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SimpleCirc’s Managing Director Dave Jones To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “People Just Have To Stay The Course.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

May 7, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic (29)

“People just have to stay the course. If you’re losing out on advertising, that’s understandable. But keep in contact with your advertisers, keep in contact with your customers. I think that’s really important for a publication, whether you’re emailing them and letting them know what’s up or when you think the next issue is coming, just put something in their hand and let them know. You have a captive audience right now of readers who normally wouldn’t be home or have time to read your publication.” … Dave Jones

SimpleCirc subscription software is designed to help publishers manage their circulation and increase subscriber retention while saving them time and money. Dave Jones is the managing director of the company and one of its founders. Being in the small publishing business themselves, Dave and SimpleCirc know all about what it takes to move forward in small or large publishing, but what about during a pandemic?

I spoke with Dave recently and we talked about that. About how staying the course is really the only thing you can do and maybe pausing in an attempt to weather the crisis and move through it and come out on the other side as strong as possible. Dave said that keeping in close contact with your customers and reminding them that you’re there for them is an important part of staying that course.

Indeed. We all need to know we’re in this together.

And now the 29th Mr. Magazine™ interview in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic with Dave Jones, managing director, SimpleCirc.

But first the sound-bites:

On how SimpleCirc is operating during the pandemic: What we did is reach out to all of our publishers, of course, to let them know different ways that they can take advantage of this opportunity, because as a small publisher myself, we do eight small publications for the National Football League; we have found that people seem to be reading more and they’re more engaged because they’re home.

On the genesis of SimpleCirc: We own a publishing company, as I mentioned. We’re small publishers and we’ve had it for a long time, it covers the National Football League. I went through a whole bunch of different software, installed software that would crash on the server; we tried software that was too advanced and had too many things on it that we wouldn’t use, all these different features. So, we created SimpleCirc for us to use in our publications only. And then other publishers and associations that we belonged to started asking us about it, so we gave it to them. Then we added more features, but we kept everything that small publishers need.

On SimpleCirc publishing sports magazines and how they are adjusting to the ever-changing sports landscape during the pandemic: That’s a good question, because we’re football publications. I’ll just give you a quick example, we had to do a draft guide, the NFL Draft is at the end of April, so we had to have it all ready to go and printed by February to mail off to everybody. And if you didn’t get it out by then no one would receive it. We’d have to give tens of thousands of dollars in refunds and as a small company we couldn’t do that.

On what advice he gives to small publishers during this pandemic: I talk to them about marketing, because a lot of these small publishers do not know how to market effectively. So, I tell them to utilize their emails, utilize their global mailings; let’s see what your mail house is doing. We put all of those things together and we help them. Also, we make them take advantage of their digital product. That’s an uphill battle, because a lot of publishers don’t use digital products. So, we tell them to offer their customers a digital product; email them out.

On when he and his partners decided to share SimpleCirc with other small publishers: We were at a convention, we have all the publishers meet every year in Las Vegas, and we were telling some of the other publishers about it and they really liked it, so we let them use it. They fell in love with it. And they would pass it on to some other people that weren’t in the sports field who would then try it out. And people really enjoyed it.

On the one, two, three of how SimpleCirc helps publishers: We will import their data, give them a free trial, three months of using SimpleCirc. I would give them a quick presentation, an overview of how it works. There are no instructions with SimpleCirc, none. If you go to our website, it kind of walks you through it. It’ll read: type in your publication and how many issues you do per year. Then type in your price. So, we walk you through it and you can be set up in 20 minutes.

On who owns the data: They own it. We use Amazon servers, so we’re not using servers in the basement. It’s all on Amazon, so obviously they own it. The good thing is they have really easy access to the data. They can download their data 100 times a day if they want to. The easy access was important, because the company we used before this, we had no access to our data. It was like asking permission, like we were beholden to them. So, it was crazy.

On how he feels about the near future: What scares me is the football aspect, whether or not they’re going to play football. But here’s the good thing, we know that football is not going away. As a publisher, I know that. It may get postponed or come on a limited basis. So, that’s good. We won’t have customers saying give us our money back because football is being put out of business. We tell our customers we’re putting everything on pause.

On any additional words of wisdom: People just have to stay the course. If you’re losing out on advertising, that’s understandable. But keep in contact with your advertisers, keep in contact with your customers. I think that’s really important for a publication, whether you’re emailing them and letting them know what’s up or when you think the next issue is coming, just put something in their hand and let them know. You have a captive audience right now of readers who normally wouldn’t be home or have time to read your publication.

On what keeps him up at night: The big thing is what does the future hold, because everybody knows that what you lose in print, you don’t pick up in digital. The numbers are much smaller. That scares me. I want to be able to get through this and have a kind of plan to move forward. None of us know, however. We don’t know what’s going to happen, we can only guess. And then, I have to get out of the house. (Laughs) I need to get out.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Dave Jones, managing director, SimpleCirc.

Samir Husni: How is SimpleCirc operating during this pandemic?

Dave Jones: What we did is reach out to all of our publishers, of course, to let them know different ways that they can take advantage of this opportunity, because as a small publisher myself, we do eight small publications for the National Football League; we have found that people seem to be reading more and they’re more engaged because they’re home.

So, when we sent out our renewal notices, we had a renewal notice that went out early February and we had a very high return, which some of it had to do with the pandemic, but what we did is reach out to our customers to make sure they are keeping in contact their subscribers. We built this link, because a lot of them didn’t do email for some reason, they would just do snail mail and that would take forever, so we built this renewal link where every subscriber that they had would have their own special link and then when they would send it out, the customer would click on it and an order form would already be filled out. All they would have to do is drop in their credit card number. And that seemed to help a lot of different publishers bring in money during this time.

Samir Husni: Tell me the story behind SimpleCirc.

Dave Jones: We own a publishing company, as I mentioned. We’re small publishers and we’ve had it for a long time, it covers the National Football League. I went through a whole bunch of different software, installed software that would crash on the server; we tried software that was too advanced and had too many things on it that we wouldn’t use, all these different features. So, we created SimpleCirc for us to use in our publications only.

And then other publishers and associations that we belonged to started asking us about it, so we gave it to them. Then we added more features, but we kept everything that small publishers need. We had all the sales reports, email… because at the end of the day it’s just a database, that’s all we are, we’re not doing anything special. So, we put everything together and collaborated with small publishers. Then it just took off.

I think people really like it because we’re publishers ourselves, we aren’t tech people, and we built it so publishers could understand. And we’re adding a lot of different features to it. We only sell it bimonthly, and in the 2½ years we’ve been selling it, no one has left us because they think it’s just great for them. And we make it real easy for them as well. That’s one of the things about SimpleCirc.

Samir Husni: It seems this pandemic has hit you with a double whammy, your magazines are all sports-related, National Football League. So, between publishing the magazines and what’s happening in the sports world, how are you adjusting to this ever-changing landscape?

Dave Jones: That’s a good question, because we’re football publications. I’ll just give you a quick example, we had to do a draft guide, the NFL Draft is at the end of April, so we had to have it all ready to go and printed by February to mail off to everybody.

And if you didn’t get it out by then no one would receive it. We’d have to give tens of thousands of dollars in refunds and as a small company we couldn’t do that. So, we got it all ready and then our printer closed down. We had to find a new printer, resize everything, and then we found someone who could do it. Our mail house closed down as well, so we had to find someone to mail it out.

To make a long story short, we got the issue out and I think our subscribers for our team publications that received the Draft Digest knew that we were still publishing and people were calling us and thanking us for publishing it. Now, we’re just waiting for football season. If football season doesn’t start, we’re in big trouble.

A lot of the publishers, they aren’t into sports, but they have the same issue. They’re not selling advertising; subscribers are wondering if they’re going to keep publishing; the printers have closed, so we kind of coached them on switching people to digital, which was really hard to do, because I’m sure you know, when people like print they like print. Most of the print people are older clientele, so you’re right, we got hit both ways. Our publishers haven’t seen any effects yet, but that’s coming down the road, I think, within the next two months.

Samir Husni: When you reach out to those small publishers, what advice are you giving them?

Dave Jones: I talk to them about marketing, because a lot of these small publishers do not know how to market effectively. So, I tell them to utilize their emails, utilize their global mailings; let’s see what your mail house is doing. We put all of those things together and we help them. Also, we make them take advantage of their digital product. That’s an uphill battle, because a lot of publishers don’t use digital products. So, we tell them to offer their customers a digital product; email them out.

I saw you did an interview with the guys from The Week. I get that publication. They did a letter for a couple of issues, right on the front, that said here’s what’s going to happen. They’ve done that and I think the publishers have seen pretty good results from that.

Another problem that we’re coming across is snail mail is going so slow with the post office. It took some people 30 days to receive our Draft Digest in the mail. That was in New York City and New Jersey. And we mail from Buffalo, N.Y. We had people in Arizona receiving it before people in New York, because delivery was so messed up due to the virus.

Samir Husni: When you and your partners came up with the idea for SimpleCirc, it was mainly to serve yourselves; when was that “light bulb” moment that you said, we’ve done something good, we should share it?

Dave Jones: We were at a convention, we have all the publishers meet every year in Las Vegas, and we were telling some of the other publishers about it and they really liked it, so we let them use it. They fell in love with it. And they would pass it on to some other people that weren’t in the sports field who would then try it out. And people really enjoyed it. We started out with small publishers, but now we actually have large publishers too. We have some publishers who have under 1,000 and now we have some that have 300,000. So, it has really grown quite a bit. We keep adding it and growing it as we go.

Once we knew our customers liked it, we knew we really had something here. It’s really the service that they like the most, I think. We have really good service and understand their business.

Samir Husni: If a publisher calls you and says, Dave, I have a magazine with 10,000 subscribers, what can you do for me? Tell me the one, two, three of how you would help them.

Dave Jones: We will import their data, give them a free trial, three months of using SimpleCirc. I would give them a quick presentation, an overview of how it works. There are no instructions with SimpleCirc, none. If you go to our website, it kind of walks you through it. It’ll read: type in your publication and how many issues you do per year. Then type in your price. So, we walk you through it and you can be set up in 20 minutes.

I tell people let’s get them set up so they can play around with it. Test it out, do some real orders. You can do everything real on it, take real orders on it. That gives them a feel and they can take ownership of it. We have 150 publishers and they can talk to anyone they want.

Samir Husni: Who owns the data? Who owns the names on the circulation lists?

Dave Jones: They own it. We use Amazon servers, so we’re not using servers in the basement. It’s all on Amazon, so obviously they own it. The good thing is they have really easy access to the data. They can download their data 100 times a day if they want to. The easy access was important, because the company we used before this, we had no access to our data. It was like asking permission, like we were beholden to them. So, it was crazy.

Samir Husni: Did you ever imagine that you would be working during a pandemic and how do you feel about the near future?

Dave Jones: What scares me is the football aspect, whether or not they’re going to play football. But here’s the good thing, we know that football is not going away. As a publisher, I know that. It may get postponed or come on a limited basis. So, that’s good. We won’t have customers saying give us our money back because football is being put out of business. We tell our customers we’re putting everything on pause.

The other part is you don’t want your writers getting sick, you want to keep paying them, which we are because they’re working. We have them in every city. The big thing is I want people to get their product through the mail. I don’t think it’s going away, but mail is under attack, and we have to make sure they can still deliver our product. So, there are always outside factors that have nothing to do with us.

You want the teams to do well. If most of them stink in the NFL we cover, that can hurt you. Then the pandemic hurts you, so it’s a bit strange how we have to do everything. But I know magazines aren’t going away right now. With SimpleCirc, we just have to put things on pause and give customers a break and help them out if they have issues. We’re very proactive in that.

Samir Husni: Any additional words of wisdom?

Dave Jones: People just have to stay the course. If you’re losing out on advertising, that’s understandable. But keep in contact with your advertisers, keep in contact with your customers. I think that’s really important for a publication, whether you’re emailing them and letting them know what’s up or when you think the next issue is coming, just put something in their hand and let them know. You have a captive audience right now of readers who normally wouldn’t be home or have time to read your publication.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Dave Jones: The big thing is what does the future hold, because everybody knows that what you lose in print, you don’t pick up in digital. The numbers are much smaller. That scares me. I want to be able to get through this and have a kind of plan to move forward. None of us know, however. We don’t know what’s going to happen, we can only guess. And then, I have to get out of the house. (Laughs) I need to get out.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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