Tuesday, September 18, 2007

BoSacks Speaks Out: Is Anyone in Control Here?

BoSacks Speaks Out: Is Anyone in Control Here?
By BoSacks
Publishing Executive Magazine

When it comes to today's newsstand, someone is in control. But it isn't you.

How many magazines fit on the head of a pin? Just a silly metaphysical question you say? Perhaps, but that question might have real significance in today's magazine marketplace-specifically, the newsstand business and the seemingly unlimited amount of opinions and business models that are being discussed, dissected and, if you will pardon the expression, distributed among all the trades, blogs and water coolers of the publishing world.

I know you've heard the scuttlebutt before-the newsstand model is broken, or the newsstand has been flat for 15 years, or my current favorite, Samir Husni's July 24 blog entry, "Wholesalers Are Not Dying . . . They Are Committing Suicide" (www.MrMagazine.com).

What the heck is going on, and is anyone in control here?

The simple answer is yes, but it isn't you. The consumer is now in control. The best you can do is to try to gather a semblance of order (not control) and deliver the goods the consumer actually wants, on any platform that they want it.

What is it that the consumer wants? It's what they've never had before: choices. And when I say choices, I don't mean which of the 7,000 printed consumer titles they should buy, borrow or steal. I mean choices of media involvement.

It is this new series of endless mixed-media choices and the ability to be a member of a group drilled down to a niche of one that should be at the crux of all our publishing newsstand discussions. How can print publishers establish a viable and sustainable niche mentality in an increasingly selective and seductive electronic world, while at the same time becoming as cost efficient and accountable as other media?

This new era of communication has completely changed the old concept of mass distribution. Mass-produced, general-interest titles are dying right before our eyes.

I am not saying the vibrant world of printed magazines is vanishing, but rather that the elephantine, slow-to-distribute, one-magazine-fits-all is a disappearing breed. And so is the business model that supported it. Large circulation numbers hide lots of inefficiencies that cannot/will not be duplicated as circulations reach lower, but more sustainable levels. In the new world of digital-advertising accountability, the ancient analog mad scramble for absurd, faux rate-base numbers and newsstand/subscription giveaways will soon reach the inevitable conclusion of death by abuse.

All our problems can be distilled down to one concept: Who rules the roost-advertisers or consumers? Since, in today's world, the consumer rules, those magazines whose primary goal is to please the advertiser are proving to be the quickest to croak. This style of publishing worked when the big titles had mass reach, and when they didn't have much in the way of real media competition.

Today, we also should not discuss major changes in just a single part of the distribution/circulation/newsstand model. The newsstand model should not be discussed without the subscription model. As the circulation numbers of large titles continue to plummet, the compulsion to maintain rate base becomes a dangerous obsession, sometimes obscuring reasonable accountability. This industry can no longer afford inappropriate corporate behavior in search of maintaining the increasingly false god of rate base.

Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a consultant to the printing/publishing industry and president of The Precision Media Group (www.BoSacks.com). He is publisher and editor of a daily, international e-newsletter, Heard on the Web. Sacks has held posts as director of manufacturing and distribution, senior sales manager (paper), chief of operations, pressman, cameraman and corporate janitor.

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