Wednesday, January 22, 2020

What Will Magazine Publishing Be Like in 2020? January 14

By a strange coincidence, four separate events on the same day pretty much tell you everything you need to know about magazine media in 2020.

Not un-undead yet
I could have just waited a few hours and let the events of the day do the talking.

Early the morning of January 14, when I submitted my 2020 magazine-publishing forecast to Publishing Executive, I had no idea the day would foretell what lies ahead for magazine media.

Within a few hours of me finishing that article, four different announcements provided glimpses into what’s in store for publishing this year. (PubExec added notes about two of the announcements before publishing my article.):

1) Change of Fortune
The New York Post revealed changes in store for Fortune magazine that checked off three boxes in my forecast: a “tiered paywall” on its web site, reduced frequency for its magazine, and upgrading of its paper. It didn’t take a crystal ball to see that those three trends from 2019 would continue into this year.

2) Chopping plants
LSC Communications, one of the two megaprinters that dominate U.S. magazine printing, announced the closure of three magazine and catalog printing plants, including one of the nation’s largest. My article noted that “heavily indebted LSC was left in a weakened state” and is “shaky,” but I wasn’t expecting such a swift, radical downsizing.

All three plants were noted for producing relatively large-circulation magazines, including some with print orders in the millions. Their closure underscores a theme that will continue to play out in 2020: Magazines are nearly dead as a mass medium; the future lies in niches.

3) Paper cuts 
Resource Recycling published an article pointing out that Verso Corp. had stepped up its plans to shift some production capacity at its Duluth mill from supercalendered papers to packaging papers.

Verso’s original plan was to start making 48,000 tons of packaging papers starting early this year, but in a recent financial filing it raised that number to 90,000. And it said that might be just the first step to a complete conversion that would eliminate production of printing papers.

Like LSC’s giant, doomed Mattoon plant, Duluth’s strong point is rotogravure products, which are typically used for publications and newspaper inserts having print orders in the millions. No wonder Verso would rather use the mill to make cardboard.

Duluth’s gradual conversion probably won’t rile the paper market. But, publishers beware: I believe other such machine conversions are likely to cause some sort of paper shortage this year, as explained in the PubExec article.

4) Zombie renaissance
Meredith Corporation had its struggles last year, but its zombie resurrection strategy wins my vote for New Business Model of the Year. It revealed a new twist in that strategy on (when else?) January 14 in announcing the new Rachael Ray In Season quarterly bookazines.

Just a few months ago, Meredith “zombified” Rachel Ray Every Day -- killing off the monthly magazine and transferring its subscribers to other Meredith titles, while keeping it undead with occasional newsstand-only issues.

Light my fire? No thanks
Last week’s announcement didn’t go full zombie resurrection, since there was no reference to subscriptions. However, the commitment to a quarterly publication schedule of seasonally themed issues and the emphasis on advertisers (bookazines usually contain few if any ads) suggest that the Princess of Perky may once again have a real magazine.

This time, though, it’s likely to be more of a niche effort, with a target circulation that’s only a fraction of the million-plus numbers of Rachael Ray Every Day's zenith. And, of course, it will have a higher price, more pages, lower frequency, and better paper than its predecessor.

Bonus prediction: Don't hold your breath waiting for Rach to start hawking vagina-scented candles. Goop is going to have the monopoly on that one.  
Other Dead Tree Edition commentaries on the "magazine media" industry include:

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Dawn of the Undead: A Recap of U.S. Magazine Publishing in 2019

If you think 2019 was a good year for magazine publishing, you're ignoring the many iconic publications that died or became "zombies."

And if you think 2019 was a bad year for magazine publishing, you're ignoring the many big-money mutant publishers who have joined the magazine world. Along with the zombie that's coming back from the undead.

These strange doings are covered in my recent article for Publishing Executive: Zombies, Mutants & Resurrection: Magazine Publishing in 2019.

(Editor's Note: If he had written the headline, Mr. Tree would have put a comma after "Mutants". He strongly believes in bringing the Oxford comma back from the dead.)

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Quad's Stock Price Drops 60% in Two Days -- and Now the Lawyers Are Circling

Cliff diving: Quad stock price on Yahoo!
First Meredith, now Quad.

The nation's largest magazine printer just entered the same shark-infested water that the country's largest magazine publisher found itself in less than two months ago.

In the past two days, at least seven law firms have announced that they are investigating whether to file a class-action lawsuit against Quad (aka Quad/Graphics) and its leadership on behalf of Quad's investors. That follows a gloomy earnings announcement Tuesday evening that caused the big printer's stock price to drop from $11.28 to $4.53 in just two days.

"On October 29, 2019, after the market closed, the Company slashed its quarterly dividend to $0.15 per share, announced plans to divest its book business, and reported third quarter 2019 financial results," says a press release from the Law Offices of Howard G. Smith. "Analysts were “absolutely shocked by these developments given the confidence management had just three months ago.”

"The investigation focuses on whether Quad issued false and misleading statements regarding its business practices and prospects," says another law firm's announcement. "Specifically, Quad was experiencing dramatically lowered sales than projected due to ongoing print industry volume and pricing pressures."

The Smith firm is also behind the pending class-action litigation against Meredith Corporation on behalf of the big publisher's stockholders.

That was spurred by Meredith's own downbeat quarterly earnings announcement Sept. 5 in which it lowered its forecasts and revealed that it had taken on a bigger mess than expected with its 2018 purchase of Time Inc.

Quad's Oct. 29 re-forecast
Quad issued a 10-Q quarterly report yesterday explaining (on page 25) that terms of its major loan package forced it to cut its dividend in half.

Loan covenants cap how much Quad can shell out to stockholders when its "total leverage ratio" goes above 2.75. Quad said the ratio was 3.18 on September 30, at the close of a quarter in which the company swung from a $23 million profit a year ago to a $126 million loss.

One reason for the disappointing quarter, Quad CEO Joel Quadracci said yesterday, is that Quad raised many employees' pay last year to improve productivity, but the productivity gains won't offset the higher wages until next year.

Quadracci's comments are worth quoting at length, especially because of what I heard just a few weeks ago about a rival printer suffering from labor shortages and missed deadlines. And also because I'm about to ask my boss for a pay raise:

“When you look back to 2018, we suffered from a productivity standpoint because of the changing labor market, and so our productivity actually was worse than we had in the past . . . 

“So we made the tough decision to really bite the bullet and increase significantly the starting wage. Then you have to deal with compression as a result. And we did that in concentrated areas where we had the biggest problems. 

“What I find interesting these days is that with the known entity of the labor market, everyone is talking about wage pressure. But it seems, as I talk to industry after industry, everyone is putting off the inevitable as long as possible. 

“In our case, if you put that off, you get hurt pretty hard. And the problem when you do this, and you do it in the way we did, is all the cost is a light switch. It comes on right away. The productivity improvements come later… 

“I'd say that from 2018 to 2019, it's actually significant, the productivity improvements we've had year-to-date. We've seen an incredible increase in productivity wherever we've been able to impact the labor rates because we've definitely seen a higher-quality employee as well as less turnover. 

“And remember, when you have the turnover because of the tight labor market, the training side gets hurt pretty hard because you're spending that money but then you have to start over again. And you don't train someone in one day.

"So we saw the increase in productivity happening throughout the year. But . . . we haven't gotten to the point of totally offsetting it. But we feel good about 2020, continuing that trend upward in terms of productivity improvements."
Related articles:

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Quad/Graphics Exiting the Book Business

UPDATE: Quad's stock price lost more than half its value at the opening bell on October 30 and was still down 53% nearly three hours later.
The second largest printer of books in the United States announced late today that it plans to exit the business.

Quad, AKA Quad/Graphics, stated in a news release that it "plans to divest book business that generates annual sales of $200 million as part of ongoing portfolio optimization."

The announcement comes barely three months after Quad called off a merger with rival megaprinter LSC Communications, the nation's largest book printer. The U.S. Justice Department objected to the proposed merger because LSC and Quad are "the only two significant providers of magazine, catalog, and book printing services."

In the same news release, the big printing company announced a 50% reduction of its dividend, to 15 cents per share, as well as $50 million in cost cuts and a $126 million 3rd Quarter loss.

"We have made the strategic decision to divest our book business, which follows our recent sale of our non-core industrial wood crating business, Transpak," Joel Quadracci, Quad's CEO, said in the news release.

No details were offered about when the book business will be sold or to whom. Quad will have its quarterly-earnings conference call with investors tomorrow morning.

"Our Quad 3.0 transformation strategy is working as evidenced by $125 million of expected organic incremental sales growth in 2019, which helps offset over three percentage points of annual print sales decline," Quadracci said.

The Quad 3.0 strategy seeks to turn Quad from being primarily a printer into a multimedia provider of a broad array of marketing services. Book publishers may not fit the 3.0 strategy because, unlike retailers and magazine publishers, they are likely to have little use for Quad's non-printing offerings.