Thursday, May 8, 2008

BoSacks Readers Speak Out: On Mag Subs, Circ and other Publishing Lore

BoSacks Readers Speak Out: On Mag Subs, Circ and other Publishing Lore

RE: Want to read those magazines? Read the fine print first
"Newsub Magazine Services, a Salt Lake City firm" . . . is a subsidiary of Synapse Group, located in Stamford, CT . . . which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of (drumroll)
TIME, Inc.

Once upon a time, long-long ago, in the la-la-land galaxy known as SW Connecticut . . . . there was an idealistic young Jedi newly enlisted into the SynapseArmy. She was swayed, mesmerized, enthralled by the pronouncements and musings of the Fearless Leader.

Fearless told his assembled throng "Together we will change the world, starting by changing the way magazines are marketed and sold. Behind my curtain lies a patented consumer-friendly subscription model. EVERYBODY WINS! Yaaay for us! But especially for me 'cause I'm gonna get rich!"

Soon the recruits learned what was really behind the curtain at Synapse. Every month the offers became a little less lucrative, and a little more misleading. 'Disclosure' was painstakingly worded to fake-out more consumers yet pass muster with the beleaguered staff attorney. All this was served up with a free lunch to make it go down easier.

Seems the Ivy Leaguers and Ivy-wannabees in charge had succumbed to the same disease that afflicts their classmates on Wall Street . . . GREED! The bank 'marketers' and publisher 'partners'? All cheering them on!

The consumer? Screwed.

After a failed IPO, a sellout by Fearless to the Evil Empire was the only thing left to do. They got Time guys running the joint now, but the website still drips with mental superiority. Yeeeccch.

As Steve Miller once said "go on, take the money and
run". And that's what they did.
(Submitted as requested by a Publishing "Nobody")

Re: Want to read those magazines? Read the fine print first
We have a simple rule: we don't use agencies, agents, or allow our magazines to be used as promotional kickers. In fact, we don't even do "buy 1 get 1" holiday gifts anymore, the people who responded to the cheapie offers turned out to be more trouble than they were worth. The sort of garbage discussed in the article debases the entire industry.
(Submitted by a Multi-Title Publisher)

Re: Newsweeklies Under Constant Pressure
Oh please, this again?
Haven't we been talking about the demise of the newsweeklies since the '80's?
Also interesting that the article does not talk about The Economist. I believe that their last ABC report showed single copy sales up around 10%. And their sales are double what they were in 1999.

Could it be that Time, Newsweek and US News are having trouble because they aren't relevant? Could the relativity issue be more to the fact that those three magazines aren't well designed for today's market? Could it be that Time and Newsweek can't make up their minds if they are celebrity rags or news mags and US News can't reach a page count where the purchase of the magazine at the newsstand would justify the expense?

Could it be that The Economist is doing well because it is well written, has thoughtful articles, has a bite, an edge, a point of view, and is thick enought to justify the cash you have to lay out to buy it?

Isn't Rule #1 of magazine publishing would be to create something that your readers want?
(Submitted by an Unknown Professional)

Re: Are Always-Connected Consumers Really Virtual Crackheads?
I don't mean to sound like one of those homeless people who go around muttering all the time, but the source of your history trivia seems to be a little off-base.

People of all classes, not just the upper classes, read American magazines throughout the 19th century. In the second half of the century, magazines targeting the modestly-educated had much larger circulations than magazines targeting the better-educated. And as for "looking toward Europe," many of the country's best magazines, like The Atlantic Monthly, The Dial, and the North American Review were dedicated to promoting American literature.

Press capacity was never much of a limiting factor in 19th-century magazine publishing. In 1849, Hoe introduced a press capable of 20,000 single-sided impressions per hour. By 1879 Bullock was selling a perfecting press yielding 28,000 folded 8-page signatures per hour. Well before 1880, some magazine publishers were producing press runs in the hundreds of thousands every week. . . . and some newspapers produced larger runs every day.

The Postal Act of 19879 was definitely a landmark event, but the Post Office had been carrying magazines unlimited distances at declining rates for decades prior. The evolution of 2nd class mail began long before 1879, and besides, single copy sales represented a significant portion of total magazine distribution in the 19th century.

The revolutionary price decreases of McClure's and Munsey's came in 1893, not 1883, and credit should also go to J. B. Walker, who priced Cosmopolitan at 12.5 cents. What made the decreases significant was that advertising sales made up for losses in production and circulation. This business model has been copied by other media so many times since that it's become commonplace. But the model wouldn't have succeeded if it weren't for the growing need of newly-emerging brand advertisers to reach a large national audience. The emergence of national brands (made possible by advances in mass production) and of middle-class magazines with large circulations (driven by the price decreases) coincided to mutual benefit. You can date the rise of brand-oriented American popular culture to 1893.

Finally, I'm no expert on Horatio Alger, but I'm pretty sure that Street and Smith, not Munsey, published the vast majority of his stories.

Because I'm a full-blown crank and not some garden-variety amateur, I'll be happy to send the full details on this stuff if you like. The factors that enabled the growth of magazine publishing in the 19th century are fascinating, and (naturally) hold lessons for publishers today. I'll also stop chewing your ear on all this if you tell me to shut up.

PS. The obituary that William Allen White wrote for Munsey is too good not to repeat:

"Frank Munsey contributed to the journalism of his day the talent of a meat packer, the morals of a money-changer and the manners of an undertaker. He and his kind have about succeeded in transforming a once-noble profession into an 8 per cent security. May he rest in trust."
(Submitted by a Publisher and official BoSacks Cub Reporter)

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