You don't often see the admittedly arcane subjects of postal rates and magazine circulation strategies debated in the mainstream media, but the U.S. Postal Service's recent rate hikes are back in the spotlight.
Here's pundit Eric Alterman:
"Back in March, the Commission voted to approve a plan pushed by a coterie of major magazine publishers that will likely increase mailing costs for small periodicals everywhere by as much as 30 percentâa crushing burden for many small, editorial operations. Big magazines like Time and Vogue, however, may actually see their rates decrease, owing to the new bulk rates."
Here at 5280, we mail about 40,000 subscriber copies each month but have only seen a modest boost in our postage costs. Because so many of our copies go to a relatively few local zip codes, we can qualify for many of the sorting discounts enjoyed by the big boys. But I'm guessing it's a different story for regionals that serve a larger area, or national pubs that serve a niche audience. Alterman continues:
About 5,700 small-circulation publications will incur the large rate increases. In many cases, the increase might put the final nail in their proverbial coffins. True, The Nation can absorb its likely additional $500,000 in postal costs by firing staff and cutting back in other ways; ditto National Review and its $100,000 increase. But for many smaller, particularly minority publications, the postal rates are literally a matter of life or death. And the death of these publications is a death in the marketplace of ideas and a blow to the function of a healthy democracy.
More on the increases, as well as a way to make your voice heard on the issue, is available here and here.
This has been building up in me for a long time. All of this BS about publishers fearing the future, worried insanely about going out of business. They can't figure out what is happening and where their place in the future of information distribution is going to be. Damn it all, guys grow up. The future will take care of itself. It always has.
Ask the old parchment makers. Do you know that it took over three hundred sheepskins (parchment) to make one fair sized bible in the 1600s? You do the math. Publishers found a better way to distribute their information. It was called paper. They did it and they did well. Did the public love parchment? Most likely, but paper was better and cheaper. So, here we are and last week a major paper supplier stated that "the price of paper must double."
Does anyone else find it funny that in the very same week, Amazon launched Kindle, a WiFi connected e-paper device? It holds 200 books and weighs less than 10 ounces. How much will the publishers save by not using a printing, press, not using paper, not shipping those books anywhere but to the ether zone, ready for instant deployment anywhere on the planet?
This is just the beginning of a series of drastic and necessary changes in the publishing industry. The actual cost of paper, printing and distribution can and will only go up, the converse of a digital distribution where the costs can only go down. There will come a time soon when this is self-evident event to the most diehard of the tree hugging publishers. Ease of use and cost of manufacturing will determine the substrate of choice for the populous and the publisher.
Just for point of reference, what substrate are you reading this missive on?
"Destitute" may be a bit strong, but this little nugget from FOLIO:'s recap of a Fall MRI report came as a bit of a shock:
Surprisingly, readers of Esquire magazine-which distinguishes itself in its online media kit by touting "while other men's magazines are written for highly aspirational readers, Esquire is geared towards men who have arrived"-have the lowest median household income for adults ($53,783) among five of its top competitors. (To be fair, Esquire's readership has seen a marked increase in affluence since 2002, when it had a median income of $42,602). Men's Journal leads the pack with a median of $77,063, followed by Men's Health ($76,865), GQ ($68,746), Men's Fitness ($68,486) and Maxim ($65,614). Esquire's readers are also the oldest of the group, with a median age of 43.9 years. Maxim is on the low end, with a median age of 28.4 for adults.
What does it all mean? Do healthy men earn more? Do gentle men have less earning power?
Do Maxim readers really have more disposable income than Esquire readers?
More here ...
Scientific American's recently redesigned Web site is sleek, choc-full of all the bells and whistles (blog posts, slide shows, videos, multimedia, podcasts et al) normally associated with Web site relaunches in 2007.
Probably the simplest feature, though, is the coolest: A cartoon dialogue bubble below nearly every story in which to leave your comments. Check it out at right.
Simple, juvenile even, but it works.
(Side note: I enjoyed the site so much that I'm considering a print subscription-and I hardly ever subscribe to magazines. Take from that what you will.)
The big news out of CondĂ© Nast this week wasn't about a controversial news story or some major acquisition. No, the buzz was about chairman S.I. Newhouse Jr.'s annual luncheon bash exclusively for his top editors, publishers and executives. And, if the New York Post's Keith Kelly is to be believed, everyone wanted to know who was sitting where and with whom-most especially who had the coveted seat next to Mr. Newhouse himself.I'm always a fan of a good party, but does anyone who didn't attend really care? Does it really require news coverage with the fervor of a high school prom?That said, the obvious "big news" was that Portfolio editor Joanne Lipman was seated at the big table (No. 4) at Newhouse's right side. (Portfolio super-publisher David Carey was assigned to table No. 7 which was apparently devoid of any heavy-hitting CondĂ© Nasters.) Is this really a sign that the often-criticized editor still has Newhouse's support, or was it a move to save face since all of us gossipy media spectators are watching?
PHOTO CREDIT: New York Post
Felix Dennis has a little more work to do yet on his weekly news compilation The Week. He tells David Carr that he'll be expanding the magazine into more markets and has fended off some significant offers. "Cross my heart and hope to die, I have already been offered hundreds of millions of dollars for it."Even after selling off Maxim, Stuff and music magazine Blender to Quadrangle-backed Kent Brownridge in mid-2007, Dennis declined to sell his one remaining U.S. title, noting that he expects it to become a sizable franchise. "I will throw The Week onto no pile until it becomes a half a billion or billion-dollar franchise. The Week is my baby," he says. The North American version of the magazine has a circulation of about 500,000; the British version is the original; and Carr writes that an eastern version of the magazine will soon be released, supported by a five-person edit team in Australia and one-man bureaus in Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zealand. Just as The Week is Dennis' across-the-bow shot at the sagging newsweekly market, the magazine's lean staff structure is his answer to bulging mastheads. "The American magazine industry has been massively overstaffed for years and years. It is one of the most inefficient businesses in the history of the world. And you know what? The chickens are coming home to roost."
Web site relaunches, job boards, social networks, Webinars,
podcasts, videocasts, etc. Most magazine publishers are scrambling to
ramp up their online offerings as fast as they can. However, in the
rush to ramp up online, management and the major disciplines (sales,
editorial and circulation) often take for granted that whatâs being
built can be done quickly and easily, and overload the online and IT
staffs with âme firstâ requests. âPeople think online is easy, that
standards and guidelines can be gotten around, that things can be done
far quicker than they actually can with fewer people, none of which is
true,â says the online manager at one b-to-b publisher. âYes, you can
launch a Web site easier and more cost-effectively than a new magazine
but it still takes the same business practices behind the
scenesâcontent planning, business planning, budgeting. A lot of those
things tend to get ignored online."
Prioritize online projects
according to the return, not whatâs become someoneâs pet project. Dave
Newcorn, vice president of e-media at Summit Publishing, uses three
factors to organize his workload: 1) is there real ROI attached; 2)
Will it enable the editors to create multimedia content; and 3) Will it
attract more subscribers either to the print magazine or newsletters,
boosting audience development efforts? âIf the answer is yes to any of
those, it goes to the top of my list,â says Newcorn. âFor example, we
hired an editor recently who expressed an interest in editing her own
podcasts. I dropped everything and scheduled IT time to install the
software on her computer ASAP and arranged for training.â
prominence of open source software is partly responsible for the
misperceptions. "Everybody looks at open source and says âItâs free,
just take it and up it up.â No, nothing is free, you have to customize
it and find a place to put it. There is a lot of stuff that goes along
with it," says Rose Southard, IT director at Putman Media.
are a good example--blog software can be free and it can be put up
quickly but customizing the blog platform to look like part of your Web
site takes time. âOur sites consist of left-hand navigation, leader
board at top, branding at top, and advertising on the right hand side,â
says Southard. âWhen you go from reading an article to an editorâs
blog, we want to convey that feeling that youâre still with us. It took
several weeks to put that together. Once we did, it was easy and fast
to reproduce both steps. But getting it done in the first place took
quite a while. It was free softwareâ-Wordpress. If you just grab it and
install it, it looks like Wordpress, not Putman Media.â
caught up in a game of tit-for-tat (they launch a job board, you launch
a job board) with the competition. You should have mapped out your
online strategy so you know what will work for you at that stage of
your Web development.
If you start scrambling to add features
just because the other guy has one, youâll blow your budget and derail
your strategy quickly. âOne request that I really dislike is what I
call âthe sky is fallingâ request in reaction to what our competitor is
doing,â says Newcorn. âAs in, âDave, our competitors now have a
flam-shooter on their site! We need one on our site too!â While we need
to be aware of what our competition is doing, we also need to have a
little faith that the path weâve chosen months ago is the correct one
for our readers and advertisers. If itâs not, theyânot our
competitionâwill certainly be the first to let us know.â
First off, I have not seen the new Amazon Kindle in person. (Note to self: send nasty note to Discover tech editor after finishing this blog entry.) From the pictures, though, the thing looks like a fantastically expensive Speak & Spell.
The reviews from tech geeks, however, have been generally positive, and the first run sold out on Amazon in five days.
So what does this mean for ink and paper purveyors? The classic print magazine argument goes something like this:
Magazines provide the best venue for long-form journalism. Reading the magazine version of The New Yorker on the train tonight is going to be a lot more pleasurable than reading a bunch of articles printed out on copy paper.
Ink on paper also works better for beautiful photography. The collective weight of the fall fashion magazines shows that advertisers clearly agree.
Finally, magazines are more portable than even the lightest laptop. Anyone who has used a laptop on their actual lap can attest that it quickly gets uncomfortable.
The Kindle points out the shakiness of the first and third legs of the proverbial stool. The Kindle is lightweight, easy on the eyes and presumably doesn't burn your lap. The wireless connection provides access to
scores of books or magazines, anywhere, at any time.
Sure it's $400, but you have to believe that a $99 version with color photos will be on Amazon by Christmas 2009. With the way ink and paper prices have been going, that might not be a bad thing.
As part of its pre-election push, Newsweek recently announced the addition of ex-White House senior advisor Karl Rove as a columnist, his glossy appointment coming a day after the magazine named Markos Moulitsas, founder of the popular liberal politics blog and tradeshow Daily Kos. Good move by editor Jon Meacham: a right-wing pundit to balance Markos' lefty politics. But why waste two outspoken personalities on the print magazine?
Here's an idea: Give âem both Newsweek-branded blogs and have them face off before, during and after debates and conventions, allowing readers to join the conversation via comments. (Some media people still consider "comments" to be a risky wasteland of the delusional and the deluted, but I guarantee lightly-monitored comment-thread can frame such a debate in a much more civilized way than, say, cable.)
I have often said that anyone with basic Mac skills and the ability to pay a printer thinks they can be a player in the magazine publishing business these days. Most city & regional publications are having their markets diluted with freely distributed, rack-in-the-drugstore-vestibule publications. To a certain extent we are the victim's of our own success. Robust growth of the regional magazine business has resulted on healthy looking books in many markets and frequently forays into the bridal and shelter book markets by local publishers. Hence "the entrepreneurs" have been lured by the apparent riches they see in the four-color glossy pages of regionals.
Adding to the woes of reputable publishers is the fact that many of these neophyte entrepreneurs routinely and glaringly ignore all the MPA rules regarding editorial integrity on their pages. Our sales folks are routinely queried by advertisers conditioned by these publications- looking for free editorial ink as a thank you for their advertising commitments. The fact that these publications are four color glossies seems to lure some of the less knowledgeable local advertisers like a moth to a flame.
Emmis Communications has taken a leadership role in the city and regional publishing business by commissioning multiple studies in the markets where they own magazines to determine the "recallability" of these free rack and forced distribution publications. In every case the "other" non-audited publications are not even on the radar screen when it comes to recall and effectiveness of content-both advertising and editorial-in swaying the recipients buying habits.
The first question all of us need to ask advertisers when confronted with this merging completion is "Do you really know who is looking at your ad?"
Second one: "Do you think they are really spending time looking at it?"
The publishing world may seem gloomy in Magazine Central, but out here in what many New York print types view as the hinterland, I'm thankful to be a regional magazine publisher. For one thing, people still do read magazines, especially the ones that cover topics they have a passion for and -- laugh if you will -- our readers have a passion for all things Jersey. I think Dan Brogan, my fellow regional publisher from Denver (5280), gave the best explanation of the strength of our category when he called city and regionals enthusiast magazines for a particular place. Our readers really do want to know where to go, where to eat, and, let me not forget, who the best doctors are.
Our pink sheet is clean, but I am thankful that our advertisers don't read pink sheets. Yes, they look at the first page, and I am hearing more about "accountability," but the tempests at ABC that increasingly pit advertisers and agencies against publishers haven't crossed the Hudson Ocean (err, I mean River).
I hear a lot about national advertisers moving their advertising from print to the web and other new media, but I am thankful that our advertisers haven't joined the stampede-yet. They are experimenting with new media, but haven't allowed themselves to forget that it's all about results rather than following the fashions, which is good for print. Judging from some of the comments I heard at the City and Regional Magazine Association conference in September, local advertisers in some areas are starting to shift dollars to the web, but we have some time to craft our own web strategies to take advantage of the transition.
Operating a business in the New York Metro has its downsides-and that's a rant for another day-but there are some things to be thankful for, such as the incredible talent pool that Magazine Central represents. About half our staff members have gotten their training at one of the large, national magazines in our backyard.
Publishing a magazine outside NYC gives me much to be thankful for, and, if anyone can come up with a way for a magazine to make serious money on the Web, I'll be grateful for many Thanksgivings to come.
Playboy magazine is hosting its second "America's Sexiest Sportscaster" poll, which closes today. A typically chauvinistic move setting women's journalism back 15 years. (Sports Illustrated, for some reason, called it "the season's second most-discussed poll.") The whole thing makes about as much sense as Miss Landmine 2008 (a real competition-seriously).That said, I guarantee most of the nominees spent Thanksgiving lobbying their families to vote.
The winner, by the way, will be announced November 28.