Sunday, July 01, 2007

BoSacks Speaks Out: Why the Newsstand is Dead

BoSacks Speaks Out: Why the Newsstand is Dead

I'm still on the road today after Thursday's big event, but wanted to report in about the successful Periodical and Book Association of America Convention in Philadelphia. I have been to a few PBAA conventions and I always find their focus and energy to create the strong and necessary dialog and idea exchanges between publishers and distributors a noble cause. In my opinion, there are too many important issues that have long been left unanswered, unattended to, and other wise left to linger and rot. The PBAA attempts to correct that general industry oversight.

The big debate between Samir and myself, if I can judge by the ovation at breakfast the next day as a clue to its success, went very well, and I am hoping to receive some unbiased reports from readers as to which side was more convincing. If you were there please send me a report.

Another highlight for me was a conversation and presentation with some Russian distributors. It was a terrific hour of exchanges and insights.

That's some good news of the event. The bad news is that I have seen a damning demonstration of the death of the newsstand in a forum on the last morning. This panel had a national distributor, a national wholesaler, a national retailer, and a publisher. I applaud the open dialog and for that I am very grateful. We need more conversation, not less, about supply-chain and you have to start somewhere. But, why here?

The disconnect for me was amazing and not in a good way. Not if you are hoping for new ideas and the creativity necessary to drive our businesses out of their lengthy doldrums. Although I paraphrase, the conversation went something like this:

We acknowledge that the ship is sinking, but, dear friends and business partners, it is sinking very slowly. We take great pride that we have been sinking slowly for fifteen years. We are adrift on the seas and sales have been flat for so long that flat is starting to look good, something like up, only different. And flat is good, isn't it?

Do you know that when the wholesaler described an interesting and well-thought-out program of efficiency in the newsstand arena that successfully reduced wasted product, yet convincingly provided real data of same percentage of sales, someone on the panel, I don't remember who, was angry that such an operation was even being discussed, let alone put into operation. Yes, that someone had the nerve to say openly the tired, old, mantra, "lower the draw, lower the sale." To that I say, fine, buddy - you go down with the ship. I'm getting off the Titanic and creating a newer, more stable, efficient business model. Anyone that tells you there absolutely cannot be improvement in the print-ten-copies-and-sell-three model is leading you towards a big iceberg in an increasingly digitized sea. Get off now or get off later, it's your decision, but I guarantee you are getting off that ship or sinking with it.

So, this is the death of the magazine newsstand business right before our eyes. The collusion on the stage of non-aggressive thought, the inability to recognize the icebergs, the captains yelling, damn it all, this business is the Titanic and nothing can sink this ship. BoSacks says this ship is headed in the wrong direction and needs to turn mighty quickly.

Would you entice your children to join an industry, any industry, that is barely treading water for a decade and a half and has completely lost the ability to detect up from down.

As I sat there at the breakfast table, I was shocked at some of the inflexible positions and the thought of clinging on to the same business models that have keep us stagnant and without growth for over fifteen years. Yet as annoyed as I was, here was a panel that was attempting to discuss problems long kept in our dark boiler rooms in the bottom of our perspective ships. Here were some industry professionals, in an open forum seeking answers, and in front of their peers. They must get some real credit for that. They agreed to meet again and with that perhaps there will be progress. I can only hope for it.

This industry needs new ideas, new distribution models, greater efficiencies and above all else appropriate leadership for the times. We need captains that are willing to turn the ship and not hit that damned iceberg head on. Only an insane person keeps repeating the same thing over and over again expecting different results. So, I'm asking the industry at large, are you insane or just getting paid too much.

Upton Sinclair said it much better than I, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it".