Friday, December 17, 2010

BoSacks Speaks Out: The Color OK from Hell

BoSacks Speaks Out: The Color OK from Hell
By Bob Sacks
I've been in the publishing business a long time. I have seen amazing technologic changes in our industry that have brought an exactitude to the printing process that was always wished for but hardly achievable when I got started in publishing. Registration problems were not only expected, but in a strange way almost accepted as an unavoidable part of the four color printing process.

In my time in the business I have been not on dozens, but on hundreds of color OK's. I have been with excellent and very creative art directors who know less than nothing of the printing process. I always considered traveling with the "creatives" to a press side experience both fun and challenging. The challenge was explaining the printing process and getting them to sign off when I told them in no uncertain terms that that this is really a terrific match to your proof and the best that printing science and the press can deliver.

There was an eight year period when I was at High Times that I would go to Quad Graphics, usually without an art director, and did the Color OKs solo. In those days I had the unheard of liberty not to have to match the proofs, but rather to do on press anything I wanted to, to get the best printed results possible in the shortest amount of time. In the old days I felt that I could achieve an OK faster than any man or woman alive. Now that I think about it, it would have been a fun challenge between Production Directors - the Super Bowl of press side Oks.

Anyway the following video is pretty damn funny even if you haven't been on a color ok.

My Favorite quote that I can recall about the printing process comes from my college roommate Ed Cobb. I am no doubt only paraphrasing him but it went something like this:
"A proof proves nothing"
I couldn't agree more.

My compliments to Sappi Fine Papers, for understanding the drama and the on-press dilemmas of the pressman, and the Production persons as they deal with the lovable creatives. Let's be realistic here and remember that without the creatives there would be nothing to print.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The New, Simple, Easy, Fool-proof Method for Any Magazine's Success

The New, Simple, Easy, Fool-proof Method for Any Magazine's Success
By Bob Sacks

For some reason, the latest mantra in the print world is that we have finally been saved and we have proof that we are forceful and relevant as demonstrated by the success of one title. I actually love the magazine and look forward to getting it each month. But I am so sick of hearing about the salvation of the magazine industry based on the success of The Food Network Magazine that I am today, here and now, drawing a line in the sand.

Here, my friends, is a simple, absolutely fool-proof formula for starting any successful magazine:

Step 1: Have a successful TV show for 20 years.

Step 2: Make sure that this successful TV show has plenty of variety in both topics and stars

Sub Step 2a: The show must have plenty of celebrities. (Creating the long-term celebrity status on the show is more than permissible; it is preferable.)

Step 3: Wait 20 years for proof of concept and a mass audience.

Step 4: (This is the easy step.) Produce a wildly successful magazine based on the wildly successful TV show.

Step 5: Claim that this new, simple and easy approach to printed products is the foundation of the success of the magazine industry.

Step 6: Repeat as often as necessary. Just create another wildly successful TV show and go back to Step 1

If you follow these ultra-simple Bo-Steps to magazine success, you will be considered a veritable media genius.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

BoSacks Speaks Out: What is a magazine?

BoSacks Speaks Out: As most of you know I have been debating my friend Samir Husni across the country for almost a decade. He is an admitted tree hugger and I lean mightily towards a digital future for our industry. Our debates are great fun not only for the audience but for the two of us as well. We enjoy taking opposite sides of important magazine issues.

As you might expect when I saw the headline of his recent posting "So, What is a Magazine, Really?" I started reading with great interest. That is when I read the following lines by Samir "Without the ink, the paper, the touch, the smell, the look, the taste, it will not be called a magazine." ... And, if it is not ink on paper, please try to find another name to define that new medium, because in my book if it is not printed it is not a magazine."

From my perspective these words and thoughts couldn't be more wrong. I firmly believe that ink is not one of the major components necessary for a magazine.
In working with my partners at mediaIdeas five years ago we developed a set of criteria for the definition of a magazine. We believe that a magazine must be paginated, edited, designed, date stamped, permanent, and periodic. But it does not have to use either ink or paper to be an 'official' magazine. Ink and paper are an unnecessary restriction in the 21st century. Of course, a magazine can be printed with ink on paper, but to demand that it be so is unrealistic and would doom an otherwise vibrant industry to the monasteries of time long past.

The best-selling book of all times was originally written on a scroll. Then eventually printed on paper by our friend Guttenberg. The Bible is now available digitally. Does the digital delivery mean it's not a book? I think rather that the words and thinking that are important and not the substrate.
Of course, it may not be fair but I can't help pointing out that Samir delivered his article "So What is a Magazine Really?" in a digital blog and not in a printed magazine.

So, What is a Magazine, Really? Read on…June 11, 2010
Being in the content business and being in the magazine business are two completely different worlds. While the magazine business deals with content, content is only but a fraction of what makes a magazine. The myth that is now sweeping our industry that we are content providers and it does not matter how our customers get their information may be the Trojan horse that will aid some publishers continue on their print suicide path.

Content is good and content will continue to be king and queen of our profession, but magazines are not going to live and survive by content alone. It never stops to amaze me how the majority of people jumped on the bandwagon of equating magazines to music and wanted to sell magazines like the iTune store sells music. I said that before and I will say again, the only similarity between magazines and music is the letter m. Everything else is different. As a child I listened to music on the little transistor radio. Later I listened to records, tapes and even listened to music on television. I listened to my favorite songs over and over. I used earphones, loud speakers, any and all the things created to help me listen to the music. The goal was always to listen to my favorite song over and over again. I did not care how the song was broadcasted or delivered. I was not holding to that radio or television set, because the medium did not matter in that case. It was the message that mattered. It was so easy to separate the message from the medium, and it did not matter what medium delivered that message to me, because my addiction was to the message that I kept listening to, time after time. It was not a message meant for a one-time use. The physical medium was just the vehicle to deliver the message and it was never part of the message.

That brings me back to the printed magazine. Like music, each and every magazine can be used as a medium to deliver a message, but if that was all what magazines do, than we would have been out of business long time ago and we would have one format, maybe an iMagazine that delivers all the content you need to select and choose from for your daily needs, wants and desires.

Magazines are much more than content. Magazines are much more than information, words, pictures and colors all combined in a platform that serves nothing but as a delivery vehicle. Magazines, each and every one and each and every issue of every one, are a total experience that engages the customers five senses. Nothing is left to chance. It is a total package. Without the ink, the paper, the touch, the smell, the look, the taste, it will not be called a magazine. Every issue is a complete new experience with a sense of ownership, showmanship and membership and is renewed with the arrival of the next issue. The total experience of flipping through the pages of a magazine, looking at the different dimensions, shapes, and other physical properties (including the colors we use on every issue whether it is the famous TIME red border or National Geographic yellow border) create a unique relationship with the customer issue after issue.

So before we close the book on this great technology we call ink on paper and start moving with the tide of this new digital world, stop and think for a moment on what makes a magazine a magazine and why in this digital age millions of magazines worldwide are still thriving in ink on paper creating daily experiences, one issue at a time. Magazines are much more than content and they are even much more than ink on paper. The total physical aspect of each “storehouse” to use the original meaning of what a magazine is include all of its properties, from the size of the store to the content of the store, seen and felt together.

Take time and think about it. The digital age is helping us create new platforms and new media, but do not fool yourself and think you can recreate a similar experience to that we have in ink on paper magazines. It is one of a kind and I if we only devote five percent of our time, money and energy in this digital age focusing on how to enhance this existing ink on paper technology and what it is delivering, our business will be in a much better shape. Magazines are not just content providers, they are experience makers, one printed issue at a time. And, if it is not ink on paper, please try to find another name to define that new medium, because in my book if it is not printed it is not a magazine. I am living the digital age (you name the gadget I have it, including the iPad) but I am not living in a dream world. I have yet to see anything comes close to what an ink on paper magazine can deliver and do for its customers at such a great feel, not to mention a great price too. Go grab a magazine, any magazine and then let’s start talking about experience making!


Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Future of Print: BoSacks Speaks at Summer Publishing Institute

The Future of Print: BoSacks Speaks at Summer Publishing Institute
BoSacks gives the keynote speech Summer Publishing Institute
By Ryan Willard

In his animated and lively presentation, Bo Sacks, owner of The Precision Media Group, told the students attending NYU's 2010 Summer Publishing Institute that while print is not dead, it will not be the primary way to read in the future. His State of the Union address directed toward SPI's aspiring media professionals offered a glimpse into the blurring lines between print and digital media.

Sacks highlighted some of the problems the publishing industry faces when trying to interpret how readers absorb knowledge from mass media and contemporary culture. He explained that today, consumers know how to find a fact by researching their needs online, rather than knowing a fact. Moreover, magazines have a beginning, middle and end whereas digital platforms offer endless possibilities.

No matter what the medium, says Sacks-whether it is through newer and better versions of tablets that will contain Qualcomm's mirasol product debuting sometime in 2011, or some other light-reflective electronic paper currently on the market-superior content is the necessary tool for the survival of the publishing industry. Those left on the island will be swift, nimble, and niche scavengers. They will know how to monetize content and to use cutting edge technologies. And they will be adept at utilizing citizen journalism, social media and location-centric sites like Foursquare and Gowalla, not to mention understanding the importance of globalization. Sacks insisted that there must be accurate systems of accountability for all print products for a more sustainable environment.

Stressing the importance of a recurrence of ideas, Sacks invoked the popular TV-series Battlestar Galactica and declared: "All of this has happened before, and it will happen again." He urged publishers to build on ideas of the past, in order to succeed in the future. He noted that we are living a world where the growth of magazine newsstand sales came to a standstill in 1990 and Ashton Kutcher has more fans on Twitter than the entire population of Norway, Ireland and Panama combined.

The world, he explained, is rapidly progressing toward a digital future. In 25 years, Sacks predicts, only 15% of current print magazines will still exist. Ultimately, a question remains within the minds of publishers and SPI students alike: how do we get everyone on the same page during this moment of change? Will there ever be one source for all digital-print media that readers are able to access? Will the transformation from print to digital lose sight of the strong writing and voice of authority that makes up so much of what is currently published? Maybe, but as Sacks suggested, adaptation will inevitably push readers, writers and publishers into an exciting and rich new world of print and digital platforms.

The students that are enrolled in The Summer Publishing Institute, is one of three programs run by The Center for Publishing at NYU-SCPS.

There will be a number of posts about The Summer Publishing Institute on the NYUSCPS blog this summer at

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

MPA Officially Responds to BoSacks on PIB

MPA Officially Responds to BoSacks on PIB
BoSacks Speaks Out: I am thankful to the MPA for responding to my vent of last week. It has always been my intended policy to start meaningful discussions. I do this in an attempt to have dialog about the consequential issues of the day and for the inevitable success of our industry. In that pursuit I attempt to present as many intelligent perspectives as I can. Without the ability to have cross-pollination we will not grow, prosper nor succeed in our endeavors.

MPA official response to PIB story
Your newsletter item from March 10 calls into question the veracity of PIB reporting. Let's be very clear. PIB is absolutely upfront that it is reporting rate card revenue. We state this in our quarterly press releases and on our website. The reason PIB reports rate card revenue is to offer a consistent and objective year-over-year comparison that can be verified. In fact, thanks to PIB, magazines are the only medium that provides fully verified reports for both units and revenue.

The primary use of the rate card revenue numbers is for publishers and agencies to track ad activity, and the way in which the numbers are presented makes it easy for them to do that by client. Since it is clear that the spending is based on rate card dollars, agencies and publishers can easily benchmark against them. Publishers and ad agencies fully understand what we report and they value PIB for its clarity. Anyone who has questions about our numbers or our process for generating the quarterly reports is free to contact me. My door is always open.

Wayne Eadie
SVP, Research
Magazine Publishers of America
Publishers Information Bureau

Sunday, March 14, 2010

BoSacks Speaks Out: PIB and Big Ad Discounts In '09

BoSacks Speaks Out: I have often ranted about the value of useless data. As we, as an industry continue to grapple with our future and the absolute need for true accountability, so too should we deal with the value of PIB reporting. It does have its place in ancient history and it does try to track some actual aspects of the publishing industry. The actual number of printed pages is hard to fabricate, and I willingly accept that those number are "close" to reality. But the value of posted revenue has become increasingly ridiculous and totally unreliable and unbelievable. Who are they kidding? I challenge any one from PIB to come on stage with me in an open public forum and defend those reported revenue numbers. Has that ever been done? If not, it should be. Exactly who is responsible for this?

The veracity of that kind of reporting is partly why our industry is in such dire straits. I postulate the following: What if we were actually accountable? What if agencies could actually rely on our reported results as gospel? What would happen if we actually told the truth instead of our continued subterfuge?

Pass-along readership numbers are an industry joke and totally unverifiable. PIB revenue based on posted rate card information is disingenuous at the very best.

It is time in the 21st century for the magazine industry to stand tall and declare the facts. We are a noble and honorable business. We don't need to lie to get the business we deserve, but rather we should deserve the business we get. The more the PIB data looses touch with reality, the more we will loose credence with the advertising industry. The future of our business is about undeniable truth and authenticity. Today or tomorrow, we will have no choice. Wouldn't it be better if we accepted the needs of the industry to expose the facts of who we are and what we can do, rather than just fade away as unreliable and irrelevant. Who will answer my call? Do you disagree? Let me know. Let the PIB know. If not now, When?


Big Ad Discounts In '09: Mags Lower Rates 27%-57%
by Erik Sass

Bona fide advertising revenue figures for magazines are notoriously hard to come by, as it is common practice for publishers to give advertisers discounts off official rate cards, meaning that real revenues are often much lower than those reported by the Publishers Information Bureau.

However, you can get some idea of the average discount rate, and with it the general health of the industry, by comparing overall PIB figures with independent revenue estimates.

The official rate card figures compiled by PIB for 2009 put total consumer magazine ad revenues (including newspaper-distributed monthly and weekly magazines) at $21.1 billion, down 17.5% from $25.6 billion in 2008.

This figure is already a bit suspect, however -- considering that total ad pages fell 25.6% over the same time period, from 233,558 to 173,375. While it's not impossible, it seems unlikely that during one of the worst economic downturns in decades, magazine publishers actually raised the average price per page 11% from $109,801 in 2008 to $121,712 in 2009.

Independent analysts seem to agree that the medium's advertising revenues were quite a bit lower than the PIB figures. A recent overview from Outsell has total magazine ad revenues at about $9.2 billion in 2009, while Magna's Brian Wieser pegged them at about $15.4 billion in his January overview of 2009 and forecast for 2010.

Comparing these numbers with PIB estimates, it would appear the magazine industry as a whole is giving advertisers discounts ranging from 27% to 57% off the official rate cards.

It should be remembered that these figures are general, however, as some magazine publishers (like Conde Nast) have a reputation for offering few if any ad page discounts. By contrast, other publishers have reportedly offered discounts of over 70%.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

BoSacks Speaks Out: On the Power of Print Campaign

Once again into the valley rode the Fortune 500. Once again, into the breach they ride feeling the need to defend the pious honor and value of print. Once again, they completely miss the damn target, this time by a mile, a 90 million dollar mile. I am not saying that as an industry there aren't things that we should be doing to put a finger in the leaking dike. But the dike still has integrity and is still holding back a vast sum of print revenue and print advertising. I am saying that what we do needs to be smart and well targeted. This campaign isn't.

I guess my complaint is their marksmanship. There isn't any. The people who put this campaign together to protect print don't have a clue what they are doing and who to aim at. It is also clear that the instigators of this campaign don't use the Internet or any digital component therein. I say print has much integrity and life left in it, but you wouldn't know it by this desperate ad campaign.

The campaign claims to target advertisers, shareholders and industry influencers. Well listen up my friends, you just insulted them all. The media buyers live in a digital world. When you bellow in one of the ads that, "The Internet is fleeting. Magazines are immersive," every media buyer knows that is pure bunk. It is the Internet that is immersive, and the kids that buy the ads and spend the advertising money know it. They live on Facebook, twitter and hundreds of other social network sites and programs. You display an utter lack of contemporary culture and knowledge. You show your dotage at every opportunity. Don't attack your customers where they live. Media buyers live on the web and only visit magazines. And in my book, visiting is OK and can still be very profitable, but not if you try to tell them that they live in a fleeting, soon- to-be-evaporated world. That is a lie.

Oh, and the other tag line from yesterday's report – "We surf the Internet. We swim in magazines." Oh Really? Perhaps you missed the report that the web is now the 2nd most trusted place for news – second only to TV. Perhaps you missed the news that 57% of the webs social media users are over the age of 35. Perhaps you didn't know that Facebook has more than 400 million active users, and of those active users, 61 percent of Facebook's users are middle-aged or older.

All I am saying is that the campaign is a total waste. Exactly to whom is it directed and exactly what are your expectations on an ROI? Is this the campaign that will save the nation of print?

Look, I love print and have been deeply involved in it for over 40 years. It is a beautiful technology. It still has great merit and worth. We will survive by being what we are – useful, informative, reasonably priced and unbreakably transportable. We have the best editors and writers on the planet and have the ability to band together thousands and sometimes, hundreds of thousands, of like-minded readers to our brands on a regular basis.

More or less that is who we are. You may think I have over-reacted, and perhaps that is so. But I firmly believe that attacking the web and the future of information distribution is, at best, terribly misguided.
The Internet is not going to go away, get smaller, nor become irrelevant.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

BoSacks Speaks Out: Why Print Will Survive

BoSacks Speaks Out: Why Print Will Survive

As we close the year out, I wanted to take the time to wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year. I have specifically used the term prosperous because I think it is still a very achievable goal for many of us, if not all. I haven't held my punches in this newsletter in the past nor will I now. We are in a period of tremendous change and upheaval in an industry that was once king of its particular hill.

I have compete faith in the lucrative future of the printing industry and the paginated products we produce, which I continue to tell my many friends and associates, some of whom actually own the printing plants where you print the magazines that you work on. I continue to advise them that there is time to adjust to the new paradigms as we shift from what once was to what will be.

I think there are billions of dollars being made and yet to be made in print publishing. And those sums will be around for quite some time for the nimble, the quick and the niche .

There are and will be continuous forks in the road to all our future developments. Do I believe print will continue? Yes. Do I believe that the predominant readership and the predominant advertising dollars will be going digital? Yes, I do. But I predict no deaths, only multiple and various new avenues of content distribution. Some more profitable than others. The print industry has lost at least 10 billion dollars and there's a good chance we might lose more. Yet, I think we can still keep a reasonable amount of what is left for a considerable amount of time.

Just like newspapers and radio who were once king of the hill, they are still here and making billions. TV is still here and making billions, too. So will print be around and viable? Not only viable, but profitable. We can do this if we get back to the basics. The very basic position is that it is our editorial above all else that is of interest to the reader. Ads are nice for both the publisher and the reader, but it is our edit and our unique words that make for longevity and profitability. If we have something worth knowing, then it is worth paying for on any substrate. That is the formula we forget from time to time. The only thing we really have going for us is the knowledge we have that others, especially our readers, do not. All else is smoke and mirrors.

Digital reading and digital platforms are growing faster than anyone can keep track of. Digital will soon be totally ubiquitous and provide data that is perhaps more useful than print because of its ability probe deep into the depths of any conversation. But print is a buffer from the world around us, and that has a certain charm all its own. Many have postulated that it is that very lack of ability to "connect" that is the charisma of the printed product. But I wouldn't want to back a business plan on that concept as we move forward. Our children do not require nor covet a disconnection.

I believe that niche printed titles will continue to provide a strong platform. That those select readers will be the readers who are willing to pay for the product in their hands . I also believe that advertisers will still want to reach the niched "unknown" readers because they represent a very special and devoted "clique" of potential buyers of the advertisers' products.

So, as we proceed into the next decade, I wish you tremendous prosperity and happiness. No matter what happens, the written word will prevail and publishers will conjure a way to profit from the transaction and delivery of thought and creative thinking. It has ever been so.

I'll see you in the next decade. My best to you and yours.