27 June 2009

Digital Magazines Are Taking Overr

No more crankyboots

I haven’t posted here for awhile. I was tired of being cranky.
All that “When oh when will publishers see the light?” stuff. And “When oh when will they prepare themselves, their staffs, their partners and their readers for the obvious crossover to digital?” Let’s not forget ”When oh when will they realize that the magazine format doesn’t require paper clothing?” Blah. Blah. Blah.
I know it’s tiresome to read futurist blather about how the magazine industry ought to settle in and really eat its spinach. It’s more tiresome to write that crap.
Then I realized the obvious. It’s not futurist blather. It (and by “it” I mean the arrival of publications as digital media and the vanishing of print) is very here-and-now blather.
As it turns out, loads of trees fell in the forest, and there were plenty of people to hear it. Sadly, most of those people are still in denial about hearing the sound.
I’m glad that’s settled.
So where we go from here?
I don’t know about you; but I’m now going to treat publications as digital, portable media. I know this stance invites an air of “as if” about it all; but I can live with that.
So let me ease in with a blast from the past that has some resonance now. It was written for the Periodical & Book Association of America’s (PBAA)2000 convention program when I was editor of Magazine Retailer. It deals with the mood that enveloped the retail sector when events caused the wholesale distribution system to hit the fan.

“How do you see yourself in five years?”

The Magazine nervously entered the VP’S office for a review of its performance. Droplets of ink dotted The Magazine’s forehead.
The VP asked, “How do you see yourself in five years?”
“I enjoy working with the public,” said The Magazine ‘and I guess I’ll he doing that. Also, I’ve been getting into computers lately. That’s pretty challenging.”
The Magazine gave a halfhearted smile. This felt easy He had been around for a few hundred years and always was able to adapt to social, cultural and technological changes.
The VP smiled, but then started saying things like “unacceptable efficiencies” and “under 40% sales”, and the Magazine wondered how long this examination would take.
“I’m not like any other category,” said The Magazine. “Each issue is a new product. If you cut the draw, you cut the sales. I’m an impulse item. I’m really one of the more profitable categories you’ll ever have the good fortune to know. Good fences make good neighbors. And did I mention that if you cut the draw, you cut the sales?”
“I’m looking for answers, pal” said the VP, “and not conventional wisdom.”
The Magazine sighed. This was one more VP he’d have to train in the art off How Things Really Are.
“These are the eternal truths that everybody must learn,” The Magazine said.
“I’m on your side,” said the VP. “Really I am. But if you’re going to shuffle around, hoping the old days will somehow come hack, we won’t get anywhere.”
The Magazine’s pages rustled. If only it could control that tic.
“I know what they’re saying about you” the VP continued. “You’ve lost a step and yon can’t cope with change. I don’t think that’s true. You’re the product that knows all about change; that flourishes ‘with change; that is an agent of change.”
The Magazine straightened its spine.
The VP added that conventional wisdom is not necessarily wrong. But it must he tested constantly. When the shoreline changes, navigators should get the hint.
Some retailers have learned that when you cut the draw, you don’t significantly cut the sales — but you can increase the sellthrough. And that makes sense. Customers don’t know what the draw is. They only know what they see. Perhaps it’s the display that shouldn’t be cut.
The developing scan-based technology, plus the increasingly shorter reporting cycles is giving all of us a new opportunity. Now we can more deftly pinpoint how many copies of a given magazine should be displayed in a given store — as well as which store should never he entrusted with particular titles.
“I love your impulse thing,” said the VP
“People see me,” The Magazine said, “arid they have to have me and take me home.”
“Except,” the VP, “you’ve got to do more with it.
Yes there’s attention-getting packaging — covers with alluring pictures and enticing words that trigger that nerve ~which connects the eye to the wallet. Find out how to jumpstart that impulse before the customer enters the store and you’ll see greater action.
The Magazine acts as if the job is done once you’re in the store. Other products market directly to the consumers of their products.
“I’m a unique product,” said The Magazine.
“Hey” said the VP, “don’t publishers routine1y market subscriptions directly to consumers? Single copy’ consumer marketing probably will cost less with better results.”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” said ‘The Magazine.
Other products market directly to the public with publicity, contests, events, special offers and premiums. Publicity does wonders, sometimes: Esqnire’s Bill Clinton issue had a 60% selltlthrough, thanks to all the news coverage it got. A well-coordinated special marketing event can work, too. A bunch of travel magazines got together to promote the category in a New York State supermarket chain. Signage and promotion in circulars and prizes (including a trip to Italy) aroused consumers: sales of those travel hooks increased dramatically’.
‘I read about that travel thing in Magazine Retailer” ‘the Magazine said. “I didn’t know it was true.
What’s wrong with letting the public know what date the next issue of their favorite magazine goes on sale? ‘What’s wrong with running a really good ongoing public relations campaign that raises your profile? What’s wrong with looking at your subscription marketing activities and figuring out a way to piggy-hack single copy awareness onto the efforts? And then the VP mentioned the notion of branding to Yhe Magazine.
“Oh yeah,” The Magazine replied, “I have been experimenting with that. And you’re right! Displaying magazines with recognizable names that consumers respect certainly triggers the impulse buy. Names like Martha Stewart, Oprah, Mary Engelbreit. ESPN, Arthur Frommer, certainly do pump up the public’s interest.”
Yes, but more can be done. A speaker telling writers how to market themselves in the 21st Century advised, “If you don’t have a personality; get one.”
Magazines already have personalities. They just have to let the public know it. Making that happen is what branding is all about. Make yourself, the voice, soul and ubiquitous keeper of your niche’s flame. Your market — that pool of prospective readers —may stay constant but your audience will grow.
And speaking of a growing audience, another dirty little matter needs a mention. Allow yourself to stay constantly rabid about one more vital detail — editorial excellence. A title’s brilliance may not always he found in the delivery of fine words and memorable pictures — although they can’t hurt. The key is sharp editorial focus where everybody on staff understands, supports and contributes to the magazines mission. There’s something about a magazine edited really for its readers.
“I have one more thing I want to say about your performance,” said the VP “Yes, those impertinent graph lines generally are staying flat or dipping downward. But a closer examination shows many titles achieving healthy and improved sales. Too many titles showing too much strength to justify the playing of taps for the categorv~ Americans trust you. They turn to you for information, inspiration, ideas and affirmation. Opportunities abound as long as the public knows what promise you hold for them.”
“Okay,” said The Magazine, “Let’s get to work."

29 June ADDENDUM: When posting the above, I should have followed publishing tradition and stated the obvious. While the proposed remedies now feel a bit quaint, the main source of the problem remains constant. Yjr magazine publishng industry, as a whole is a bit averse to inevitable change.

16 January 2009

Route Cause

Knowledge@Wharton has delivered just what we need—one more wakeup call for the publishing industry: And no, don’t reach for the snooze button.

The report, “Urgent Deadline for Publishers: Find a New Business Plan before You Vanish,” quotes a number of Whartonians from various disciplines. It was published: January 07, 2009. We thank Bob Sacks for distributing it.

The lead paragraph sets a tone:

If 2008 were an ordinary year -- one during which iconic American firms like General Motors didn't teeter on the verge of bankruptcy, the stock market didn't lose a third of its value, and foreclosures, hemorrhaging 401(k)s and holiday retail blight weren't in every headline -- the precipitous decline of the nation's newspaper business might have been the biggest financial story.

After some No-the-sky-really-is-falling statistics, the piece offers a bouquet of alternate business routes. They include philanthropic, niche, pay, participation, commercial.

The pay route, suggested by  marketing professor Eric Bradlow, co-director of the Wharton Interactive Media Initiative, is particularly interesting. The report summarizes his view this way:

subscriber strategies aren't always doomed. Companies from Dow Jones, which publishes the Wall Street Journal, to any number of small trade magazines that offer highly specialized information to affluent subscribers manage to keep content behind a for-pay firewall, defying the conventional wisdom about an Internet audience that demands freebies. The key is a degree of specialization, whether by locality or by subject matter, that the traditional general-interest paper didn't deliver.

It’s more correct to term this approach the “proprietary route.” It’s not that the publication’s information and/or unique expression are for sale (which they are). It’s that the consumer can only get this material in one place. If content is king, exclusivity of content is emperor.

Not included in the pay or proprietary route was the notion of delivering the publication directly to a consumer's portable reader and bypassing the web entirely.

The report focuses on newspapers but it doesn’t take a great stretch to apply it to magazines. More than anything else, this Wharton report is a great shot of caffeine. Now is not the time to slow your roll.

05 January 2009

The Earview Mirror

Which would you prefer?  The  ear half empty or the ear half full?

 Digital Media Wire Daily reports that 2008 music sales  reached 1.5 billion units, beating the 2007 total by 10.5%. This data, which encompasses the sales of songs, albums, vinyl, music videos and ringtones comes from Nielsen SoundScan. According to the article, “Sales of physical albums like CDs fell 20%, to 362.6 million, and are off by 45% since 2000. Meanwhile, digital album sales were up 32% in 2008, to 65.8 million units, and digital track sales grew 27% to reach a record 1.07 billion.”

To be fair, in 2008 vinyl gave its best showing  since 1991, the year SoundScan started tracking these numbers. Consumers purchased 1.88 million vinyl albums.

Is all of this good or bad news for magazines? It depends on whether you’re looking through the windshield or the rearview mirror.

03 January 2009

Of Buggywhips and Manifestos

Two recent posts in Samir Husni’s Mr. Magazine blog are informative, fascinating and unintentionally poignant.

The earlier (18 December, 2008) is an interview with Time magazine  Managing Editor Richard Stengel. It mostly discusses Time' s 2008 "Person of the Year" selection and issue. Near the conclusion, Stengel points out that this issue did very well on the newsstand and uses this as a metaphor for the viability of print. He states:

Our election commemorative issue was the largest newsstand seller since 9/11 and, you know, people want some historical object. I think that is one of the signs of health for print because people like things. And that will never go away. Our election commemorative issue was the largest newsstand seller since 9/11 and, you know, people want some historical object. I think that is one of the signs of health for print because people like things. And that will never go away.


This might be considered a case of not seeing the forest because of all the dead trees. But the magazine's power comes from its format of being a storehouse of information and ideas — and not its future status on "Antiques Roadshow." If the common garden-variety, or should we say house and garden variety, magazine survives because of its physical properties, rather than its emotional and intellectual properties, I'd suspect that all was not well.

The second and more recent Husni posting (1 January, 2009) is a deeply felt manifesto. He takes a number of conventional wisdom statements about the current climate for magazines and offers his own, cheerier responses. For example:

You continue to predict the death of print; I will continue to promote the endless innovations possible in print.

Warm, fuzzy and upbeat as his affirmations are, they hardly can be considered the basis for a business model.

After years of refining its approach to marketing, the magazine industry emerged in recent years with a glossy, stylish straitjacket. When the business environment changed, the industry couldn't or wouldn't alter its practices. New cataclysmic forces overran the magazine industry and did not spring from one source. The list is brief: wholesaler consolidation, the collapse of stamp and sweepstakes subscription programs such as Publishers Clearing House, and the World Wide Web’s accelerating growth. In other words, magazine industry saw an erosion of retail sales and distribution patterns, a body blow to subscriptions sales and a two-front (readership and advertising dollars) challenge from a ubiquitous new medium offering information and opinions for free.

And now the great recession. Any of the first three hits was a signal to rethink and change directions.

The recession? it deprives publishers of resources needed if, by some chance, they actually figured out a way to bring their enterprises into the 21st century. Which brings us to why samir Husni’s prescriptions are quaint.

 We are seeing a societal trend toward digital media. This trend is confused with the prevalence of the World Wide Web but actually is discrete. The Web role here is not so much as a way to experience content, but as a vehicle for distribution of content.

 The developing marketplace wants its media digital and mobile.. In music, this is seen in the move from CD-ROMs to MP3 players. In books it is seen in the move from paper to kindle and Ii-phone. In films the move is from DVDs to set top boxes. In magazines it is seen in the move from print to . . . well . . .nothing yet.

If we understand that the magazine does not have to exist in the form of print to be a magazine, the magazine industry will survive. Otherwise a warm place will be reserved for magazines right next to buggy whips on the “Antiques Roadshow”


06 November 2008

Checking in on the Endangered List

On the heels of US News & World Report's frequency change to monthly, Media Life's Diego Vasquez interviewed blogger The Grim Reaper, who presides over Magazine Death Pool. (Need we say what material the blog covers?)

Ostensible Topic? “Which consumer magazines are the next to fold?” And the discussion looked at the health of the already fragile magazine industry during this current financial meltdown. Grim reveals himself (or herself?) to be very savvy about publishing and to have particular orientation toward the business side.

When asked to name the most vulnerable categories, Grim declared. “shelter, news, entertainment, personal finance, business.” Also he names names or at least titles.

In response to a question about magazine industry layoffs, Grim noted the British view that American magazines have tended to be vastly overstaffed. Reaper added “I do not think many of these positions will be re-opened because there will be less magazines in existence and the industry will have learned that in order to make money and survive, it has to hire people who wear many hats. It's starting to happen now, as reporters and editors are expected to write for both the magazine and the web site.”

Of course, the meltdown is but one condition. There is the larger issue of social climate change. Media is going digital and mobile. Despite Web utilization and even migration, the magazine industry’s structures are built on paper — not unlike a house of cards.

18 July 2008

The Punted Word

And we're back!

Associated Press writer Ted Anthony finds much to cheer for in his review of the new anthology 85 Years Of Great Writing In Time (Time Books, 560 pages, $26.95). As the title, imprint and probaby copyright policy indicate, the book is a compilation of pieces that first appeared in Time magazine. Anthony seems to feel that the collection is a good counter argument to the present day rigors of visual and sonic impact, or, as he puts it –“an increasingly visual culture that defines itself through images and rarely slows down to read.”

But when he says, " It's a robust reaffirmation of the printed word," I have to reach for my blue pencil. The book doesn't show the value of the printed word. It shows the value of the word, so help me Homer. When we, I mean, our shivering little species, moved from the oral tradition to getting it in writing, there probably were people who lamented the way the written word replaced the spoken word.

In his review, Anthony notes, quite rightly good journalism can impart thoughts, information, feeling, social context and passion without once resorting to bullet points or condensed "news you can use." One argument against the written or any other kind of word is Anthony's observation that "The decades unfold before us like a Billy Joel song:” But then again it's a literary review and not a music review.

27 December 2007


In his Advertising Age article (“Trends to Watch in 2008”), Bob Liodice, president-CEO of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), follows up on Steve Ballmer’s claim that all media is going digital. He notes the richness of digital features —including the portability and wonders if marketers are skilled enough to take advantage of this rapidly changing landscape?” We might ask the same question of the folks who make the media — you know, like magazine publishers?

24 December 2007

Paradigm Gained

Happy Holiday!
Digital music downloads march on as this Independent article attests.

19 December 2007

Australian Bookseller offers Dutch ebook Reader

The Australia’s Herald Sun reports that bookseller Dymocks is selling ebook reader the iLiad. The device which uses the mobibook format also accommodates a variety of formats including html and pdf. A nice twist to the iLiad is that the screen is touch-sensitive and — with a supplied stylus — you can do such things as Suduko and crossword puzzles, make notations or sketch. It’s a pricey $899 Australian (or $750 US). The iLiad comes from iRex, a Royal Philips spinoff. Hmm. Wasn’t Philips the co-creator of the audio CD-ROM, the LP buster?


06 December 2007

It's Eisie's Birthday

Today is the birthday of Alfred “Eisie” Eisenstadt, referred to in his 25 August, 1995 New York Times obit as the “quintessential Life photographer. One of a band of Leica-bearing photojournalists, Eisenstadt made some of the pictures that became cultural icons. This was back in the day when magazines, particularly Life were considered mass media. Most notable among these was his Times Square shot of a sailor and woman kissing on V-J Day. The use of the compact 35mm rangefinder camera technology brought an amazing change to the priint magazine platform.

Magazine Hunting Season

Back on 30 November “Magazine Death Pool” blog’s The Reaper announced that the next 60-90 says are “officially magazine hunting season and” offered these telltale signs.

Take a good look. Many ads? Can you get the same stuff easily on the web? Does the content seem pointless? It may be time to start saving back issues as souvenirs of the "good old magazine days."

We would add the following: How sharply focused is the editorial? How fetching are the covers? Are retail copies moving? Is there effective consumer marketing going on? (This last is based on the touching notion that consumer magazines are consumer products and as such might even benefit from consumer marketing.) Is there any marketing going on at all? Does it vibrate with today and tomorrow or does it reek of yesterday?

24 October 2007

A New Kind of Hope

In his latest “Bo Sacks Speaks Out,” Bob Sacks tells of the plaintive reader requests for good news about the survival of print. He honestly and sympathetically explains that he tries to find positive gems and that he does pass along what he finds. But there isn’t very much.

He says:

"So in my writings and my daily newsletter, I am offering a new kind of hope. Nature abhors a vacuum. For every job that is eliminated in print there are even more new jobs created in the digital arena. Look it up. It is in the US census bureau data. Graphics jobs, editorial jobs, production jobs, and jobs we have never heard of. Those jobs are the new frontier. And it is growing by leaps and bounds."

And concludes:

"What I am dead sure of is the future direction of information distribution. The king of the information forest is not tree based life, but silicon based information distribution."

Allow me to insert my own two bytes. Two factors and two factors alone will determine if the tree goes the way of the dinosaur — technology and the marketplace.

Is there available technology to emulate the print magazine digitally? Almost. We already have specifically magazinoid digital formats. We are awaiting a relatively cheap reader. And there is a sense it is coming, so help me Microsoft.

The marketplace is trickier. Marketers and technologists can reason, declare, insist, bluster and foist all they want; but consumers (you know . . . people?) decide what makes sense to them and what doesn’t..

In the mid-‘80s I was at a 20th Century Fox Home Video press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show. The news? The studio declared it would not distribute to any video dealers who let their customers rent instead of buy. So, how did that turn out?

It is entirely possible that current and future magazine buyers will decide that paper covers screen— no matter how light of weight, portable, convenient, paperish the screening device is. But considering the current and growing comfort with the screen and the digital technology behind it, I’d have to say paper is a paper tiger

As I asked previously, when was the last time you said, “send me a photocopy” and the last time you said, “send me a link?”

15 October 2007

Digital, Digital, Digital

Steve Ballmer of Microsoft delivered more than a keynote at the opening of the Association of National Advertisers conference last week. He delivered a shot across the bow of traditional media, including our friend the print magazine.

He stated that in 10 years, all media would be digital and delivered over the Net.

Advertising Age reported the following:

"What if in 10 years we can give you a screen that's this light, this manipulable," he said, pulling a sheet of crumpled paper from his pocket. "That's what hardware will permit over the next 10 years."

Here at Magazine Daze we agree with him. But sad to say his prediction did not receive unanimous agreement.

Brand Week reported

While some of Ballmer’s futurism (such as digital media that’s as thin and malleable as paper) seemed a bit too sci-fi, attendee Eric Leininger said never bet against Microsoft’s predictions.


others, however, weren’t buying. Motorola CMO Casey Keller said that Ballmer “was speaking in hyperbole. At a high level he is right, but I don’t think traditional media will die in 10 years.”

Come on folks, that paper-thin reader is coming. After all if we can put a golf ball on the moon . . .etc., etc.

03 October 2007

Cell Phone Novels

In Web mag 3:AM Roland Kelts tells about how the recording industry is trying to cope with the downloadable, digital sea change. Kelts, author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture has Invaded the US, suggests the US publishing industry might be in worst shape than the music biz. US book publishers, he suggests, are in denial. He cites as contrast the Japanese embrace of “cell phone novels.”

Kelts writes,

“when I raised the topic of cell phone novel downloads as a promising new format for writers like me and publishers like mine in the U.S., a prominent and progressive editor from one of New York’s major international houses shook his head. “They’d just outsource the work [of producing the downloads] to someone in Chennai [India],” he said, referring to his superiors. “And it would just be a mess.”

He adds,

“When the concept of the electronic book (E-book) surfaces at the American Book Association conventions, or other major book fairs, Western publishers begin their moaning and dread. But in Japan, the success of downloadable cell phone novels is being celebrated by young editors, who are pursuing the format avidly.”

If it’s any consolation to our bibliopeers, the magazine industry has a louder chorus of digital deniers. The most forward of these talk about cross-platforms —marketing and content programs that encompass Web and print and mobile and whatever other media platform buzzword is floating around. Fine!

But this neatly ignores the evidence that the foundations of print magazine publishing —readership, advertising, circulation —are collapsing.

Indicators, Shmindicators

There’s a simple formula that always helps when writing a blog about magazines. Just start with the phrase, “Samir Husni writes, “ . . .” and then blithely go on to agree or disagree with quoted comment, while adding a riff of your own. What’s the point of being involved with magazines if you can’t be formulaic? So here goes.

In yesterday’s Bulldog Reporter’s Daily’ Dog, “Samir Husni writes,

“When sporting events see small crowds, you don't hear the managers bemoaning the death of a sport; when stocks prices fall, you don't hear CEOs complaining that money is no longer a viable product; but for some reason a drop in new magazine launches makes our industry think our days are numbered.

The numbers this year are lackluster at best, but there is no reason to think this is the first step down a slippery slope to the death of the magazine industry. Just as many other industries experience every few years, we are seeing nothing more than a market correction. I said a few years back that we would see something like this during 2007 and 2008 with a rebound to normal form in 2009.”

Okay. Professional sports are not going out of business and money is probably here for the long haul. BUT some sports do crash and burn when they can’t take root. And some sports franchises move to (they hope) greener pastures. When people with means find one marketplace isn’t working, they move their action into an entirely marketplace.

I’m not sure that the quantity of magazine launches is a reliable indicator of industry health. I suspect they certainly are a good barometer of both individual and zeitgeist passion, and perhaps a slight indicator of the prevalence of bipolar disorder. The quantity of new specials and annuals might deserve notice. These are forays by experienced publishers into established markets.

The article’s main thrust was to remind PR practitioners of the classic rule of pitching: Know thy audience. In this case, Samir Husni was advising publicists that mass email blasts are not as effective as targeting niche publications and niche specialty freelancers.

It got me to musing, possibly even thinking. One of my wonderments about the consumer magazine segment is how little it relies on marketing to consumers. Its major marketing efforts are directed at advertisers and retailers. We understand why, of course. But isn’t the magazine a consumer product? Aren’t quality, quantity and loyalty of readership the foundation on which advertising and single sales are based? Or am I missing something?