Nevertheless, Copps is exposing what might be a tricky year for over-leveraged deals, and a situation that might work its way into all sorts of corners in the private equity deal landscape.

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