Wednesday, December 17, 2008

New Magazine Launches Decline for Second Straight Year

New Magazine Launches Decline for Second Straight Year

Just how many were launched in 2008? 

It depends who you ask.

By Dylan Stableford
Folio Magazine 

There were 335 new magazines launched in 2008.

There also have been 634 new magazines launched in 2008.

Or, there were 191 new magazine launches announced in 2008.

Exactly how many, it seems, depends on who's counting.

According to─an online database of U.S. and Canadian magazines-335 were launched in 2008, with health titles accounting for 31 of them. There were 389 new titles launched last year, according to the site.

According to University of Mississippi professor Samir "Mr. Magazine" Husni, 634 new magazines launched through November. The "hot categories," Husni said, continue to be "crafts, homes, metro and sports-same as last year."

In the last four months, he said, there has been somewhat of a surge in launch activity.

But Husni, who tracks launches monthly on his Web site, noted that the number of magazines published with a frequency of four or more is 191, down from 233 during the same period in 2007. (Husni stressed he only counts consumer titles and only the ones he has physical copies of, in hand.)

From 'WSJ.' to Beer

According to the Magazine Publishers of America's "New & Noted" setion of its Web site, there were 191 magazine launches-with titles ranging from the Wall Street Journal's 'WSJ.' to Beer-announced in 2008, down from 271 in 2007.

If there's a number everyone can agree on, however, it's that print magazine launches are, not surprisingly, on the decline.

Between January and November 2006, there were 842 magazine launches by Husni's count, and 636 during the same period in 2007.

According to MediaFinder, the second "hottest" category was regional, with 24 new titles-such as Michigan avenue cropping up in '08. (Although regional was also one of the biggest decliners, down from 42 new launches a year ago.)

Despite the downturn in the economy, magazines serving health, regional, and food interests continued to show growth, "as there continues to be interest in topics close to home," said Trish Hagood, president of Oxbridge Communications, which publishes

Noted Husni: "A lot of the new titles are being published twice or three times a year for some reason."

Monday, December 08, 2008

BoSacks Speaks Out: Surviving Publishing's Perfect Storm?

BoSacks Speaks Out: Surviving Publishing's Perfect Storm?
By Robert M. Sacks
Let’s face it, traditional publishing is under serious attack. We are facing both the customary enemy of rising manufacturing costs and the nontraditional entry of strong digital competition where once none existed. And if that wasn’t enough, we have the increasingly evident disadvantage of a terrible carbon footprint. This is a perfect storm of tremendous proportions. What are publishers to do? How can we survive?

In the past few weeks, a couple of headlines have crossed my desk. Each alone is powerful enough, but when considered together they offer terra-forming, watershed moments for the magazine industry, and, if viewed correctly, financial hope and a foundation for a very successful publishing enterprise.

The first headline comes from a Media-Ideas press release that claimed that: “In 25 years, digital magazines will command 75 percent of the magazine market.” That is a powerful statement and, even if these calculations are off by 50 percent, it means that almost 40 percent of printed magazines will be gone in 25 years. Will yours be one of those missing titles? Are you gearing up for that kind of transformation?

Media-Ideas attributes this transition to the growth of new and more affordable, flexible e-reading technologies, some apparently ready for deployment as early as 2009. These devices will be full-color, flexible, e-paper-based reading instruments. There will be several stages to the development and release of these new products, but the results will be staggering. I believe that the 25-year time line is conservative, as technology notoriously proceeds much faster than anyone can predict.

The next headline is a statement from the United Nations communications chief, who predicts that more than half of the world’s population will be connected by some sort of mobile phone before 2009. That is a large number of people possessing Web-accessible, text-reading, communication devices. Can you imagine when flexible e-paper, digital-magazine-reproducing products get into that global equation?

The proliferation of powerful, handheld, supercharged communication systems changes everything, including our precepts and concepts of publishing. Technology is no longer only for nerds, or an indulgence for the rich. It’s who we all are and who we will be. It’s embedded in our lives and culture. It’s everywhere, it’s global, and there’s no going back to rolls of parchment, or mass-distributed, carbon-hogging magazine distribution.

Printed magazines will not disappear, but they will become the less dominant reading platform and perhaps exist only for those who can afford them. Of course, printed niche products will continue to thrive, though non-niche titles will not make it—according to Darwin’s law of survival of the fittest or, in this case, Bo’s law of survival of the most uniquely remarkable. And the subset of Bo’s law is that unique remarkability is in the eyes of the distinctive beholder (reader).
So, what am I getting at with this introduction of the new world order of communications? As new generations of e-paper reading devices enter the market, the relevance of digital magazines will take on a whole new importance.

If digital magazines have not made sense to you yet in the 21st century, they will with the advent and ubiquity of portable and flexible e-paper devices.

You can add to this conversation that digital magazines have the increasingly important advantage of being able to measure the impact of everything the reader does—the advertisements, the clicks, transactions, the reading time, the actual engagement of the consumer with the product itself. Publishers must act now on their digital-magazine implementation plans or risk irrelevance in the new media future. PE

Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a printing/publishing industry consultant and president of The Precision Media Group ( He is also the co-founder of the research company Media-Ideas (, and 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, circulator and almost every other job this industry has to offer.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Self-Publisher Who Invented Christmas

How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits
By Les Standiford

In October 1843 Charles Dickens's "once unequaled popularity was at a nadir, his critical reputation in a shambles, his bank account overdrawn," Les Standiford writes. His first five books -- Sketches by Boz, The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby and The Old Curiosity Shop -- had made him "perhaps the world's first true celebrity of the popular arts" and "far and away his country's best-selling author, acclaimed as much for his themes -- the misery of the poor and the presumption and posturing of the rich -- as for his spellbinding powers as a storyteller." Yet as he sat on a stage in Manchester, preparing to give a speech to raise funds for the local Athenaeum, "the industrial capital's primary beacon of arts and enlightenment," he was deeply worried about "how rapidly -- and how unaccountably -- his good fortune had fled."

Those first five brilliant successes had been followed by three disappointments. The first was Barnaby Rudge, an ill-advised attempt at a historical novel, which sold respectably but considerably less well than its predecessors. The second was American Notes, the result of a trip he had made to the United States, one that was meant to increase his American readership and gain publicity in England. But the book was poorly received by British reviewers and readers, and the novel he was publishing in serial in 1843, Martin Chuzzlewit, was doing no better. He needed something to reverse his slide but seems to have had no idea what it might be. He was only 31 years old, but he had a large family to feed as well as other pressing financial obligations, and he feared that he was sliding toward oblivion.

However improbably, he found what he was looking for that October night in Manchester. After delivering his remarks, he walked the city's streets, thinking about his career. He "began to take stock of himself in a way that any accomplished and acclaimed writer would find extremely difficult, much less the most famous writer of his time." As he subsequently told his close friend, advisor and future biographer John Forster, perhaps he had begun to take his public for granted. He needed to return to plain storytelling, "without browbeating or scolding, or mounting a soapbox," as had been his tendency of late:

"And so, as he walked the streets that night, a new story began to form. His nightly walks continued, even after his return from Manchester to London, his mind still whirling . . . until bit by bit his tale took shape, and, as his friend Forster put it, with 'a strange mastery it seized him.' He wept over it, laughed, and then wept again, as bits and pieces swam up before him, including the vision of two children named Ignorance and Want, those 'wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable' creatures who would, with Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit and Scrooge and Marley and all the rest, stamp themselves on Dickens's imagination, and that of the world, forever."

Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in a fever; it took him only six weeks to complete the 30,000-word manuscript. "I was so closely occupied with my little Carol (the idea of which had just occurred to me)," he told a friend, "that I never left home before the owls went out; and led quite a solitary life." It was the shortest book he had written -- the others were issued in multiple serials and then published as three-volume books known as "triple deckers" -- and the biggest financial gamble of his life. His publisher, Chapman and Hall, expressed little enthusiasm for the book, so Dickens decided to have the firm bring it out "for publication on his own account." All the risk would be his own: "He would be responsible for the costs of the book's production, which would be deducted from its sales. He would also oversee the book's design, hire its illustrator, and consult on its advertising. In essence, his publishers -- which would receive a fixed commission tied to sales -- had become merely his printer. In contemporary terms, then, A Christmas Carol was to be an exercise in vanity publishing."

The book has for so long been a central part of the Christmas season, and even more central to popular images of the Victorian British Christmas, that it is useful to be reminded by Standiford of one important thing: In 1843 Christmas was not even remotely similar to what it became and what we know now. Dickens himself "had always been greatly enamored of the holiday," but to the public at large it was a minor blip on the calendar:

"There were no Christmas cards in 1843 England, no Christmas trees at royal residences or White Houses, no Christmas turkeys, no department-store Santa or his million clones, no outpouring of 'Yuletide greetings,' no weeklong cessation of business affairs through the New Year, no orgy of gift-giving, no ubiquitous public display of nativity scenes (or court fights regarding them), no holiday lighting extravaganzas, and no plethora of midnight services celebrating the birth of a savior. In fact, despite all of Dickens's enthusiasms, the holiday was a relatively minor affair that ranked far below Easter, causing little more stir than Memorial Day or St. George's Day does today. In the eyes of the relatively enlightened Anglican Church, moreover, the entire enterprise of celebrating Christmas smacked vaguely of paganism, and were there Puritans still around, acknowledging the holiday might have landed one in the stocks."

Totally -- and correctly -- contradicting the title of The Man Who Invented Christmas, which probably is the invention of someone in his publisher's marketing department, Standiford says that "no individual can claim credit for the creation of Christmas, of course -- except, perhaps, the figure that the day is named for." No, Dickens did not "invent" Christmas. But he "played a major role in transforming a celebration dating back to pre-Christian times, revitalizing forgotten customs and introducing new ones that now define the holiday," including the turkey as the centerpiece of the day's feast. He gave us "a secular counterpoint to the story of the Nativity," and "complemented the glorification of the nativity of Christ with a specific set of practices derived from Christ's example: charity and compassion in the form of educational opportunity, humane working conditions, and a decent life for all. Just as vital as the celebration of the birth of a holy savior into a human family was the glorification and defense of the family unit itself."

Financial reward from A Christmas Carol came more slowly to Dickens than he had hoped -- Chapman and Hall, in the grand tradition of publishing, seems to have cooked the books against him -- but popular success was immediate and immensely gratifying, taking the book into its third printing before the end of 1843. Writing about himself in the third person, Dickens told a friend: "By every post, all manner of strangers write all manner of letters to him about their homes and hearths, and how this same Carol is read aloud there and kept on a very little shelf by itself. Indeed it is the greatest success as I am told, that this ruffian and rascal has ever achieved."

In the United States pirated editions of the book were quickly issued, including one from the ostensibly reputable Harper and Brothers, which infuriated Dickens, a passionate advocate of international copyright. A bogus edition appeared in England as well, but there he won his legal case against the offending opportunist. There also were dozens of unauthorized stage adaptations, but by and large he was less concerned about them. The practice was widespread, and the dramatizations provided free publicity for the book. In the 20th century "at least twenty-eight film adaptations" have been made, "the very best" having been released in 1951, starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge. And the beat goes on:

"According to a count made in the late 1980s, at least 225 live stagings, films, radio dramas, and television plays based on Dickens's 'little Carol' had been produced after 1950, and that number does not take into account the untold number of amateur and regional productions staged every year. Not only has A Christmas Carol become the most 'adapted' of all the author's works, but it would be hard to name any other work of fiction that has thereby become so ubiquitous a part of Western popular culture."

Standiford's account of A Christmas Carol relies almost entirely on secondary sources and probably will be dismissed by Dickensians as adding nothing new to our understanding of the writer, but it is a nice addition to the literature of Christmas. A small addition, to be sure, but then so was A Christmas Carol. ·

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Death of Print Magazines and Other Fairy Tales

The Death of Print Magazines and Other Fairy Tales
by Samir Husni, Ph.D.
Insiders Bob Sacks and Samir Husni square off in the magazine industry's hottest debate: Will print magazines survive-or even thrive-in the next century? Here's what Samir Husni had to say.
Intro: Bob Sacks, better known as "BoSacks," is a 38-year veteran of the publishing industry whose e-newsletter, "Heard on the Web: Media Intelligence," reaches nearly 12,000 readers daily. Samir Husni, nicknamed "Mr. Magazine," holds a doctorate in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and is the author of Launch Your Own Magazine: A Guide for Succeeding in Today's Marketplace. Sacks and Husni have lengthy publishing résumés. Both run private consulting firms primarily focused on magazines and media. Both are well-respected experts in the publishing world. And both have strong opinions on where the magazine industry is headed.

We asked BoSacks and Mr. Magazine to share their views and let you be the judge. Here are Mr. Magazine's thoughts on the future of magazines.

I can see the future clearly. The future is e-paper and e-readers. Magazines and newspapers will be no more. The days of ink on paper will give way to pixels on a screen. Newsstands will become oxygen bars and coffee stands. There will be no more issues with distribution because digital books, newspapers and magazines will be automatically downloaded free of charge onto personal media organizers or your BlackBerry. Printing will cease to be. Large groves of trees will begin to spring up throughout the world because paper will be in museums, not on your coffee table. Air will be cleaner. Flowers will bloom brighter. And Republicans will bring soy lattes to share with Democrats during yoga class.

If you believe all that, we need to talk business because I have a few things to sell you: the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China and a great three-for-one deal on some pyramids over in Egypt.

The big problem with all of this future talk is that I have no way to see the future or how the media world and media consumption will be five weeks from now, let alone five months or five years from now. The only two people who can tell you the future are God and a fool. I know I'm not the first, and I work every day to not be the second. So the only thing I can do is continue to track media trends and make predictions of possibilities and plausibilities.

When you look at the statistics, there's a definite relationship: Over the last 20 years, the number of new magazine launches has steadily increased in a near-direct correlation with the number of doom-and-gloom prophets. But those prophets have yet to say anything true.

Yes, the numbers from the past few years have been less than rosy for the magazine industry, but every road has a few bumps. To say the future of magazines is little more than a resting place in a graveyard full of Betamax and Laserdiscs would be ridiculous. The past year has said otherwise.

Before jumping to conclusions and fairy tale dreams about what the future has in store for us, take a look at what has recently happened in our industry. Most of the world is having no problem with media consumption. A brand-new, state-of-the-art printing plant just opened in the United Kingdom (thanks to Rupert Murdoch), a German paper mill was recently completed at a cost of €486 million, foreign newsstands are more crowded than ours, and still, European consumers want more.

But you don't even need to look as far as Europe to see that media is alive and kicking. Last year's new magazine launches totaled 715. That's an average of nearly two new magazines each day, which is substantially higher than the number of new launches in 1991, the first year that commercial use of the Internet was allowed.

And don't forget the golden goose. Condé Nast felt so sure about the current desire for good print that they fed more than $125 million into the launch of the monthly business magazine Portfolio. So far I haven't heard one whisper of disappointment concerning that investment.

The number of new magazine launches has fallen nearly 30 percent in the last two years. But you don't say a child is a failure because of one bad grade, or that a car should be traded in because it got a flat tire-and you shouldn't say the industry is irrelevant or dying because an average of "only" two new magazines were launched every day last year.

The future is bright, or at least the possibility for the future is bright. Europeans are proving this before our eyes, yet we sit in our offices with blinders on. We see the past and not the future. We should learn from the past and take it with us into a future where more magazines are created and the customer feels he's the single member of a highly niche-oriented audience.

Technology has been something we've struggled against when it comes to printed media. But just like fighting rapids in a river, the more you fight, the faster you get pulled under. Computers, the Internet and technology are the allies of magazines. Recent numbers show that the number of consumer magazine websites has increased 53 percent since 2004. Overall magazine readership has increased 5 percent in the last four years, while coverage has remained the same. These numbers are nearly the opposite of newspaper readership, which dropped 3 to 5 percent over the past few years.

More and more magazines are being launched every year with a single customer in mind. Publishers have veered away from the mass-market magazines of years past and are seeing the infinite market that is laser-targeted niche publications. This year, magazines such as Kayak Angler, Urban Ink, Bond and others continued to show that a concentrated focus on a niche dedicated to a topic may well be better than trying to reach everyone with your message.

There's hope. Money is being invested in our industry. Customers feel an attachment to print because holding a real magazine and tangibly feeling what you paid for is much more fulfilling than turning on your Kindle or e-reader and reading a digital-rights managed copy of something. Magazines provide ownership; magazines provide connections between advertisers, readers and products; magazines provide a vehicle for quality content and purposeful design; and magazines provide profit to those who can successfully balance it all.

Some prophets of doom and gloom may say magazines haven't had the best year, but try telling that to the 715 editors and publishers who introduced their newborns to the magazine world last year. They'll be quick to tell you that magazines are still the best form of media we have today, tomorrow or the next day.
Click here to read Bob Sacks' "It's a Digital World Now"

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Where Mail Goes To Die

TWO WEEKS after the Boothwyn Fire Company, in Delaware County, mailed fundraising letters for its volunteer ambulance service last summer, director Tim Murray noticed that no checks were coming in.

The reason?

His fundraising appeals wound up in the U.S. Postal Service's Southwest Philadelphia distribution plant, where mail goes to slow down, and sometimes to die.

And it wasn't only the fire company. Customers throughout the region have complained of late deliveries and lost mail.

No wonder.

In interviews with the Daily News, postal service employees and a manager have described chaotic conditions in the chronically understaffed plant, which processes nearly six million pieces of mail a day on Lindbergh Boulevard near Island Avenue.

In recent months, a manager and several employees said, unsorted mail sat for weeks in overflowing bins on the plant floor or was stuffed into trailers in the parking lot and - in some cases - even shipped in desperation to other distribution plants, from where it often returned for sorting days later.

In some cases, the mail was destroyed, the employees said.

The postal employees and a manager spoke to the Daily News on condition of anonymity, saying they feared retribution if they spoke publicly.

The workers interviewed by the Daily News said the severe staffing shortages were the result of a year-long overtime ban.

A complaint filed by the postal workers' union with the USPS Office of Inspector General alleges that a senior manager and others ordered clerks to falsify the daily mail report, undercounting the volume by hundreds of thousands of pieces of mail, to save costs and overtime.

"The mail is here. You'd have to be blind not to see it," said a veteran employee.

"What really hurts me is the [possibility] that these [fake] numbers were used in determining how many employees were outsourced in Philadelphia," said Byron Murtaugh, APWU assistant clerk craft director and a 20-year postal employee.

In August, USPS officials here announced that 162 employees are to be transferred in January.

A lead senior manager and other managers received performance bonuses that were "fraudulently obtained, through the systematic falsification of official government reports, the diversion of mail, and the destruction of mail," the union complaint alleged.

"These [are] serious allegations of misconduct," said Nancy B. Lassen, the attorney who filed the complaint on behalf of American Postal Workers Union Local 89. "It is so systemic that it has become institutionalized at the Philadelphia plant."

The complaint also charged that the daily color codes on mail bins were changed to make it appear as if mail was not late.

Several veteran postal clerks told the Daily News that they were aware daily mail reports were being falsified and the daily color codes changed.

A union investigation, initiated by Gwen Ivey, Local 89 president, reached the same conclusion.

It appears the OIG has taken the complaint seriously.

After it was filed, investigators seized the computer assigned to a clerk identified in the complaint as having been directed by a senior manager to falsify the daily mail reports, postal employees and an independent knowledgeable source said.

Agapi Doulaveris, spokeswoman for the Office of Inspector General, said the OIG is conducting an audit of the plant "to see that service and performance standards are being met."

If auditors find wrongdoing, they would notify OIG investigators, Doulaveris said. An audit usually takes about two months.

Doulaveris declined to comment about a seized computer, and had no information about any bonuses managers may have received.

Locally, Postal Service spokeswoman Cathy Yaroski said the Postal Service is "proud of the service its employees are providing its customers," but declined to comment on the allegations of doctored records, and declined to make three managers available for interviews.

The Postal Service's high-tech, $300 million processing center opened on Lindbergh Boulevard in 2006, replacing the central sorting operation at 30th Street.

It was soon plagued with problems, exacerbated by the elimination of jobs and transfer of 656 postal workers.

Last year's delays were documented in a report by the OIG, which concluded that operations had improved earlier this year. The report was released on July 10, as the unsorted mail bins multiplied on the floor, blocking passageways, employees said.

Daily mail reports and corresponding handwritten worksheets reviewed by the Daily News support employees' claims that mail at the plant was being undercounted.

A majority of them showed that a lower volume of mail was processed than indicated by worksheets the reports were drawn from.

On Sept. 28, for example, the daily report understated the mail processed at the plant by about 750,000 pieces.

"In the past, the mail was curbed a little, but not by a million pieces," said an employee. Senior managers "are more concerned about their bonuses than the customers."

USPS records reviewed by the Daily News also showed a steep decline in overtime at the plant this year.

The backlog grew worse during employees' summer vacations, creating what a manager called "a snowball effect."

"I feel bad the mail is sitting there," said the manager, who was unaware of the alleged undercounting. "It's not fair to customers."

Veteran employee and union steward Nick Caselli, who worked on the dock, said some nights he's seen from two to four trailers parked, stuffed with mail that should have been unloaded and processed.

During the day, another employee said, as many as six to 13 trailers were parked on the lot. If mail is in a trailer, it's not included in the daily count.

In September, Caselli said, three 38-foot trailers of unprocessed mail were diverted to a distribution plant in Horsham, only to return unprocessed two days later.

In addition, some first-class mail was left in unsorted "waste bins" with second- and third-class, including time-sensitive periodicals and circulars, employees said.

After these sat for weeks, the mail was destroyed, say employees and a manager.

In a written response, Yaroski, the USPS spokeswoman, said the Postal Service has "procedures in place to ensure our mail is processed timely and delivery standards are met."

Yaroski noted that a study conducted for the processing center showed that 96 percent of first-class mail arrives within one day, though she acknowledged the survey didn't say how late the other 4 percent might be.

Asked about on-time performance of second- and third-class mail - the main problem at the plant - Yaroski said the USPS recently began collecting that data, but none is available for release.

While workers at the southwest plant struggled to cope with the chaos, customers in the 191- and 190- zip codes in the Philadelphia area were paying a high price, with late deliveries, delayed bill payments, missed department store sales circulars and even lost wedding invitations.

An Oct. 21 regional USPS memo reported that Philadelphia ranked dead last in the country in delivery times for J.C. Penney mail, for example.

Publications, such as Time, TV Guide, and the Catholic Standard and Times, were chronically late, and time-sensitive circulars from supermarkets and other businesses were sometimes destroyed, the manager and employees told the Daily News.

When the Boothwyn Fire Company's Tim Murray complained to the Postal Service about his missing fundraising letters in August, he got nowhere.

"It wasn't until after I contacted [U.S. Rep.] Joe Sestak's office that some of the mailing started arriving," Murray said. "It finally showed up five and a half weeks after we mailed it, but it was only part of it."

About the time the Boothwyn mailing disappeared last summer, overtime at the plant was virtually prohibited, despite 30 or more employees on vacation each week, according to a manager and employees.

Murray always includes a mailing to himself. It finally arrived in November, four months late.

The fiasco cost the ambulance company between $4,000 and $6,000 in lost revenue, not to mention the $500 cost of the mailing.

Others have reported mail problems: A Philadelphia plumber whose payment from a customer arrived a month after it was postmarked; a well-wisher whose get-well card was returned three months after it was sent; a lawyer who sent invitations to a reception that arrived eight days later, after the event had occurred.

A manager explained that "third-class, or standard, mail backs up mostly - sale circulars, advertisements, credit card offers . . ."

Companies "pay money to send time-sensitive offers, and they get discounts for bulk mail. But if the mail sits, that's false advertising," the manager said. "They are not getting the delivery standard they expect.

"A lot of times, it isn't getting to homes until two, three weeks later, and a lot of times [homes] are not getting it at all," the manager added.

Chip Lillie, a senior vice president at Elwyn-based Choice Marketing Inc., said he's become so frustrated with delays at the Philadelphia plant that he now takes mail shipments to the Postal Service Center in Bellmawr, N.J.

"Mysteriously, mail headed to Philadelphia-area addresses seem to get delivered from there without much delay," he said.

Some companies track their mail on a computer, the manager said.

"They throw a fit when it's not on time. Those companies know how to put a fire under somebody to get mail delivered." *

Sunday, November 30, 2008

BoSacks Speaks Out: ASME Sets New Edit-Ad Guidelines

BoSacks Speaks Out; As the article suggests, the jury is still out on whether ASME will tighten or loosen the rules for keeping ads and edit apart.

Here is a firm promise and a prediction from BoSacks: if they loosen the rules, I will go editorially and ferociously ballistic. The industry has been on the edge of having or not having integrity for years. If the American Society of Magazine Editors takes the low road and decides that honor and integrity need have no place in the magazine industry, then they will surely reap what they sow.

There are reasons for the separation of church and state in both government and publishing. Integrity is a simple thing, and I make it a practice not to do business with those to whom integrity is a missing component. It's a simple rule and one that the public understands as well. It seems that the various divisions of our beloved industry each has their own nail for the coffin of our demise.

What do you think? Should we loosen the rules? Should we at last finally become known as advertorial media?

I ran the wrong kind of business, but I did it with integrity.
Sydney Biddle Barrows, ''Mayflower Madam' Tells All,' Boston Globe, 1986

Mag Bag: ASME Sets New Edit-Ad Guidelines
by Erik Sass,

The American Society of Magazine Editors is tweaking the rulebook for keeping edit and ad content separate, according to a story in Adweek earlier this week. The new rules should be ready for approval by ASME's board by the middle of next year.

The exact substance of the changes--stricter or looser standards--is unclear. On the one hand, ASME's current chief executive Sid Holt conceded: "We've had situations where we've seen violations of the spirit of the guidelines, but not the guidelines themselves"--seeming to suggest that new stringency is in order. On the other hand, "we want them to be more industry-friendly in that they make sense to editors and advertisers alike."

So what "makes sense"? If recent moves by ASME members are anything to judge by, the new guidelines will loosen restrictions on integration of advertising into magazine cover art and headlines. This is one area where advertisers have been especially aggressive with their demands for more mingling of advertising and editorial content.

For example, the September issue of Esquire featured a blinking, flashing electronic display designed by E-ink and sponsored by Ford, although Ford was not mentioned on the cover. The high-profile cover led directly to a Ford ad spread in the front of the magazine that takes credit for the innovative front. The August 10 issue of The New York Times Magazine came with a cover wrap purchased by U.S. Trust, Bank of America's private-wealth management division, to promote its philanthropic financial products.

Last December, New York magazine sold a four-page cover wrap to the New Museum. Last year, Harper's Bazaar delivered 5,000 VIP copies that came embedded with "crystals"--courtesy of Swarovski, also an advertiser. In 2005, The New Yorker produced a single-sponsor issue for Target that incorporated the Target logo's distinctive red-and-white coloring on the cover as well as inside the magazine.

Requests for integration are attractive to magazines, given the drop in ad revenue. Through November, total ad pages are down 8.5% at over 200 weekly and monthly titles tracked by MIN Online.

Monday, October 20, 2008

BoSacks Speaks Out: Why I Don't Trust PIB's Ad Revenue Reports

BoSacks Speaks Out: Why I Don't Trust PIB's Ad Revenue Reports
By Bob Sacks
Publishing Executive Magazine Blog

Media Daily News reported in the article printed below what most of us have been aware of, well, forever. That the Publishers Information Bureau (PIB) isn't quite worth the paper it is printed on. At least, not the revenue-reporting part of the report. I have never trusted the revenue "rate card" side of the reporting and rather focused my attention on the reported page count. At least that is based on science and not numeric, wishful alchemy.

It's sort of like a trip to the doctor. You can visually see if your family is growing, but only science with blood tests will confirm or deny the truth of the apparently, but not necessarily, obvious health. A visual appraisal based on size alone is not necessarily an accurate portrayal of health.

Media Daily reports, "So a periodic reality check can put the PIB revenue figures in perspective. Just how big are discounts on magazine rate cards nowadays? The short answer is: A lot. The long answer is: anywhere from 40 percent to 75 percent, depending on the publisher."

Wow! That is a lot of smoke and mirrors for an industry with limited accountability. A great deal of Media Daily's report is deduced from publicly traded companies who release actual revenue figures that permit comparisons as part of SEC filings. So let us just say, for the sake of argument, that they are wrong in their estimates by 50 percent (is that even possible?), so the range of the PIB misstatements of earnings is at least 20 percent to 35 percent. Would you/do you make serious business decisions with that kind of range of misleading or incorrect information? Media Daily says that some publishers are off rate card by 75%. What is the value to continually report such variable and suspect data?

Either way you look at it and either set of figures you want to believe, the high or the low, the PIB revenue is at best unreliable and at worst, and let's be polite, a sad deception of the uninformed. Is it any wonder that advertisers want and continue to seek truer accountability?


How Inflated Are PIB Revenue Figures? A Lot
by Erik Sass

It's an open secret that big magazine publishers offer advertisers discounts on the prices listed on official advertising rate cards, especially when times are tough. As a result, media types tend to use the Publishers Information Bureau's figures for ad pages as an index for magazine health, rather than rate card revenue figures, which may be inflated.

So a periodic reality check can put the PIB revenue figures in perspective. Just how big are discounts on magazine rate cards nowadays? The short answer is: a lot. The long answer is: anywhere from 40% to 75%, depending on the publisher.

It's also important to note that only a few publicly traded companies release actual revenue figures that allow comparisons as part of SEC filings and earnings announcements. Two of the largest publishers--Conde Nast and Hearst--are privately owned, so figures for discounts at either company would be based on hearsay. Publicly traded companies will have to serve as proxies for the magazine business overall.

Three of the biggest publicly trade magazine publishers are Time Inc., a division of Time Warner, publisher of Time, Meredith Corp., publisher of well-known women's interest titles, and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, purveyor of shelter mags espousing domestic wisdom.

Comparing the PIB ad revenue figures for the first six months of 2008 to their actual ad revenues, as disclosed in financial statements, reveals evidence of substantial discounts.

Time Warner reported total publishing advertising revenues of about $1.2 billion in the first half of 2008--of which 9% or $100 million was online advertising, leaving print ad revenues of $1.1 billion. That compares with PIB's rate card revenue figure of $2.14 billion, meaning that Time Inc.'s two dozen American magazines are collectively offering discounts of almost 50% off the official rates.

At Meredith, the discounts are even steeper. The company reported publishing ad revenues of $308 million in the first half of 2008, compared to PIB rate card revenues of $1.16 billion. This suggests that its 25 consumer magazines are collectively offering discounts of almost 75% off the official rates.

Martha Stewart Living is offering smaller discounts than Time Inc. or Meredith, but they are still in the double digits. In the first six months of 2008, MSLO reported print advertising revenues of $85 million, compared to PIB's figure of $142.4 million. That means MSLO's five main titles are collectively offering discounts of about 40% off the official rates.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Magazines Get Clever with their Advertising

Magazines Get Clever with their Advertising
By Stuart Elliott
NEW YORK: A financial crisis, two wars, a presidential election - when there is so much for readers to think about, how do magazines aimed at thoughtful readers attract their attention?

In a new U.S. marketing push, one such magazine, The Economist, is spoofing the game Twister, distributing pizza boxes that improbably bear its name and sponsoring a performance of political satire.

Another such magazine, The Atlantic, plans to advertise on the muffin displays in New York City convenience stores, on restaurant menu boards and on the shampoo shelves of drugstores.

The Atlantic is also producing video clips that show what happens when people on city streets are invited to answer questions like "Is Google making us stupid?" and "Why do presidents lie?" - questions that, to make them stand out, have also been reproduced as neon signs.

In seeking readers and advertisers, publications like The Atlantic and The Economist - alongside competitors like Harper's, Mother Jones, The Nation, The New Republic and The New Yorker - have long tried to make up in cleverness what they lacked in wallet power.

The campaign for The Atlantic, with a budget estimated at $1.5 million, carries the theme "Think. Again." The campaign, which will also include a section of the magazine's Web site (, is to begin Monday.

The campaign for The Economist is arriving this week in Philadelphia after stopping in eight other markets, including Boston and Washington. The campaign, with an estimated budget of $5 million, carries the theme "Get a world view."

Both campaigns are indicative of the increasingly unusual efforts by the traditional media to catch the wandering eyes of younger readers as well as younger employees of media agencies who help decide where marketers buy ads.

The theory is that they "should be jolted," said Justin Smith, president for consumer media at Atlantic Media in Washington. "We felt there was a great opportunity, right now, to further inspire our readers and advertisers."

His counterpart at The Economist, Paul Rossi, who is based in New York, echoed Smith's decision to seize the moment, fraught as it might be with uncertainty. "I think it's the best possible time" for a campaign, said Rossi, executive vice president and managing director for the Americas at The Economist. "What we have to say has never been more relevant. We write about the world, about connections between business and politics."

The questions appearing in the campaign for The Atlantic are from articles published in the magazine.

The ads are meant to reach media buyers where they eat, buy takeout food and shop. Those are "places where people's brains are most at rest," said Michael Fanuele, managing director for strategy at the magazine's creative agency, Euro RSCG Worldwide in New York, part of Havas.

The video clips, aimed at readers as well as advertisers, will be available on the Think Again section of The Atlantic Web site, and plans call for additional content to be added monthly.

Previews of the clips offer a variety of responses from the passers-by on the streets. On the question "Why do presidents lie?" the replies ranged from "Why do we let them?" to "There'd be more problems if we told the truth."

The neon signs, which also appear in print ads and posters, will decorate events sponsored by The Atlantic and eventually end up at the magazine's offices. "We hope to keep one or two for ourselves," said Jose Cabaco, chief creative officer for North America at Euro RSCG.

Other agencies working on the campaign for The Atlantic are Cleverworks, for media buying, and the Rosen Group, for public relations.

Several agencies are working on the campaign for The Economist: BBDO Worldwide, part of the Omnicom Group, for the creative content; PHD, also part of Omnicom, for media buying; Kinetic, a unit of the WPP Group, for outdoor ads; and Tentpole N.Y. for public relations and events like the satire performance, by the Second City theatrical troupe.

"It's always a good time to read The Economist," said Andrew Robertson, chief executive at BBDO, "but if there ever was a good time to be reading The Economist, it's now."

Originally, the ads run by The Economist in the United States were adapted from a popular campaign for the magazine created in London by the Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO unit of BBDO. Headlines from that campaign - called the "white-on-red campaign" for its color scheme, borrowed from the logo of The Economist - include "Great minds like a think" and Robertson's favorite, "Would you like to sit next to you at dinner?"

The idea behind the British campaign "is that if you read it, you'd be better informed, and therefore more successful," he said, "which evolved into, you'd be better informed, and therefore more interesting."

The new ads with the Twister parody and the like are from the BBDO office in New York, so they will more directly address American sensibilities, Robertson said, and provide "a more specific explanation of what you'll get from reading The Economist."

"If you look at some of the titles that compete with The Economist, their perspective is from the U.S. looking at the world," he added, "whereas with The Economist, the focus is the world view."

Monday, September 29, 2008

BoSacks Speaks Out: MPA Layoffs Vs. Executive Compensation

BoSacks Speaks Out: MPA Layoffs Vs. Executive Compensation
By BoSacks

Last week I sent out what I thought was a calm and sensible article about the management salaries of publishing associations titled BoSacks Asks: What's a Pound of Flesh Worth These Days, Anyway? I was attempting to provide our industry a thoughtful dialog in these stressful and unprecedented economic times. There was nothing intentionally personal, nothing specifically actionable for or against a single person or association. I just wanted to present some overall logical questions and start a reasonable and thoughtful review of financial executive deployment of executive salaries in associations for the publishing business. Somehow it seems especially relevant with the ascendency of digital publishing in the 21st century.

Today, I feel I must alter that neutrality and zero in on a single association. The MPA, the Magazine Publishers Association has initiated an action that for me requires closer examination and strikes me on the surface as insensitive in its execution. Of course, I do not know all the details. So I only have conjecture to work with.

Media Week reported the following: "The pains affecting consumer magazines are trickling down to its lobbying association. Magazine Publishers of America layed off seven staffers, according to sources. A spokesman said that because of declines in its members' core print publishing operations, 'it was necessary to streamline operations.' After the cuts, MPA will have 36 employees. Rate-card reported ad pages for consumer magazines are down 3.1 percent in the first half of '08 and 8.2 percent in the second quarter, with particularly steep declines in the auto, technology and pharma categories, according to Publishers Information Bureau, a service of MPA. The cuts come during the run-up to MPA's annual American Magazine Conference, which takes place Oct. 5-7 in San Francisco."

With the country's $700,000,000,000 dollar bail out and a necessary focus on golden parachutes and executive compensation plans it seems to me to be somewhat disingenuous for 7 people to be laid off due to the financial conditions of the publishing industry while the MPA management sits unscathed in an untouched ivory tower, with compensations reaching as much as $740,000. (See full compensation chart here)
Were these workers not doing their job well enough? If that's the case then the layoffs should have been swiftly completed. If they had been doing their job well, then perhaps the association and the industry still needs them.

Is the industry no longer in need of the MPA's work as the largest publishing association? Are they lowering their goals and standards for the industry? I think we need competent magazine associations now more than ever, to do more than ever before. There is too much competition and too many advertising alternatives for us not to be at our peak performance.

What happened? Lop off the heads of the worker bees that actually help make the honey flow and let the royalty continue on with their compensation to the possible destruction of the entire hive?

Is there such a thing as a reasonable limit for executive pay? I suppose the best answer would have to be based on actual and identifiable results. What have been the actual results of the current administration of the MPA? Where are we as an industry and where do we need to be under the current conditions? Are we as an industry forward thinking enough and keeping up with the advent of multiple and ever changing competitive platforms? Has the MPA kept up with the needs of the industry? If it has, then the compensation may be warranted.

If the MPA's management indeed shared in the pain of these layoffs in some way, that is not apparent to this reporter. But if that is so, then I apologize for this errant conversation. Either way, as always, I leave my newsletter completely open for a public response from all.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

BoSacks Asks: What's a Pound of Flesh Worth These Days, Anyway?

BoSacks Asks: What's a Pound of Flesh Worth These Days, Anyway?
By Bob Sacks
Publishing Executive Magazine
What's a pound of flesh worth? What's a fair wage? Is your day's labor in the publishing salt mines worth what you earn?

Here is another question, which seems particularly relevant and timely in light of recent reports showing that some executives at magazine industry associations earn annual salaries of $400,000 to $740,000: Do they think that - at a time when the industry is as challenged as ever - they have earned that pay in the same salt mines for a job well done?

I mentioned this line of questioning to my son, who proceeded to practically rip off my head. He asked what right I had to comment on another person's salary. Well, I responded, when I see General Motors, once the world's largest automobile corporation, driven willingly off a cliff by management that has been ineffective for more than four decades, the very same management that makes hundreds of millions of dollars in salary and compensation, I believe I have the right to an opinion.

What should we expect from an association officer in exchange for his/her compensation? I'm not looking to condemn or single out any one executive or association. I'm simply calling for an industrywide discussion. Is there, or should there be, a correlation between compensation, results and revenue at any industry association?

It was pointed out to me by a friend, whose perspective I sought for this column, that there is no such thing as "fair" in economics. His opinion was that people do not engage in an economic transaction unless they feel that they are getting a benefit greater than their costs. In this case, I am not so sure that concept can be applied. This is just not a typical business relationship of vendor and supplier.

So, it seems to me that the question comes down to this: What is the benefit to the association membership of paying association management the salaries they are being paid, and who determines this value? The obvious answer is that the associations' boards of directors decide both the criteria and the range of compensation packages.

But that answer has limitations and is complicated. Often, volunteers oversee associations. Also, there are no stockholders expecting a financial return for their decisions and managerial oversight. This is a system of limited accountability that creates potential problems or sometimes just simple overcompensation - or, if not overcompensation, then compensation based on no real, measurable data, unless you use the state of the industry as the de facto guideline. And if association salaries were based on the industry's condition, then we would see years of plenty followed by years of lean. But surely that's not the case here, because we are in a time of lean, and yet association salaries remain extremely generous.

Is it possible to actually measure the performance of an association? No, not really. Should associations be judged on how well their industry is performing compared to others? Can associations be measured on how healthy and robust their individual membership is at any given time?
Let me be clear: I don't think we can hold associations responsible for industry variations in circulation, ad pages and assorted revenue streams. But how else can it be measured? And the next logical question is, by what criteria should management's compensation be determined?

If your company was run using the same, nonspecific criteria that guide an association, how long would you expect to remain successfully in business? If your board of directors - which hired your publisher and other senior management - was managed by a series of non-paid volunteers, would you have confidence in long-term profitability? These questions seem worthy to discuss and ponder as our industry moves forward into the digitized 21st century. I am greatly interested in your opinions on this subject.

Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a printing/publishing industry consultant and and president of The Precision Media Group ( He is also the co-founder of the research company Media-Ideas (, and 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, circulator and almost every other job this industry has to offer.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The state of publishing and digital media

The state of publishing and digital media
Written by Gary Howes
Today PriceWaterHouseCoopers (PWC) releases their report on the current state of the global publishing industry with a focus on the ongoing debate as to whether digital has spelt the death of print.

The global consumer magazine market is currently worth about £43 billion - up from about £38 billion five years ago.

Advertising accounted for most of this rise. Between 2003 and 2007, revenues from print advertising increased at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4%. Conversely,
circulation revenues grew by just 1.9%.

PWC Entertainment and Media Practice suggests that the consumer magazine market will reach about £51 billion by 2012, and that advertising will once again generate most of the increase.

It is however expected that revenues from digital advertising will grow at a very much faster rate than revenues from traditional print advertising.

Between 2004 and 2008, global expenditure on Internet advertising rose at a CAGR of 38.1%, whereas print advertising in consumer magazines and newspapers grew by just 4.4% and 2.4%, respectively.

The pace at which online advertising expands is likely to slow over the next five years. Even so, PWC believe that revenues will increase at a CAGR of 19.5% - three times more than the rate at which expenditure on any other form of advertising is projected to grow.

Consumer trends

PWC says the global publishing industry is undergoing major changes. A growing number of people are migrating from the printed page to the Internet for information and
entertainment. So what should consumer magazine publishers and media buyers do to succeed in the digital age?

The research shows that:

Most consumers still prefer to read hard copies of magazines, but many are also interested in reading digital content (by which we mean interactive materials, not
PDFs or other static formats which can be viewed online) - and younger consumers would rather access content digitally.

A significant number of consumers also express interest in using new digital devices to read digital content, once these devices are commercially available.

However, consumers expect to pay more for printed content than for content distributed electronically. Indeed, the research suggests that they are not prepared to pay more than half the sum they would pay for a printed magazine.

Moreover, many consumers see digital-only content as a substitute for printed content. So any magazine publisher which launches digital content connected to its brands risks cannibalising subscription and circulation revenues from its traditional print magazines.

However, there is no evidence thus far that consumer magazine print products have been cannibalized by the presence of digital versions of the magazine on the title's website. This fear may therefore be groundless.

A number of magazine publishers have responded to the digital revolution by reshuffling their portfolios through acquisitions, disposals and new launches, or by forming strategic alliances to get access to the skills they need.

As progress in developing digital media is being made in mainland Europe, Britain and in North America, Eastern European publishers continuing to build up their print portfolios, as this relatively new industry develops.

British and North American magazine publishers expect to generate as much as 20% of their total revenues from digital platforms within the next five years, whereas mainland European publishers expect to generate only 10% of their revenues from online activities. This reflects consumers' willingness to pay for digital content in these markets.

According to third party research, smaller publishers in Britain and in North America are far ahead of their mainland European counterparts in digital investment and development.

And it is those that have been able to leverage strong brands across multiple media platforms and generate revenues from online advertising, search-engine marketing and e-commerce that have proved most successful.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Finally Some Uplifting News From BoSacks?

BoSacks Speaks Out: Finally Some Uplifting News From BoSacks?
I received a letter from a reader who said that some of his friends have stopped reading BoSacks because of all the bad news. I wasn't shocked at the note, but I admit that I was a little disappointed. I thought that my position was clear. I wrote back that I did not think that the industry is in death mode, nor has that ever been the intent of my coverage. And I also wrote that I try my damnedest to find positive and uplifting news.

Indeed I am very upbeat about our industry, and I see a bright future for the industry and the people in it. But there are a few things that have to be stated. The industry is never going to be the way it was; it is not even going to be the way it is. But I think the stories I send out give our readers a chance to see how the future may bend, blend and re-form, and hopefully offer a place of steady employment, if you are smart enough to read between the lines.

The industry is radically changing. So what? Why do you find that so depressing? I do not. Change is an elixir, and should be treated that way. The possibilities of information distribution in the next few years will be nothing less than staggering. Quite possibly we could be heading into the great, golden years of publishing. Is that a downer? Not in my book. There is more reading material available now, to more people than ever before in the combined history of man.

There are no age qualifiers on my web site when you sign up, so I'll ask this question: What were you doing five years ago? If you were in the business, what were you doing ten years ago? Are you doing the same thing now that you were doing then? I doubt it. What do you think you will be doing ten years from now? Do you think it is possible your job description and responsibilities might change? What might they be?

Our technology is growing exponentially. What used to take ten technologic years to advance now takes five, perhaps even less. My advice is to be very prepared to face the future with full frontal aggressiveness and make it your friend, not your combative enemy. If technology and the future are not your friends, you are fighting a battle you can not possibly win. As I have said before, the future is here now; it is just not widely distributed yet.

There are two options -- we can stick our heads in the ground in denial and hope that the industry problems will somehow go away and we will be able to continue to do what we have been doing, or we can do our very best to stay informed about the industry as it changes and grow with it. The choice is ours. Information is our power. That is why I am bullish about the publishing industry. We own the content. I do not care how we distribute that content. Some of it will always be on paper and some will be distributed electronically. So what? Once writers needed quill pens to write. Many years later came fountain pens, and then typewriters. Now we have computers. Are my words typed on a laptop and distributed by electrons, any less important because of this method of delivery? The reading of the written word is what is most important, not the pathway to receiving them. The truth is those words are more important when they are as fresh as possible and only a few electronic minutes old.

The bottom line for us all is to try to stay employed as long as we wish to work. The only way to that end is to work hard and be as informed as is possible.

Oh, yes, and I might mention that I do try my hardest to find articles that are positive and uplifting about our industry. They do exist from time to time; it's just that they are very few and far between. When I find them, I send them. I also think most negative articles are not fully understood by the authors and are written with a very narrow perspective. But what I do send out is important to anyone in the industry. That is my criteria and the only reason I send anything out. I think it is important to know. Remember, this industry's future is your future. The world of publishing is not going to evaporate. I think it will grow and prosper, in fact, I guarantee it.

Well, there you go. Am I wrong? What do you think?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Discovering Magazine Profit in Sustainability

Discovering Magazine Profit in Sustainability
Wal-Mart has saved billions of dollars-can't we?
By Bob Sacks
Does the current magazine business model have anything to do with sustainability? Not the ability to sustain ourselves as a business, but rather the new-age definition of environmental sustainability as defined by Wal-Mart. You remember Wal-Mart-the conglomerate that distributes nearly 25 percent of all newsstand titles? Oh, yes, you remember Wal-Mart-the mega-discount retailer that recently cut 1,000 magazine titles from its roster. But did you ever wonder why it did that?

As I found on the Wal-Mart Web site, "through sustainability, Wal-Mart has saved billions of dollars in costs and has begun to drive profitable product innovation. Our goal: Offer our customers an increasing volume of affordable, sustainable products that help them live better every day."

Wal-Mart wants to improve the quality of life for people on a global basis. Wal-Mart is preaching and insisting on accountability for sustainability with all vendors.

This may sound like corporate rhetoric, but it isn't. Wal-Mart is serious. It has discovered profit in the new mantra of sustainability. It has saved $10 billion in improved, sustainable packaging. It has increased efficiency in its truck fleets by 15 percent. It is in hot pursuit for two reasons. One, it makes good business sense. The savings that it is experiencing are dramatic and have been achieved by many other companies as well. Two, the public has come around to the concept and now is starting to demand sustainability in the products it buys.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that sustainable development marries two important themes:

1. environmental protection does not preclude economic development; and

2. economic development must be ecologically viable now and in the long run.

What does this have to do with magazines? Everything! We are not yet a sustainable business under Wal-Mart's definitions. This is an important concept for us to recognize. I have been ranting for years about our inefficient distribution system. I have also said that if we don't fix it from the inside, outside forces will fix it for us. Well, there you have it; those forces are in action as we speak. Do you think this sustainability movement will just go away? Do you wish to continue with business as usual? Are you developing a distribution plan for the future? And by the future, I don't mean your next issue-I mean next year and the years after that.

Proven sustainability may be legislated and forced upon all businesses. There is legislation circulating in Washington, D.C. right now that demands an 80-percent reduction of carbon footprints. How would you accomplish that reduction? Wal-Mart, the distributor of 25 percent of our newsstand product, is demanding efficiencies, and now the government is, too.

The future of print publishing, if we are to have one, must address sustainability issues. How "green" or environmentally friendly is a publishing process that prints 10 magazines, sells three and then sends seven to landfills, or at best, re-trucks the unsold copies to a pulping facility to be re-trucked back to a mill, to be converted to paper and re-trucked back to a printing plant? Deleted digits (as in digital 1s and 0s) do not require diesel-burning trucks to haul them away, and old digits do not fill up landfills.

I hope you can agree that from a "green" perspective, publishing is not yet a sustainable business.

So with the rising costs and earth-unfriendly nature of our manufacturing and distribution of formerly living trees, and with the increased acceptability and functionality of digital products like e-paper, the path to successful publishing is very clear. To me, the quick route to a drastic reduction in our carbon footprint is adopting the philosophy of 100-percent retail sell-through-a no-return, newsstand-based business. This concept horrifies some professionals. (It's more the fear of the unknown than the actual facts of the process. Jobs will change, responsibilities will change and business models will change, and people abhor change.) But at the end of the day, and before the end of our business and our planet as we know it, it is an inevitable and eco-friendly distribution model. After the horror of this transformation is over, we will save billions of dollars and perhaps the industry as well.

Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a printing/publishing industry consultant and president of The Precision Media Group ( He is also the co-founder of the research company Media-Ideas (, and 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, circulator and almost every other job this industry has to offer.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

What if Ebooks Were the Dominant Platform?

BoSacks Speaks Out: My friend Rex Hammock posted the following on one of his Blogs.
"What if Samir Husni & Bob Sacks Swapped Sides?
This post about trying out a "technology flip test" ( See Below) in which eBook advocates become defenders of paper and vice-versa made me think of the longest-running debate on the magozinosophere. Bob, Samir, give it a shot."

I responded back to Rex somthing like this:

I will take the challenge any time and any place. I love the whole concept of it. What a wonderful debate it could/would be. So long as Samir doesn't cheat. You know what I mean, we accept the challenge, we both do our homework and we both try to win . . . Except if Samir doesn't try to win too hard, I lose the long term real debate by winning the flip test debate. Not that Samir would do anything like that, you understand.
So, Samir, will you take the side that digital will win?
Insanity -- a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.
R. D. Lang

What if Ebooks Were the Dominant Platform?
Posted by Mac Slocum
I recently came across an old blog post from Harvard Business School professor Andrew McAfee that discusses the utility of the "technology flip test". McAfee writes:

At a conference years back I was sitting on a panel that was asked to talk about future of the book. As the discussion was heating up about the inevitability of the electric media, someone on the panel (I wish it had been me) proposed a flip test. He said "Let's say the world has only e-books, then someone introduces this technology called 'paper.' It's cheap, portable, lasts essentially forever, and requires no batteries. You can't write over it once it's been written on, but you buy more very cheaply. Wouldn't that technology come to dominate the market?" It's fair to say that comment changed the direction of the panel.

The ebook vs paper flip test is intriguing for a number of reasons:

It inverts the offense and defense: Ebook advocates become defenders and paper-book supporters become disruptors. Shaking off the vestiges of a default argument is always a good idea -- think of it as a "debate cleanser."
It amplifies the strengths of each format . . . initially: When I ran through the flip test on my own, I at first honed in on the cost savings of ebooks (no paper, no printing, no shipping) and the sensory aspects of print books. But further review revealed deeper complexities to this debate. And that led me to . . .
It upends assumptions: Print's dominant position in the real world causes me to challenge pro-print arguments, most notably the tactile experience overreaction that often derails discussions. But placing ebooks in the hot seat gave me a new perspective on ebook defenses. For example, if my default reading environment was electronic and networked, would I want (or need) a disconnected outlet? Would I crave solitude and a languid pace? Does the upside of ebook economics supersede the other reading/storytelling experiences I'm looking for, or would I welcome a print alternative the way I now welcome an electronic option?
What's your take on the flip test? Does inverting the argument open the discussion, or is this a diversionary trick that detracts from the issues at hand? Please share your thoughts in the comments area.

(Original idea and McAfee link via Reading 2.0 list.)

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Women's fashion mags use premiums as weapons in war for customers

BoSacks Speaks Out: With all the talk last week of Esquire magazine and the "gimmick" of them putting e-ink on the cover for the first time ever by any publishing house. I thought his might be a fitting addendum. I guess it only fair to point out that this is not a domestic newsstand story.

When Alexander the Great visited Diogenes and asked whether he could do anything for the famed teacher, Diogenes replied: 'Only stand out of my light.' Perhaps some day we shall know how to heighten creativity. Until then, one of the best things we can do for creative men and women is to stand out of their light.
John W. Gardner (1912 - 2002)

Women's fashion mags use premiums as weapons in war for customers
Tomoko Nishida / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

Have you noticed that women's fashion magazines have become very thick recently? It's because they come stuffed with various premiums, often brand name goods. They include handbags, hair accessories, fans and beach shoes. The freebies are a marketing strategy used by publishing companies in reaction to women reading fewer and fewer such magazines. But are they really effective in attracting more readers?

Shueisha Inc. added a minibag by an American fashion designer to the July issue of More. The issue sold 560,000 copies, or 10,000 to 20,000 copies more than usual.

The July issue of Sweet, published by Takarajimasha Inc., sold 460,000 copies. It came with a pair of makeup bags bearing a famous Japanese brand name.

Shueisha is planning to make Seventeen, now published twice a month, a monthly magazine beginning with the September issue. Editor in Chief Yoshiharu Koshizaki said the magazine will have a premium every month, partly in an attempt to "prevent readers from sharing one magazine between them."

The "premium war" is a result of publishers' ability to collaborate with brand names and companies in designing the premium goods. Most of these items are developed especially for the magazine promotions.

In the case of magazines that come with premiums as "main products," the giveaways included a camisole or even a collapsible umbrella.

Last spring's relaxation on rules on giveaways by the Fair Trade Commission also is believed to have accelerated the trend.

The relaxation doubled the 100 yen maximum value of premiums for magazines priced at less than 1,000 yen. But publishers are believed to have been able to keep the production costs lean since they can have giveaways made in low-labor-cost countries, even when carrying brand names, as they are collaboratively produced, original products.

Takarajimasha began adding premiums to all of its magazines last year. Thanks to the move, the circulation of In Red increased from the 100,000-level to the 300,000-level.

That of Sweet also rose from the 200,000-level to the 400,000-level.

Takarajimasha spokesperson Keiko Sakurada said the premiums are "a priority investment for increased circulation."

Kazuhiko Sato, the head of the editorial department at Shufunotomo Co., which publishes Mina and Ray among other periodicals, said the company wants to utilize the appeal of giveaways so that "readers can get something."

There was an earlier boom in luxurious magazine premiums in 2001, when the Japan Magazine Publishers Association relaxed rules on the material and size of premiums. But some magazines were suspended or discontinued after suffering from poor sales of issues that came without giveaways.

That's why publishers place high hopes on collaboration this time. But Sato admitted such projects require a lot of time and effort, and More Editor in Chief Junko Sugino said she wants readers choose the magazine because of its articles.

According to the association, sales of women's magazines decreased by about 30 percent last year from their peak 10 years ago. Association official Kenji Takahashi said: "Premiums are important elements that decide the sale of magazines in this era of weak sales.

"But it is ideal if the premiums are an extension of the content of the magazine."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

BoSacks Speaks Out: Why Esquire Mag is your Future?

BoSacks Speaks Out: Why Esquire Mag is your Future?

BoSacks Speaks Out: Please, let's not all get crazy at the same time. So many people are over-reacting to the announcement that Esquire is using e-ink on their cover that I almost don't know where to begin. But almost isn't don't know.

First and foremost, this is a clever magazine cover gimmick for a 75th anniversary cover. Period, end of story, except for all the brouhaha. They deserve to do something special. And e-ink is going to be something special. In this case it is underutilizing the power and the possibilities of e-ink, but what the heck? You have to start somewhere. And this year our industry starts here on the cover of Esquire with a flexible, magazine-bindable production of e-ink.

We as an industry have been inserting and on-serting for generations. Believe me I know, as I was partly responsible for the AOL onslaught of on-serting and inserting first fragile plastic diskettes and then CD's into magazines. The computer and music sectors have been doing this for years. The women's service groups have inserted hundreds of items including such nutty ideas as shampoo samples which in the course of palatalizing squished and squeezed the samples all over the printer's bindery floor. So ease off on the condemnation that gimmicks are something new or distasteful.

And the same thing is true for the carbon footprint. Why is Esquire being singled out?
I'm the first to admit that we have been reckless as an industry when it comes to carbon foot-printing and inefficiencies, but to single out a single publisher . . . . pure and absolute rubbish. Anyone who is starting to condemn a single gimmick in a single magazine doesn't know the industry, the history, nor the true story of magazine sales and magazine production.

E-ink or e-paper is special, in fact it is very special, and it is an integral part of the future of the magazine business. If we are going to have a big future at all, it is going to be digital. We will combine the ease of use of digital editions of magazines with the portability of brilliantly colored WiFi connected epaper, with a drastically lower carbon footprint than today and dramatically reduced manufacturing costs. What's not to like? What part don't we understand?
Publishers sell words and thoughts, not paper and printing? For those who need to hear me say it again, printing ink on paper is not going to go away; it is also not going to be the dominant distribution vehicle of information.

Esquire's Granger: Magazine Medium 'So Compelling We All Should Do More with It'
Editor responds to news of flashing anniversary cover.
Jason Fell

Since the report last week about Esquire's flashy e-paper October anniversary cover-and our follow-up on the technology behind it-I've been hearing/reading a lot of negative opinions about it.

One Web site called it obnoxious. Rex Hammock said it was "the worst use of technology by a magazine." Fast Company, in a blog post, estimated that the manufacturing process increases the issue's carbon footprint by 16 percent over other typical print publications. But, if you ask Esquire editor-in-chief David Granger, the technology could help revolutionize the way we read magazines, beyond the printed page and online.

"When I talk to groups I sometimes speak about the days I had when I'd get the new issue of Esquire and go through it and think to myself, 'Fuck, it's still a magazine,'" Granger said in a recent interview with FOLIO:. "What I mean is that the medium is so compelling that I and we should all be able to do more with it. The magazine experience is one of the last remaining opportunities to enter a hermetically-sealed world, an edited experience of our culture created by someone else. And, more importantly, it's an experience that encourages you to stay in it rather than constantly bounce in and out of it.

"We have an amazing medium, print, and if we can enhance the experience of it by putting new technology to use, then all the better," he said.

Bob Sacks, an industry consultant and frequent proponent of technology, says that Esquire's flashy cover may be a small step overall but offers a glimpse of what's to come in the next few years.

"It's not a representation of what e-paper was designed for, but doing the cover is the right thing to do," Sacks says. "It will be a demonstration of what it can be used for. In the near future we all will have flexible e-paper readers in our pocket and will be able to access all the magazine and books you want."

Right now, the technology is expensive and, if you believe Fast Company, not very green. Granger says that, with time, he hopes the technology will become cheaper. Maybe, after some refining, the application will become more realistic and environmentally-friendly, too.


The Real Cost of E-Ink
posted by Anya Kamenetz

An article in the New York Times earlier this week described an effort by the legendary print magazine Esquire to make "a nod to the digital age" by using something called E Ink on its cover. That's pretty much what it sounds like: electronic ink, so the cover can blink like a Times Square billboard, as opposed to a staid old highway billboard.

One problem: Did anyone stop to consider the environmental implications? Check out this description of the process, from the Times article:

The batteries and the display case are manufactured and put together in China. They are shipped to Texas and on to Mexico, where the device is inserted by hand into each magazine. The issues will then be shipped via trucks, which will be refrigerated to preserve the batteries, to the magazine's distributor in Glazer, Ky.
Editor David Granger described it as "a 21st-century technology" combined with "a 19th-century manufacturing process." Can't argue with the second part, at least. The article goes on to note that this process is expensive, and hence requires sponsorship from a Ford SUV (not exactly a 21st-century technology itself). But what about the other cost . . . the carbon one? Some back-of-the-envelope calculations show it's not small, and Ford's not picking up the tab.

Let's start at the beginning. According to the article, "The batteries and the display case are manufactured and put together in China." The manufacturing phase is the biggest question mark in the life cycle of any product. According to life cycle analysis by Nokia, the manufacturing phase, alone, of another battery-powered electronic device, their 3G phones, is responsible for 12.3 KG of CO2 equivalent per unit. Granted, the E Ink display is a lot simpler and uses much less material than a cell phone, so let's say the carbon footprint is one-tenth as much-1.2 KG per user. That would be 135 tons of CO2 for the entire run of 100,000 devices.
Next, the devices will be shipped to Texas. According to E-Ink, a comparable prototype device weighs about 150 grams (5.3 ounces). According to the calculator on, shipping 100,000 of those overseas from Shanghai to Houston is worth another 2.6 tons -189 tons if they for some reason chose air freight.

From there, the little magic doohickeys will make their way to a Mexican maquiladora (where the work conditions are certain to be just lovely-ditto the Chinese factory) to be inserted by hand into the magazine covers (1.28 tons from Houston to Monterrey, Mexico), and from there, the completed issues, about one-third heavier than normal, will travel about 1,400 miles to the magazine's distribution center in Kentucky (11 more tons). Oh, and because of the delicacy of the electronics, they'll have to travel in refrigerated trucks. Certain kinds of refrigeration units can consume a half gallon of fuel per operating hour - that's an additional 10 gallons for that 20 hour trip-per truck. So for 5 trucks (let's say), the refrigeration adds about another half a ton. Then the blinking magazines go to their final destinations.

So . . . the total outlay in greenhouse gas emissions for this little experiment-again, this is based on loose estimates-comes to 150 tons of CO2 equivalent, similar to the output of 15 Hummers or 20 average Americans for an entire year, and a 16% increase over the carbon footprint of a typical print publication (based on calculations by Discover Magazine, Time, and In Style). The potential environmental impact of the E Ink covers increases even more when you consider that the units are designed to be disposable after one use and they'll make it more difficult or impossible to recycle the paper portion of the magazines.
Maybe Esquire should go back to the drawing board for a truly forward-looking concept of the possibilities of print. Fast Company would be glad to advise them on where to go to get printed on 100% recycled paper

Thursday, July 24, 2008

News Flash From the Cover of Esquire: Paper Magazines Can Be High Tech, Too

News Flash From the Cover of Esquire: Paper Magazines Can Be High Tech, Too

On the third floor of the Museum of Modern Art in Midtown Manhattan rests a tribute to Esquire's glory years - a collection of 92 covers from the 1960s and early 1970s that have become, in the museum's words, "essential to the iconography of American culture."

That illustrious history hangs over the magazine's effort to celebrate its 75th year. Its attempt to add to the annals of museum-worthy covers includes a nod to the digital age: an electronic cover, using admittedly rudimentary technology, that will flash "the 21st Century Begins Now," when it appears on newsstands in September.

"I hope it will be in the Smithsonian," said David Granger, Esquire's editor in chief, in a recent interview while showing prototypes of the cover - an early version has a cord sticking out that attaches to a battery pack.

If it does wind up in the Smithsonian, it will need a power source; on its own, the magazine will run out of juice after 90 days. Mr. Granger knows some will see the cover as a gimmick - but he says he thinks the technology behind it, which has been used for supermarket displays but never embedded in a magazine, speaks to the possibilities of print.

"Magazines have basically looked the same for 150 years," Mr. Granger said. "I have been frustrated with the lack of forward movement in the magazine industry."

Pointing to the prototype sitting on a conference room table, Mr. Granger said, "The possibilities of print have just begun. In two years, I hope this looks like cellphones did in 1982, or car phones."
The company that produced the cover, E Ink, has a track record of innovation - its technology is used in's e-book device, the Kindle. E Ink, a private company based in Cambridge, Mass., counts Hearst, Esquire's parent, as a major shareholder.
"In 2000 or so, we went to Cambridge to see if they could demonstrate the technology," Mr. Granger said. "They were doing store displays, so it was premature for a magazine."

Two years ago, at a Hearst management retreat, Mr. Granger again raised the idea. This time it would be possible, he was told, if Hearst invested seed money to create a battery small enough to fit in a magazine.
"This is really the 1.0 version," said Kevin O'Malley, Esquire's publisher. "Imagine when the consumer walks by a newsstand and sees that it is alive."

Digital technology holds the promise of making the dissemination of information much easier and cheaper - no paper, no trucks - but this experiment by Esquire was the opposite.
"The whole chain had to be reinvented," said Peter Griffin, the deputy editor. "The interesting thing is it has almost nothing to do with the normal way of putting out a magazine."

First Esquire had to make a six-figure investment to hire an engineer in China to develop a battery small enough to be inserted in the magazine cover. The batteries and the display case are manufactured and put together in China. They are shipped to Texas and on to Mexico, where the device is inserted by hand into each magazine. The issues will then be shipped via trucks, which will be refrigerated to preserve the batteries, to the magazine's distributor in Glazer, Ky.
"We are trying to combine a 21st-century technology with a 19th-century manufacturing process," Mr. Granger said.

All of this, of course, is expensive. Which is why it was necessary for Esquire to find a sponsor. In stepped Ford Motor, which will have an advertisement on the inside of the cover that will use the same technology to promote its new minivan-sport utility vehicle, the Flex.

"We wanted the marketing plan for this vehicle to include motion as much as possible," said Usha Raghavachari, communications manager for S.U.V.'s for Ford North America Marketing. "We had a desire to make our marketing launch as unique as the vehicle. This makes our print plan a little more energizing."

Esquire has exclusive use of E Ink's technology for use in print through 2009, and Mr. Granger said he hopes to come up with new ideas for it. "This is probably just a limited view of its use," he said.
The electronic cover will be used in only 100,000 copies that go to newsstands - its overall circulation is about 720,000.
What Esquire is doing harks back to a big splash National Geographic made in 1984 when it introduced holography to the mass market by placing a hologram of an eagle on its cover.
Holograms did become widespread in things like greeting cards, even if they did not upend the publishing world.

"Part of the iconic DNA of the magazine is our covers," said Mr. O'Malley, Esquire's publisher. "I fully expect that in 25 to 30 years, this cover will be in a museum."