Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Wait! Don't Kill That Magazine: 4 Ways To Rescue A Struggling Publication

As if plummeting ad revenue and rising paper prices weren’t bad enough, now the threat of skyrocketing postal rates has successful publishers like ESPN and Meredith talking about shutting down magazines.

But euthanizing money-losing titles isn’t always the best answer.

Just because your accounting system says the magazine is unprofitable doesn’t mean you’ll be better off ceasing publication. (I explain that more in a new article for  Publishing Executive, "Is It Time to Put Your Magazine Out of Its Misery?".)

A better option may be radical surgery – dramatically scaling back your magazine’s footprint to make it more sustainable for the long haul. Here are four examples:

Reduce Frequency
Turning two 80-page issues into one 160-page double issue can cut your production and distribution costs by one-third. For example, well over half the postage for most titles is related to the number of copies mailed, not the weight of those copies.

You can’t get that kind of savings from the usual, less radical tweaks. And, unlike trimming page counts or shifting to cheaper paper, doubling up actually yields a better product.

A double issue doesn’t have to be double-sized. Typical practice is to increase the page count by about 50% -- enough to give the readers noticeably more than they would get in a normal issue.

Reducing frequency enables you to continue publishing the issues that attract the most advertising while euthanizing the dogs of summer – those issues with poor ad sales.

A bonus: Double issues really do count as two issues. A recent promotion for TV Guide Magazine offered a special deal for a “1 year (52 weeks)” subscription, with fine print stating “will be delivered in the form of 26 double issues”.

Pare Your Subscription List
Letting people subscribe for less than the cost of printing and mailing their copies might have made sense when ad dollars were rolling in. But with that subsidy gone, sustainable publishing now means getting readers to pick up more of the tab.

Consumer magazines typically have a wide array of subscription price points – from airline-rewards miles to long-time customers who pay list price. (Are we the only industry that charges our best customers the highest prices?)

You can save money by eliminating negative-remit subscriptions and unprofitable promotions. Replace them with free copies distributed to such “public places” as hair salons, hotel lobbies, and doctors’ waiting rooms. Choose locations likely to be of interest to your advertisers or to have prospective subscribers. (Money-saving hint: Select regions in which your postage is most efficient.)

You can generate even larger savings if you’re willing to let your circulation shrink. That frees you, for example, to drop those 50-cents-per-copy subscription promotions, as well as subscription sources with poor renewal rates. And to stop offering renewals that don’t at least cover the cost of printing and mailing.

Factor in the impact on ad revenue; fewer subscribers means lower rates per page. But circulation reductions aren’t as big a deal as they used to be with advertisers, who now look to print media for highly engaged audiences, not masses of eyeballs.

Take a critical look at newsstand 
Magazine retailers and wholesalers focus on maximizing sales, not publishers’ profits. That means distributing lots of copies that don’t sell, which is OK for the channel partners but not so great for publishers that bear the printing and paper costs.

You’d think wholesalers would stop distributing your title to convenience stores that sell only 10% of the copies, but it never seems to work that way. Be willing to ban your magazine from retail chains with the worst sales.

Look especially at whether in-store promotions are paying off. And don't buy what you can't monitor: Non-compliance has become epidemic. (Hint: If you have copies in airport stores, there’s a good chance you're losing money on them because of "pay to play" promotional fees.)

Get more love for your digital edition 
Rising paper and postal prices don’t, of course, affect the costs of digital editions. Unfortunately, people haven’t exactly been beating down the doors to read our e-magazines.

But what if we gave them more reasons to take a look, whether via price discounts or bonus content? If you sell bookazines, give all of your subscribers access to a free digital edition. Or create a digital compilation of your best stories from the past year or on a specific topic.

Leveraging our digital editions more in promotions, such as providing free access to an issue, can gradually increase the share of digital-only subscribers. And it’s an inexpensive way of getting the email addresses of prospective subscribers.

The goal is not to get rid of print altogether but rather to replace our least profitable print copies with digital distribution.

Other Dead Tree Edition articles about magazine publishing include: 

 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A Spanking-New Savior for Printed Magazines: Stormy Daniels

Stormy's booty basher?
The U.S. magazine industry got a real shot in the, um, arm Sunday night when Stormy Daniels confirmed that she had spanked future-President Donald Trump with a magazine that bore his picture on the cover.

Her revelation on “60 Minutes” broke the Internet, as millions of Americans who had abandoned printed magazines suddenly clamored for a UV-coated tush whacking.

Egotistical millionaires (is there any other kind?) this week have been offering to pay out the – uh, big bucks – for publishers to put their faces on a cover. Inspired by The Donald, they’re having their own #MeToo moment, desperate to drop trou for an “adult sophisticate” star who will give their porculent posteriors a periodicals paddling.

https://vertiqul.com/?utm_source=dte&utm_medium=special
Confused Trump fans are joining the craze, buying up any magazine that looks as if it might have details on how Stormy toasted the underwear-clad Fuehrer’s buns.Wait ‘til they find out that North American Whitetail is about deer, not derrieres.

Not whacking material
Publishers seeking to capitalize on the excitement are already engaged in a race to the bottom with rebranding campaigns. Car buffs will soon be able to get their rear bumpers bashed with Road & Whack.

Anagram-loving golfers will be rolling up Flog Digest, while red-cheeked adventurers peruse Conde Nasty Traveler. Christianity Today will publish Christianity OK, for all those evangelicals who’ve forgotten the Ten Commandments and see no evil in Trump's actions.

Forbes is rushing back to press, my sources tell me, with the 2006 issue that Stormy supposedly used to deliver the news. Melania has pre-ordered a special edition that comes with an embedded Taser.

But with new evidence that Stormy’s ham slammer was actually a copy of Trump magazine, plans are already being made to relaunch the defunct title as tRUMP.
The real tRUMP buster?

Mr. Tree is especially ecstatic to report that the ill-fated Rosie magazine will be back, this time as Rosie Cheeks. That’ll get my spank on.

There’s even talk of a certain yellow-bordered magazine-media icon becoming National Pornographic.

(Editor’s note: With its stiff paper and tight binding, National Geographic is hard to roll into a proper crack plasterer. Those with tiny hands – I’m not naming any names – will prefer something thinner like Shorts Illustrated for delivering the blessed moonshot.)

Magazines – real, printed magazines – are of course the perfect tool for smackin’ the donkey. You can’t roll up a book the way you can a magazine.
Spank me, Rosie!

Newspapers are too flimsy. Besides, the ink tends to rub off, leading to messy fingerprints, which could be a real problem if you decide to, say, declare Chapter 11 four times and then run for president 10 years from now.

(Some newspapers claim to use low-rub ink. I’m all for low rubbing – but with ink?)

The web has been kicking magazines in the can for more than a decade. But now that Americans are rediscovering the joys of a four-color thwack on the gluteus maximus, we’ll be able to show that digital whippersnapper who’s the boss.

A real knockout
There is one downside: There may be calls to include warning labels on magazines. Consider that Stormy said she “just gave him a couple swats,” but “from that moment on he was a completely different person.” That sounds good at first.

But considering Trump’s increasingly erratic behavior, I’m thinking Stormy must have slapped his booty so hard it gave him a concussion.


Further proof that Mr. Tree has perverse fascinations with magazines as sexual objects, magazines about Trump – and with Rosie:
 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Game Over: Postage Rate Hikes Would Shut Down ESPN Magazine


http://insider.espn.com/insider/espn-the-magazine/

A plan to increase publishers' postage rates drastically over the next five years would cause ESPN The Magazine to cease publication, an ESPN official indicated Friday.

If the Postal Regulatory Commission follows through with its plan "to increase our postage rates 40% over the next 5 years then ESPN will not produce a paper Periodical mailed through the USPS," Dennis Farley, the magazine's distribution director, said in a statement filed with the PRC.

"The content will be delivered via the many other means we now use to deliver our content," Farley added, in emphasizing that ESPN would continue as a popular cable network and web site.

In theory, Farley's statement left open the possibility of using other means to deliver the magazine to its 2 million paying subscribers. But that "other means" doesn't exist for a printed magazine, and digital magazines have mostly failed to catch on with consumers.

The PRC, claiming it has the power to override the inflation-based cap on most postage rates, put forth a plan in December to bail out the U.S. Postal Service with a series of rate increases. The Periodicals class, on which the USPS supposedly loses money, would be hit especially hard.

More than 100 organizations have filed comments with the PRC opposing the plan. Among those was the nation's largest magazine publisher, Meredith Corporation, which recently projected that the rate hikes would force it to stop publishing some titles and reduce the number of magazines it mails by 32%.

Ironically, even under the Postal Service's questionable accounting, ESPN The Magazine is probably a profitable customer for the USPS. The fortnightly is dropshipped entirely on pallets to 175 postal facilities, Farley said, with 83% of the copies in carrier-route bundles.

The Postal Service does well with such efficient mailers while tending to undercharge inefficient Periodicals mailers.


Friday, March 2, 2018

Meredith Warns PRC of Massive Magazine Cutbacks

A plan to jack up postal rates over the next five years would force the nation’s largest magazine publisher to slash its print offerings, according to the company’s CEO.

Meredith Corporation would “pursue magazine closures, circulation cuts, issue frequency reductions, conversions to digital only formats and alternative delivery for some magazine subscription copies,” Tom Harty, the company’s president and Chief Executive Officer, wrote in comments filed Wednesday with the Postal Regulatory Commission.

32% fewer magazines
“We conservatively estimate that the PRC’s proposed rate structure will result in a 32% reduction in the number of periodical pieces mailed by Meredith (a loss of approximately 310 million pieces annually),” Harty wrote. “At this level of volume decline, the Postal Service will receive less revenue, not more, from Meredith than it does under the current CPI [Consumer Price Index] cap system.”

He said the company spent nearly $322 million on postage last year. (He didn’t clarify whether that number included last year’s postage bill for Time Inc., which Meredith purchased a month ago.)

The PRC acknowledges that its package of proposals could raise Periodicals postage rates by more than 40% over the next five years. And that's assuming the inflation rate remains at 2%.

Meredith's corporate headquarters
Meredith is among more than 150 organizations that have submitted comments, mostly unfavorable, about the proposal. A variety of mail-dependent businesses and non-profits are challenging the PRC’s claim that it can enact the rate hikes without Congressional approval.

And the move to bail out the Postal Service with rate hikes is also unnecessary, some have noted. The billions of dollars the agency is supposedly losing every year are a figment of inept government accounting procedures. A recent analysis noted that the USPS closed out Fiscal Year 2017 with “$10.5 billion in cash and cash equivalents, more than it has possessed in the last 15 years.”

Of each dollar Meredith spends on producing and distributing magazines, 40 cents goes to the USPS – up from 24 cents in 2006, Harty said. And that’s “despite ongoing presort and drop ship optimization by Meredith” that should have reduced the costs of delivering those magazines.

Shooting itself in the foot
Harty also pointed out that Postal Service mismanagement has hampered efforts to make Periodicals mail more efficient. The USPS, for example, keeps decreasing the incentive to place copies into carrier-route bundles even though doing so significantly reduces the agency’s mail-handling costs. With better incentives, he said, publishers would do more to reduce the Postal Service’s costs via co-mailing and other measures.

He also noted that the Flats Sequencing System, which was supposed to reduce the Postal Service’s costs of delivering flat mail, has been an abject failure – and is getting worse.

“The total cost processing and delivery cost for an FSS flat exceeded that of a Carrier Route flat by 14.7 cents/piece in FY2015, 16.8 cents/piece in FY2016, and 19.9 cents/piece in FY2017,” Harty said. “The PRC’s proposal . . . will do nothing to incent the Postal Service to fix (or abandon) the FSS debacle.”

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