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.