Friday, November 7, 2008

What has changed?

What a week, not just in the political world but also in magazine land. With every day seeming to bring another announcement of layoffs at a magazine publisher, it’s easy to conclude that everything has changed. Nope. It looks to me as if we’re still doing the same stupid things.

I still see us putting out three newsstand copies for every one that’s sold. For weeklies, who pay extra to get allegedly quick on-sale, it’s more like four copies distributed per sale.

I still hear about plenty of magazines mailing their titles inefficiently. I still receive the same old lame direct-mail pieces asking me to subscribe to magazines that I’ve never seen. (Stupid question: Why would I subscribe to a magazine based only on marketing copy without knowing what’s in the actual magazine?)

And, other than a few exceptions, I see little evidence that publishers are considering their impact on global climate change despite growing concern among their readers and advertisers. After all, we did elect a President this week who has promised to focus on the issue.

Here’s my advice for magazine CEOs looking to cut waste in response to falling ad revenue:
  • If you have mailings of between 10,000 and 800,000 magazines (or up to 1.2 million catalogs) that are not being co-mailed, find out why. In fact, if no one has mentioned to you the possibility of some form of co-mail for those titles in the past year, you probably need to fire someone. There are plenty of production and distribution managers on the job market now who understand how to minimize postal costs. Note that even Crain’s, which a couple of years ago presented testimony that weekly titles could not be co-mailed, is now co-binding some of its weeklies.
  • Read your magazines’ direct-mail pieces. Betcha 2 to 1 they suck.
  • Call your circulation director and newsstand distributor into your office, hold a gun to their heads, and tell them to stop wasting so many newsstand copies. “Reduce the draw, reduce the sale,” they will parrot back at you. Comag Marketing Group has proven that you can reduce draw with little impact on sales. After all, the goal should be to maximize profits, not sales.
  • Get ready for more of your advertisers to ask uncomfortable questions about the carbon footprint of your products. On the print side, you can start with the big item – paper manufacturing – by asking your paper suppliers about the carbon footprint of their products and what they are doing to reduce it. On the electronic side, make your people and your vendors stop suggesting that Web ads and digital editions are necessarily “greener” than print. (Check out Wired's take on the subject, and Multichannel Merchant's Nov. 11 webinar on improving your carbon footprint.)
Is this harsh advice a betrayal of my readers? No, you are likely to read this before the magazine CEOs, so take it as a warning. Get a ballpark estimate of what you could save with co-mail and put it in front of your CFO. If you don’t, a consultant will. Take a scalpel to your newsstand draw before the bean counters take an axe to it. And get ready for the growing movement among advertisers to track, and perhaps offset, the carbon footprint of their ads.


mbreau said...

Do you think it would help if magazines took their extra newsstand copies and mailed them with their direct mail pieces? One free magazine, let's customers look at what's available and make an informed decision. Heck, maybe if they sent (say, in the case of weeklies) a few magazines for free, readers would get hooked, because its free, and when they stopped readers would then subscribe because the piece would have a 'place' or an allotted time and place to be read.
Of course the pitfall here is making sure that the people you're mailing it to are actually people who are interested in the product.

Dead Tree Edition said...

Interesting idea. A major challenge is that publishers do not own their unsold newsstand copies. But perhaps there is a way to get them back from the retailers at low cost.