Archive for September, 2008

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Bob Sacks vs. the Magazine Publishers of America

September 30, 2008


My friend Bob Sacks, the publisher of America’s oldest e-newsletter (since 1993), has taken the Magazine Publishers of America (MPA) to task regarding the recent layoffs at the MPA and the compensations the MPA’s leadership are paid. Bob and I agree to disagree on a lot of things, but as for the article that follows, Bob and I are in total agreement. I would love to hear your opinion on the matter and your opinion on the role of the MPA and its American Magazine Conference that takes place next week in California. I hate to think that my friend Bob is the only sane voice left in our industry.

BoSacks Speaks Out: MPA Layoffs Vs. Executive Compensation
By BoSacks
www.bosacks.com

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.

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Ole Miss Students Ask, and Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek International Editor, Answers Their Questions About the Presidential Debate

September 26, 2008

As some of you know, the other hat that I wear is that of the chair of the Department of Journalism at The University of Mississippi. Today Ole Miss is hosting the first presidential debate. Barack Obama and John McCain will be on campus engaged in the first of three presidential debates before the November elections. I am teaching an internship class preparing our students to work with the media during the debate week. Those students had the opportunity to ask Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek International Editor, some questions regarding the presidential debate and the role of the media in covering the debate. The students submitted the questions to me, and I, in turn, sat down with Dr. Zakaria and asked him the students’ questions.

Do you feel that the media has actually been biased in its coverage favoring one candidate over the other?

I think there is no such as thing as the media anymore. I never quite understand what people mean with the disaggregated nature of the media right now. Has Fox News been biased in covering the candidates? I leave it to you to answer that question. I think if you take the media as a totality, no, I don’t think it has been biased, but any individual player in the media that you happen to have a particular gripe with, you will probably always find that true. I will say with some sincerity and honesty that the two organizations that I represent, CNN and Newsweek, I don’t think we are particularly bias. I think there are some ways in which coverage takes place which reflect certain institutional biases of neutral media when you spring a completely new candidate on the scene like Sarah Palin. There is going to be a feeding frenzy to try to figure out who she is. That would have happened whether she were left wing or right wing. Other than that, no, I think in general that CNN and Newsweek, at least, have been pretty balanced.

To read the entire interview click here.

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And then came September… A Flurry of New Launches

September 17, 2008


Back when I was a student at The University of Missouri-Columbia in the early 80s, I had my first chance to meet the legendary magazine editor John Mack Carter. Mr. Carter has launched more new magazines than anyone I have met. So, needless to say meeting him was like meeting the candy man in the candy store. I was introduced to Mr. Carter and was amazed by the vast knowledge and wisdom he possessed when it came to magazine editing and new magazine launches. Later in life, I was fortunate enough to work with Mr. Carter and learn a lot from his style of publishing and editing.

The reason for this lengthy introduction is of course a sentence that I still remember he told me back then. He answered my question regarding “when is the best time to launch a magazine?” Mr. Carter looked at me and without hesitation he said “September, and if you miss September then October.”

His prophetic words are as true today as they were in the early 80s. September is proving to be a great month for new magazine launches. From the mass 9 million giants like Spry, to the mass luxury 800,000 circulation WSJ., to the monster 360-page Michigan Avenue in addition to the tens of other titles that have appeared, so far, on the nation’s stands for the first time this month.
September, so far, has been a breath of fresh air when it comes to new magazines. All of sudden we are witnessing the media (yes the media, and the print one in particular) increase their doses of publishing the prophecies of those “end of print” doomsayers and the future is for every thing pixels.

Try telling that to the publishers of the aforementioned magazines or to those select few mentioned hereafter that have seen their birth in “the best month to launch a new magazine: September.” Magazines like Wing., BBC Knowledge, Flash & Flex, debbie bliss knitting magazine, Tinker Bell, LA, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, Distill, Manhattan, Arkansas Life, Home Theater Design, Yoga Mom, iPhone Life, Strategy, Signatune, Scientific American Earth3.0 and Fine Champagne.

Yes, I know the newsstands are facing a lot of problems, and some say that one of those problems is the overcrowded magazine field and the host of new titles that keep arriving on the nation’s stands. To those I say, new magazines are the life line of our industry, they are the ones that add new and fresh blood to our body and keep us ticking. Without new magazines our industry will be as stagnant as it can be. We need the new magazines for two main reasons: one to keep our industry fresh and lively, and two to show those prophets of doom and gloom that the magazine industry is still, and will continue, to be well, alive and kicking… and not only in the special interest, limited circulation arena, but in all aspects of publishing form the mass to the class, there will continue to be new magazines published.

Thank you John Mack Carter for your 80s advice, and thank you to all of the aforementioned magazine publishers who indeed are willing to take up yet another gamble on a new magazine. Sorry, my friend Bob Sacks, the new magazines, in all shapes and forms will continue to appear on our market place; and guess what, they will continue to be in ink on paper. Cheers.

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Ole Miss Students Ask and Richard Stengel, TIME Managing Editor Answers Their Questions About the Presidential Debate

September 16, 2008

As some of you know, the other hat that I wear is that of the chair of the Department of Journalism at The University of Mississippi. This semester, Ole Miss is hosting the first presidential debate on Sept. 26. Barack Obama and John McCain will be on campus engaged in the first of three presidential debates before the November elections. I am teaching an internship class preparing our students to work with the media during the debate week. Those students had the opportunity to ask Richard Stengel, TIME managing editor some questions regarding the presidential debate and the role of the media in covering the debate. Our local newspaper The Oxford Eagle published the interview yesterday afternoon. Here is the intro and click here to read the entire interview.

UM Students Interview TIME Editor About Debate
By Samir A. Husni
Special to The Eagle

On Thursday Richard Stengel, TIME managing editor, was one of two moderators at the Forum on Service and Civic Engagement at Columbia University in New York that featured Barack Obama and John McCain.
On Friday students from Ole Miss turned the tables on Stengel by asking him some questions about the media’s coverage of the presidential campaigns and his thoughts on next week’s debate at The University of Mississippi.
The UM students are enrolled in the Journalism 495 Internship class that is preparing the students to work with the media expected to be in Oxford next week for the Sept. 26 debate. The students submitted the questions to their professor, Samir Husni, chairman of the journalism department, and he, in turn, asked Stegnel for his answers.

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The Mr. Magazine Interview: Jason Binn, King of Niche-Luxury Magazines

September 14, 2008

This week a new feature debuts on the MrMagazine website. The Mr. Magazine™ interview. The inaugural interview is with Jason Binn, CEO and Founder of Niche Media. On Sept.15 his latest magazine launch, Michigan Avenue arrives at the stands and the doorsteps of the rich and famous of Chicago. The launch of MA is the most successful launch in Niche Media History. The magazine plans to publish two issues in 2008 and 10 in 2009.

While others are folding magazines, Jason Binn is creating them.

While others are trimming the sizes of their publications, he is introducing more oversized magazines. While other magazines are suffering from the economic crisis, his are flourishing. While others are happy with their launch issue being 100 pages, his latest premiere issue is 360 pages. While others are looking for a niche to cover, his magazines are very well grounded in a very lucrative niche: luxury.

Call him the king of niche-luxury publishing, or even the Emperor of Metro Luxury Publishing; Jason Binn has been at it for more than 16 years. From the premiere issue of Ocean Drive to the premiere issue of Michigan Avenue, Binn is not leaving a single upscale town (or street) uncovered. As long as he can find people “who make money, have money and spend money,” Binn will create a magazine that is aimed to the needs, wants and desires of that specific audience in that specific city or street.

Click here to read the entire interview. Niche Luxury Cover Photo illustration by Noah Bunn.

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The Dawn of a New EARTH…

September 12, 2008


A new magazine will soon make its debut on the nation’s stands from the folks at Scientific American. The name Scientific American Earth3.0 and the content is

“Going way beyond the ubiquitous “green” service coverage in much of the media today, SciAm EARTH3.0 addresses the most urgent challenges facing our environment, economy and public policy decisions. As the authoritative publication on innovation and research, SciAm informs and elevates the public debate about the environment and energy, clarifying the science and debunking the myths surrounding issues like global warming and sustainability. Our future depends on successfully managing these complex issues.”

The greening of the magazine business have been witnessing a flood of new “green” magazines in the United States and abroad. Click here to read about the latest entries in the green magazine marketplace in the United States and click here to read about the latest entry in Europe.
So what is the secret behind the name Earth3.0? The publishers of the magazine explain it in simple terms:

Earth1.0
The natural world, undisturbed
Earth2.0
Excessive use of natural resources in order to achieve prosperity
Earth3.0
The sustainability of Earth1.0 + the prosperity of Earth2.0 for a new way forward.

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A Testament to the Power of Print: Esquire’s E-Ink Cover

September 10, 2008

The 75th Anniversary issue of Esquire has arrived and 100,000 copies of the newsstand covers carry the world’s first E-ink cover. As you may recall last month Wallpaper magazine used, in their limited edition subscription cover, what they called Clever-Ink that only appears when it is placed under direct sunlight (See it here). Well, there has been a lot written about Esquire’s cover and the creativity of the E-Ink that makes the cover looks like a mini electronic billboard announcing “The 21st Century Begins Now (three hours later on the West Coast)”… and another mini electronic billboard inside the front cover introducing Ford’s Flex car.
Is this issue a collector’s item? You bet, just look at all the listings on Ebay and the price that people are trying to sell this $5.99 issue for. I had my daughter take time off her job in New York City and head to Borders the minute the magazine was released on the newsstands to get me my copy and FedEx it to me in Mississippi. My first reaction was wow and so was the reaction of every one who saw the magazine in my office. Then I opened the cover and read Esquire editor David Granger’s letter from the editor. My wow doubled and my belief in the future of print doubled too.
Granger points out to the readers that as they “read this issue — and this issue will call out to you to read it, invest time with it, and grapple with the personalities and ideas on display here — the overwhelming theme is one of optimism, the sense that things are getting better rather than worse, that challenges are surmountable.”
Indeed they are, and this world’s first E-Ink cover is nothing but an invite to dive into the pages of Esquire and enjoy the power of print and its content. A technological gimmick (two pages) that is very well done, but with content (320 pages of normal ink on paper) that is second to none. Congratulations David Granger and congratulations Esquire…Looking forward to the 100th anniversary edition and its great content, gimmick or no gimmick.

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TIME vs. Newsweek on Fox Business “Money for Breakfast”

September 8, 2008

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The term newsweekly may be an oxymoron today, but the need for magazines like Time and Newsweek is more evident today than ever. When I saw the covers of some of the gossip (so called celebrity) magazines this weekend, they scared the fool out of me. Putting our politicians and presidential candidates on the same magazines that specialize in Brad Pitt and Brittney Spears and the likes is scary to say the least. Our politicians and future leaders should not be used or viewed or even treated as celebrities. We are a nation at war, a nation with a major economic crisis, a nation with much more important and serious issues to be dealt with. I do not believe that the pages of gossip magazines are the place for such issues. Just the mere fact that we call them gossip magazines should be a good enough reason to stay away from such topics. Treating politicians in the same way we treat Hollywood actors and actresses, folks who have no impact on our lives whatsoever, is exactly like fish outside the water. After three days they stink.
Alexis Glick hosted a segment on the Fox Business “Money for Breakfast” show on Time vs. Newsweek this morning in which I voiced some of the aforementioned opinions and a little bit more. Let me know what you think?

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Spry, The New 9-Million (Newspaper Distributed) Health Magazine: Are They Out of Their Minds?

September 7, 2008


On Thursday Sept. 11, Spry magazine launches with a record 9.2 million copies distributed via newspapers. Yes, you read that right, distributed via newspapers. If, for a moment, I ignore the fact that a new magazine is being launched this week with a circulation of 9.2 million (200,000 copies delivered as a bonus on the 9 million guaranteed base), I can’t but wonder about the fact that the magazine is going to be distributed via newspapers. Remember, newspapers, the medium that more people have predicted its demise than there are actually newspapers in this country. Well, I have said it before and I will say it again, newspapers are not dying in America, however, some of them are just committing suicide. It was ironic to see few days ago a report on the Cox news service (part of the Cox newspapers chain) talking about the flourishing status of the European newspapers. The sad/funny part about the report is that we publish it in our American newspapers but we do not bother to learn any lessons from it. We continue to chase the news and try to stay up-to-date on our pages, while we know at the same time that it is not possible to do so with ink on paper anymore.

Well, back to my original reason for this blog, publishing a mass circulating magazine using newspapers as the method of distribution. Spry, is of course not the first national magazine distributed via newspapers. In fact it is the third title from the same company Publishing Group of America (PGA). PGA publishes American Profile on a weekly basis, Relish on a monthly basis and now Spry.

I asked Dick Porter, PGA’s CEO what were they thinking to launch a new printed magazine to be distributed in a medium that some say is dying. Are you out of your mind? I said. His response:

“I say look at our circulation growth (in both American Profile and Relish). In every medium today (newspapers, televison, etc), it is painful and partly it is because of the impact of technology. Consumers can put stuff on the internet that is free with a digital camera that is pretty good. (However) I think there is always a premium for the best storytellers… In the newspaper channel, clearly there is pain. I had this question when I was in Chicago and was asked aren’t you in a channel that is dying. I said first of all, look at the capacity. There is at least three buckets to segment newspapers, metro dailies, which are probably hurt more today than non-metro weeklies, and then there are free newspapers. The free newspaper market is growing like crazy. We are not even in that market and maybe we should be. I think if you added up all the paid circulation of newspapers on a daily basis, the number is something like 60 to 70 million. (The 770 daily audited newspapers have a circulation of about 45 million). I don’t know the exact number. But if you figure 60 million a day times 365 days a year that is an awful lot of capacity. Even in a doom’s day scenario, pick your number if you think it is going to be halves in three years. As long as I am only trying to launch a twelve time frequency, there is a lot of capacity out there for us to have enormous magazines. I think the proof of that mass is pretty simple. Look at Relish. Two years ago people thought why would you launch a newspaper magazine? That is such a tough environment. We launched at six million and today it is twelve million and in January it will go to fifteen million. We are also looking at frequency growth there too. We think there might be room for a thirteenth issue. In the case of Spry, six million wasn’t good enough. We launched at nine and had to raise the bar for ourselves. Probably the newspaper industry is tougher in 2008 than it was in 2006. There is just not a lot of conventional magazines out there approaching three million circulation today.”

Needless to say PGA is not the only publishing company putting its faith in the newspaper industry and using newspapers as a good distribution system for their magazines. The Gannett newspaper chain is using USA Today to distribute their outdoor magazine Open Air and the Dow Jones company is using The Wall Street Journal to distribute WSJ. The aforementioned titles are but a few of newly launched national magazines to be distributed through the newspapers, thus hitting two birds with one stone. First, they avoid the entire distribution problem (the crowded newsstands and the expensive direct mail) and second the need to search for an audience, since the newspapers have their captive audience ready and willing to receive the new publications.

Spry, WSJ., Open Air, Relish and American Profile have been a welcomed addition to the national magazine scene in the last few years and a major vote of confidence in the future of mass circulation magazines. Creative ways of distribution show that a special interest magazine does not need to have a circulation of less than 100,000, but rather can reach 15-million circulation as in the case of the food magazine Relish.

I think our industry needs to take an in-depth look at the aforementioned magazines and the way they are able to buck the trends and the prophets of doom and gloom. The future of magazines in print is definitely not limited to special interest and coffee table magazines, but to creative, well done, content driven magazines such as Spry, WSJ. and Open Air. Three new national magazines born in 2008 providing three solid answers to anyone who questions the vitality of print and whether print is well, alive and kicking.

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WSJ.:The New Standard of Luxury Magazines

September 3, 2008


Reading The Wall Street Journal is normal. Wearing The Wall Street Journal is another story. The new WSJ., the magazine of The Wall Street Journal, does exactly that with its launch issue cover. Turning the pages of the newspaper into a “Moon Dress by Ronald Mouret” is the first of many glimpses of what this new magazine is going to be. Elegant, upscale and aimed at the “cream of the crop” of The Wall Street Journal readers, the magazine offers its readers a European look and feel from the cover all the way to the inside pages. The cover image echos the famous British ID magazine’s “one eye closed” image that appears on every cover of ID. Toned down cover typography makes the image jump at you from behind the metallic sliver ink that has become synonymous with luxury titles. (See the Interview magazine blog below.)
A unique table of contents adds to the intrigue of this new magazine. The departments are divided into Hunter and Gatherer instead of just listings of department heads. The feel of the publication reflects the readers the magazine is trying to attract. Tina Gaudoin, the British-imported editor-in-chief, opens her letter from the editor by stating, “Here’s what we know about you, the Wall Street Journal reader: You are smart, well-read, discerning about what you consume, opinionated and generous.” She adds, “At WSJ. we believe luxury is not about how you spend — it’s the way you live that counts.”
I asked Michael Rooney, the chief revenue officer at The Wall Street Journal, what makes WSJ. different than the rest of the luxury magazines. He responded, “I think the difference will be that it will have The Wall Street Journal DNA which is that we provide clarity to our readers about all issues… they come to us not just for the facts, but they come to us for what (the facts) mean.” Crystal clear clarity is what he really meant, because the content, the audience and the design of WSJ. is more than crystal clear in what they are trying to achieve.
WSJ. magazine is yet another welcomed new magazine bucking the trend that print is dead and the future is for something else. The audience of WSJ. was already there, the advertisers were already there, all what the folks at the Journal had to do was build the bridge that links the readers/customers to the advertisers…and they build one good “London” bridge… In fact, WSJ. is, to me, the new standard in luxury magazines and has become my standard (even after only one issue) in comparing other luxury magazines to.

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