Tuesday, March 27, 2012

USPS Planning Retirement Incentives To Help Downsizing, Donahoe Testifies

The U.S. Postal Service will offer retirement incentives if it is allowed to make cost-cutting moves like eliminating Saturday delivery, its CEO told a Congressional panel today.

Rep. Dennis Ross, chairman of the House subcommittee overseeing postal legislation, stated that USPS needs to lose nearly 150,000 employees via attrition "to rightsize the expenditure side of the Postal Service." He asked Postmaster General Pat Donahoe whether he would offer employees retirement incentives to make that happen.

"We do plan on issuing some incentives based on the fact that we make some changes in our operation," Donahoe responded during a hearing. "As we shrink the network, as we move from six- to  five-day delivery, we would put in some incentive money to move people along."

He did not specify what sort of incentives would be offered or how they would be funded. Nor did he state whether retirement incentives would be offered if Congress blocks some of his cost-cutting proposals.

Monday, March 26, 2012

USPS Seeks 'Soft Landing' For Downsized Employees, Donahoe Says

The U.S. Postal Service plans to provide a "soft landing" for employees affected by downsizing and is looking for ways to avoid closing rural post offices, the Postmaster General will testify Tuesday.

"The Plan to Profitability focuses on workforce reductions through employee attrition versus layoffs or wage reductions, meaning impacted career employees would be able to retire or find another job in the Postal Service," PMG Pat Donahoe will tell a House subcommittee. USPS released his prepared remarks today.

"In response to declining mail volumes and to increase productivity, the Postal Service consolidated over 200 mail processing facilities in the past five years from our peak number of 673 facilities in 2006. In doing so, we have customarily provided a 'soft landing' for employees through retirements and reassigning staff, in an effort to minimize impacts on employees. We have been, and continue to be, a responsible employer."

Donahoe will largely reiterate his plea that Congress enable the Postal Service to adjust to declining mail volumes with such cost cuts as eliminating Saturday delivery, closing facilities, and letting it leave the federal government's inefficient employee-healthcare plan. But he will also provide hints that USPS's plan to balance its budgets is still a work in progress.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Are E-Book Sales Reaching a Plateau?

When the U.S. magazine industry gets hot and bothered about the latest craze, you can usually bet that trend is about to run out of steam.

E-books were the talk of many magazine people at this week’s Publishing Business Conference in New York, my spies tell me. The web – which is so hopelessly last year – was hardly mentioned. Everyone wanted to chat about their e-books and tablet editions, more so about their cool factor than about whether they were earning much profit.

Meanwhile, the book-publishing half of the huge conference was getting some rather startling news: The once-exploding sales growth of e-books in the U.S. has slowed dramatically, according to research from RR Bowker. (My correspondent’s account is corroborated by Paul Biba of TeleRead.) This just proves Stein's Law of Economics: An unsustainable trend cannot be sustained.

“We went from exponential to incremental growth,” said Kelly Gallagher, a Bowker vice president, who also referred to "some level of saturation" in the U.S. market. The breathless predictions of two years ago, which suggested that the growth of e-books would soon shut down all the book printing presses and brick-and-mortar bookstores, turned out to be way off the mark.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Not Dead Yet: Son of Black Liquor Has Not Been Vanquished, Contrary to News Reports

It’s alive!

Recent media reports about the death of the Son of Black Liquor tax loophole for U.S. paper companies turned out to be greatly exaggerated.

The Washington Post stated Thursday that the transportation bill approved by the Senate the previous day would be paid for partly by ending a tax credit for black liquor, a pulp byproduct.

“At Last, the Final Chapter in the Black Liquor Saga,” Mother Jones trumpeted the same day. Like the Post, it subsequently issued a correction.

The legislation at one time indeed included language that would have made black liquor ineligible for Cellulosic Biofuel Producer Credits (CBPCs, also known as Son of Black Liquor credits), for an estimated savings of $2.8 billion, as Dead Tree Edition reported last month.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Printed Magazines or Digital Magazines: Do We Have To Choose?

Which are better, printed magazines or digital magazines? I’ve heard some passionate arguments on both sides of the question.

For those of us in the publishing industry, there’s only one correct response: It's a stupid question.

The real issue for us: What does the customer want (and what is she willing to pay for)?

With apologies to my friends in the printing and paper industries, publishers are not in the business of creating printed products. We’re in the business of informing, entertaining, and advertising; the medium is just the means to an end.

Fellow print lovers, it’s time to stop pretending that electronic publications aren’t real magazines or that print is always superior to digital.

The healthiest approach is to drop the either/or thinking and recognize that printed magazines are a niche medium. A niche product cannot be all things to all people, but it can do some things for some people that no other product can do.

Print publications are subject to postal delays and don't have hot links to related articles. E-readers don't stand up well to a cup of spilled coffee or a day at the beach. An iPad app isn't much good to a NOOK owner. Browser-based editions seem convenient, unless you don’t have a wi-fi connection.

But they all have their place. They can all be profitable niches.

In an article published today in Publishing Executive magazine (34 Tricks Print Mags Can Do That Apps Can’t), I point out many of the things publishers can do with printed magazines that they can’t do, or do very well, with electronic editions.

I left out a few obvious ones – like posters, cover wraps, refrigerator magnets, blow-in cards, and polybagging. And not-so-obvious ones that were suggested by members of the Print Production Professionals LinkedIn group, like augmented reality, swatting flies, and training puppies. I’m sure I’ll hear about plenty more omissions.

In the same issue, Noelle Skodzinski, Publishing Executive’s web-savvy editor, chimes in with a thoughtful piece called Have You Forsaken Print?

Printed magazines have a future if we publishers can avoid false dichotomies (“Print is dead.” “No, print is best.”) and focus on exploiting the unique strengths of each medium.

Related articles:

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Why Not Allow Phased Retirement For Postal Workers?

The U.S. Senate approved a concept this week that, if applied to the U.S. Postal Service, could be a big help both to the beleaguered agency and to many of its employees.

As written, the “phased retirement” amendment may not even apply to USPS and would not be particularly relevant to the financially strapped independent agency. But the concept of enabling retirement-eligible employees to switch to part-time status without messing up their benefits could offer the Postal Service a relatively employee-friendly method of reducing costs.

The Senate’s amendment to a major transportation bill (Why transportation? Don’t ask.) fleshes out a concept introduced in the Office of Personnel Management’s FY 2013 budget proposal – “to help ensure continuity of operations and facilitate knowledge management by allowing valued employees to transition into retirement.” OPM proposed that employees be able “to reduce their work schedules at the end of their careers and receive income from a combination of reduced salary and a partial retirement annuity.”

The Senate bill would enable a retirement-eligible employee to move into an open part-time position. Such “phased retirees” would work a fixed number of hours per week and would have to spend at least 20% of their time mentoring others.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Yankee Invasion: Quad/Graphics' Jonesboro Closing Marks End of an Era

Quad/Graphics cemented its status today as the General Sherman of the printing industry with the announced closing of its last big Mid-South plant, in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

Quad's rapid downsizing following its purchase of Worldcolor less than two years ago has done for the South's printing industry what the Union general did for Georgia agriculture.

"At one time, the former Quebecor’s Mid-South facilities employed more than 3,000 workers at plants in Memphis, Olive Branch, Miss., Corinth, Miss., Jonesboro, Covington, Tenn., and Dyersburg, Tenn.," Memphis Business Journal noted today. Employees say the Wisconsin company recently shut down the bindery at another former Quebecor/Worldcolor plant, in Franklin, Kentucky.

"So, ALL the Tennessee plants will be closed, ALL the Mississippi plants will be closed, They are starting on ALL the Kentucky plants now........ Looks like a pattern to me," one Tennessean commented on a Topix.com forum.

"Looks like the Second War of Northern aggression if you ask me, to arms," responded a Kentuckian.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Battleships or Motorboats: Which Publishing Model Will Thrive?

In the new world of multichannel publishing, is it better to be a big company with well-known brands or a small and nimble outfit?

Industry pundit BoSacks, who has worked for magazines at both kinds of outfits, has definitely made up his mind: “There are people making it on the web, but it’s not the big giants,” he told Dr. Joe Webb of WhatTheyThink? recently. And he doesn’t think the big publishers' recent scramble to change CEOs is paying off.

“They’re just shifting one corporate head for another, and they need to reach deep and get an entrepreneur there who understands this new environment that we’re in.” (Question for Bo: Does anyone really understand this new environment that we’re in? Or how it will look two years from now?)

A major publishing company “is a big battleship, and it’s awfully hard to turn,” BoSacks (AKA Bob Sacks) said. “When you spend 35 years learning how to make money with ink on paper and then you try to make that adjustment [to the web], that adjustment is not what you know best.”

But navigating stormy seas in a motorboat has its own challenges, entrepreneurial publishers tell me. Nimbleness alone doesn’t cut it when the waves are as tall as your boat is long. (Plenty of small publishers have shown that they too can run crappy, ill-conceived web sites.)