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Sherin Pierce, Publisher, The Old Farmer’s Almanac To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “The Almanac Deals With The Essentials Of Everyday Life, Whether There’s A Pandemic Or Not… And That Provides Comfort And Security. ” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

May 8, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic (30)

“And part of our mission is to give people our products in the way they want them. A lot of people still want the ink on paper product. They still want that. In fact, soon I’ll be meeting with Fry online to go through our whole publishing schedule because it’s coming up. This month we print the calendars. After all these years, people still want the paper calendars. Then in June, we print the different versions of The Almanac. That hasn’t changed. You can also provide extra information around The Almanac philosophy electronically.” … Sherin Pierce

“You still have to tend to your farms and grow your crops; you still need to know about the weather. So that’s what we try to do. We don’t ignore facts, but we try to give you a safe place.” … Sherin Pierce

The Old Farmer’s Almanac has seen more crises in its 228 years than many of us have even thought of. Yet, it has survived and not only that, but thrived over the years. Sherin Pierce is the publisher and has held that position for over 25 years. And over the years, The Almanac has not remained stagnant, it has expanded to include The Old Farmer’s Almanac for Kids, The Garden Guide, and a series of cookbooks with themes that resonate with Almanac readers, such as Comfort Food, Everyday Baking, and Cooking Fresh. The magazine knows how to survive and realizes we are all in this together, for sure.

I spoke with Sherin recently and we talked about the deep trust The Almanac’s audience has for its content and how even a pandemic can’t break that confidence or take away the safe place many people feel about the publication. Because it’s a given, The Old Farmer’s Almanac is a special publication and one that has proven itself over the years, even during life changing events such as this pandemic we’re all experiencing. Just know The Almanac is with us through it all.

And now the 30th Mr. Magazine™ interview in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic with Sherin Pierce, publisher, The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

But first the sound-bites:

On the amount of crises The Old Farmer’s Almanac has already seen: Yes. It passed through the War of 1812, the Civil War, they went through both World Wars, I and II, The Korean War, the Vietnam War, they’ve been through the Flu pandemics, H1N1, so yes, The Old Farmer’s Almanac has survived quite a lot.

On how the publication is operating during this pandemic: The 228th edition, the 2020 issue came out in September, 2019, so we were through with the greatest sales months, between September and January, and by the time the pandemic hit the majority of the sales were complete. So, The Almanac has one print publishing event and that got us through that period of time.

On how The Almanac today, in the midst of this pandemic, is as relevant or even more relevant than ever before: First of all, because The Almanac deals with the essentials of everyday life. It tells you what time the sun is going to set; what time the sun is going to rise; what the phases of the moon are; what the rhythms of nature are. And whether there’s a pandemic or not, those things are going to happen in any event. And that, kind of, provides comfort and security. That no matter what’s going on, there are certain rhythms of nature that will always happen. And we’re there to guide you through that.

On how their work environment has changed with the pandemic: Working in Dublin, New Hampshire, we were already hyper-connected by technology. That’s the first thing, because you can’t publish from a remote region without having all that. As we could see what was starting to happen, we were able to move everyone back home remotely with VPN abilities, so that the editors could go into their servers and work.

On whether she thinks things will go back to the way they were once the pandemic is behind us: It will never be the same. However, we can take it and incorporate it into the future of our business. We live in area where the weather can be terrible. Huge snowstorms. So, yes, we can work from home those days. If there is a resurgence of the virus, we know we can go back, but what we’ve learned now and have responded to is the way we have been communicating with our people on a daily basis. That’s something that we’re going to keep moving forward with, we have to be aware of what’s happening on a daily basis.

On whether she had ever thought of working during something like a pandemic and if she thinks someone could prepare for something like it: Not a pandemic. I always thought that there would be an economic downturn. So, in the back of my mind I was always preparing for that and making sure that we had different channels of distribution, different ways of serving our customers. We’re not wedded to big advertising dollars, that’s not what we do in print.

On what keeps her up at night: Thoughts about people’s health, consumer confidence and what the state of affairs will be in the next six months as we move toward the fall and if there will be a resurgence of this.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Sherin Pierce, publisher, The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Samir Husni: You’re the publisher of the oldest continually published publication, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which is almost 228-years-old. So, this title has seen its fair share of crises, correct?

Sherin Pierce: Yes. It passed through the War of 1812, the Civil War, they went through both World Wars, I and II, The Korean War, the Vietnam War, they’ve been through the Flu pandemics, H1N1, so yes, The Old Farmer’s Almanac has survived quite a lot.

Samir Husni: Tell me how you’re operating during this pandemic?

Sherin Pierce: The 228th edition, the 2020 issue came out in September, 2019, so we were through with the greatest sales months, between September and January, and by the time the pandemic hit the majority of the sales were complete. So, The Almanac has one print publishing event and that got us through that period of time. What we do is be on a daily basis and daily contact, 24/7, with our readers. We have our online, almanac.com; we have our social media, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest; we have our newsletters, which have gone up from 339,000 to 550,000 subscribers, so with all these daily points of contact, we’re able to continue publishing on a daily basis to stay in touch with our customers until the next print event comes up on September 1, 2020.

However, even though one would think after January, once a year changes, people would lose interest, but because of the gardening information and the weather information, you see another resurgence of sales as people are planning their planting and want to do their research on frosts and things like that.  This year, because people are home, there’s such an extraordinary interest in gardening, and the sales of The Almanac, both online and the print version, most importantly the print version, have just continued going.

When I say the print version, because we’re in places like Lowe’s, Home Depot, Ace and True Value, that are essential businesses and still open and keep the product until the next issue comes out, that’s where we’re seeing all the sales. For us, it’s always a balancing act, we want to make sure that we’re providing online information, but we drive people to buy the print edition as well. And that’s really important for us.

Samir Husni: How is The Almanac today, in the midst of this pandemic, as relevant or even more relevant than ever before?

Sherin Pierce: First of all, because The Almanac deals with the essentials of everyday life. It tells you what time the sun is going to set; what time the sun is going to rise; what the phases of the moon are; what the rhythms of nature are. And whether there’s a pandemic or not, those things are going to happen in any event. And that, kind of,  provides comfort and security. That no matter what’s going on, there are certain rhythms of nature that will always happen. And we’re there to guide you through that.

Also, with the areas of interest with The Almanac, like astronomy, of course gardening, food, the weather, and now with Kids, we’re providing that comfort and credibility. What The Almanac has is incredible trust from our readers and that is something that we have earned. You can’t buy that. You have to earn it day-by-day, year-by-year; you have to earn that trust. And in times when there are a lot of insecurities and stress, people want to come back to something that provides them that comfort and gives them information to help them through these periods.

For instance, in terms of food, we’ve gone back and curated recipes with fewer ingredients. Not recipes that require tons of esoteric ingredients, more like things that you have in your pantry, the basics. This is the reality; here are some of the recipes: five ingredients, eight ingredients, things you already have in your kitchen.  Even give people a list of substitutions or a list of what they should have in their pantries during this time. This is some of the levels of information and advice that we offer our readers.

In gardening, I think the main thing people are interested in is vegetable gardening, but maybe they don’t know how to do it. So taking them A through Z, whether it’s a small space, container gardening, because a lot of people live in apartments, they don’t have a lot of space to garden, so we’ve taken that back to wherever you live, here is a way you can grow something of your own. People want that self-reliance and sustainability.

We’ve started a gardening webinar and it’s on Hydroponics, how to grow indoors with lights and everything. We’re hoping people will enjoy attending it.

Samir Husni: How has your work environment changed with the pandemic?

Sherin Pierce: Working in Dublin, New Hampshire, we were already hyper-connected by technology. That’s the first thing, because you can’t publish from a remote region without having all that. As we could see what was starting to happen, we were able to move everyone back home remotely with VPN abilities, so that the editors could go into their servers and work. And they’ve been very innovative, the editors, because sometimes moving large files are difficult and they have evolved a way of fact-checking and passing things around electronically. And also using Dropbox more than depending on servers. Our OFA digital editor has worked remotely from both the U.K. and now Indiana for the past seven years as has the assistant digital editor who works remotely from  Boston.

Add to that our almanac.com programmer who has worked remotely for 24 years and our PR folks on Bainbridge Island Wash. who have worked with us since 1993. We have made these relationships work and now we are all doing it.

We have a lot of Zoom meetings as well. We have our editorial meeting, but we’ve also used Zoom and Teams to connect with one another. So, creatively, how we’ve responded besides just the mechanics of creating and moving files around and doing the work that needs to be done, we’ve also used that as a way to brainstorm about new products, about how we should update things online to reflect what’s happening. You have to evaluate what’s happening in the moment and speak to that right away. And we can do that every day with our online presence, so we’re not stuck in this old publishing model. Through social media and online we can talk to people each and every day.

And for people who want to buy our products, we’re able to sell to them through our ecommerce operation, especially the print product. You can buy all of our stuff online, digital and print versions. I think that ecommerce component has been really important for us.

Samir Husni; Do you think that once this pandemic is behind us, you’ll go back to the way you conducted business before? Or do you envision remote working replacing the office?

Sherin Pierce: It will never be the same. However, we can take it and incorporate it into the future of our business. We live in area where the weather can be terrible. Huge snowstorms. So, yes, we can work from home those days. If there is a resurgence of the virus, we know we can go back, but what we’ve learned now and have responded to is the way we have been communicating with our people on a daily basis. That’s something that we’re going to keep moving forward with, we have to be aware of what’s happening on a daily basis.

And part of our mission is to give people our products in the way they want them. A lot of people still want the ink on paper product. They still want that. In fact, soon I’ll be meeting with Fry online to go through our whole publishing schedule because it’s coming up. This month we print the calendars. After all these years, people still want the paper calendars. Then in June, we print the different versions of The Almanac. That hasn’t changed. You can also provide extra information around The Almanac philosophy electronically.

Samir Husni: Did you ever imagine that you would be working during a pandemic and can you prepare for something like that?

Sherin Pierce: Not a pandemic. I always thought that there would be an economic downturn. So, in the back of my mind I was always preparing for that and making sure that we had different channels of distribution, different ways of serving our customers. We’re not wedded to big advertising dollars, that’s not what we do in print.

The advertising actually comes from online now, we do far better than. But again it’s not a reliance on one single thing. You have to minimize your risk, that’s one thing we’ve learned. You can’t depend on newsstand or bookstore sales or your online, you have to develop a lot of different things and sometimes it’s hard to do that.

The Almanac for Kids, for instance, we had a lot of pushback about it and now here we are, 16 years later, and we’ve built a nice little publishing program. We print about 225,000 of those every two years and for a book that’s a pretty sizeable print order.

Things are not always going to go up, up, up. You’re going to have challenges and pushbacks. After 228 years, one thing you can be sure if is you’re going to have pushbacks. (Laughs) And maybe that’s just the cautiousness in me, I try to anticipate what will happen, but no way did I imagine a pandemic. But we always try to do what our founder told us in the first edition: We strive to always be useful with a pleasant degree of humor.

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

Sherin Pierce: Thoughts about people’s health, consumer confidence and what the state of affairs will be in the next six months as we move toward the fall and if there will be a resurgence of this. Our staff is so flexible and so innovative. For instance, with our newsletter we started a Sunday edition recently to calm things down. Instead of during the week, when it’s a certain format, a boom-boom-boom. But on Sunday, you can sit with your cup of coffee and read it. We don’t mention Coronavirus or anything. If you looked at The Almanac from 1860-1865, you wouldn’t have known there was a Civil War going on.

You still have to tend to your farms and grow your crops; you still need to know about the weather. So that’s what we try to do. We don’t ignore facts, but we try to give you a safe place.

Samir Husni: Thank you, and now for a little extra from the folks at The Old Farmer’s Almanac:

FROM THE MR. MAGAZINE™ VAULT

 

Thanks to Sherin Pierce for sending me replicas of the 1820 and 1920 editions of The Old Farmer’s Almanac.  What you will find below is the letter from the editor from 1920 and the two May sections from The Old Farmer’s Almanac calendar. Talk about timely yet timeless content.  Enjoy.

The Old Farmer’s Alamac 1920 Letter From The Editor

TO PATRONS AND CORRESPONDENTS.

We submit to you this our 128th successive annual number.

Since we last went to press the Armistice has been signed, the problems of war have passed and those of peace succeed. During the year business on the whole has been good, and the crops as well; but there is one crop that has been springing up amongst us in increasing volume of late, which can afford us but little good. It is that crop of work-shirkers and trouble-makers whose principal business seems to be the minding of other people’s business; who seek to stir up discontent, and who preach the strange doctrine that the road to prosperity lies in less work and less production. Yet we are firm in the belief that such teachings will not long prevail against our native common sense; — for still there stands an ancient law laid down for mankind that cannot be repealed by visionary legislators, nor nullified by radical agitators, one of the oldest laws in the Scriptures, — “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” So once again we say, “It is by our works and not by our words we would be judged: these we hope will sustain us in the humble though proud station we have so long held. . . .

The Old Farmer’s Almanac May section intro 1920

Farmer’s Calendar

Now this month your garden will be planted, or all laid out for planting, and when you come to that, try to leave a little for the women-folks. Some of them will say that they have enough housework to do without pottering around a garden, and so they have, but a little outdoor work will help them to do the indoor work all the better. The improvement in the health and strength of women resulting from outdoor work during the war has gained wide recognition. A good way to keep us their interest in such work, now that the war is over, is to give them full charge of some particular portion of the garden, however small.

We have observed that some of the early vegetables, like lettuce and radishes, seem to thrive under a woman’s care and tomatoes as well.

It may be that some few of the so called “farmerettes” were more picturesque than useful, but on the whole, the women achieved results which surprised themselves as well as the men.

While you are about it, leave the women-folks a place along the edge of one or two sides of the garden for flowers, such as Dalhias, Cosmos and the like. These, in addition to being a pleasure in themselves, will help to dress up your garden along towards the end of the season when the rest of it begins to look a little seedy.

 

The Old ‘Farmer’s Almanac May Section Intro 1820

FARMER’S CALENDAR

Let no one neglect his garden. “For gardening is the most productive and advantageous mode of occupying the soil. Gardens also employ the greatest number of laborers, and furnish the greatest quantity of useful produce from the smallest space of ground. The greater the extent of land therefore, thus cultivated, the more beneficial to community.” You may think that a garden is of little consequence to you, as your father before you never paid much attention to one. But, my friend, I tell you for a truth, that a good garden, well managed, is as valuable as a beef and pork barrel well filled. By making use of the product of your garden, less bread and animal food is rendered necessary; “and if taken in sufficient quantities,” says a well-experienced writer on agriculture, “the human frame can be supported by them alone, more especially in youth, or when severe labor is avoided.” You may say that you can live on meat alone, because you care nothing about sauce. But the fact is, that you would eat of the oyster were it not for the trouble of breaking the shell.

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