On "Denialsizing" and Eating Crow: 2016 in Review, in Just 10 Words
The U.S. magazine industry is exhausted from all of the tribute issues and memorial bookazines we’ve published this year about the rock stars we’ve lost. Let’s put 2016 to an early end before another icon joins that Great Far-Out Woodstock in the Sky.
But, first, the Dead Tree Edition Research Institute and Binge-Watching Society has been busy making sense of the year and what it means for publishers. And we’ve done it with only 10 words:
Gravitas: An executive of that esteemed anatomy and women’s rights journal, Penthouse, began the year by nicely summarizing why magazine media brands continue to benefit from publishing actual magazines: “There’s gravitas about the print page that you can’t replace.” Yeah, somehow those in-depth investigations of “Naked Punk-Rock Hotties” and “Busty Babes Go Topless in the Big Top” just don’t have the same gravitas on an iPhone.
Fakebook: Remember just a few months ago when the hot trend in publishing was distributing content and ads via Facebook? FB, we told ourselves, liked the arrangement because it understood how much it benefited from featuring high-quality content produced by reputable publishers. That all changed in mid-year, when FB decided that what people really wanted was the latest updates from friends they hadn’t seen in 15 years – causing publishers’ traffic to plummet. It turns out that Fakebook wasn’t just a fake friend; it has recently admitted to fakery (or incompetence) in its counting of page views, ad views, time viewing videos, likes, shares, and almost everything else except its profits.
Crow: What Mr. Tree had for supper on April 10, when the kicking and screaming U.S. Postal Service had to roll back postage rates by 4.3% because the “exigent” surcharge expired. Just three months earlier, Mr. Tree had invented a word, “temporarely” (as in temporary taxes are rarely repealed), to explain that postage rates would never decrease. (For the record: The crow tasted awful. Especially the feathers.)
Party!: A year ago, everyone was talking about Big Data, but only a few geeks understood it. Now, many non-geeks can be heard knowledgeably discussing terms like demand-side platforms and first-party data as the programmatic and personalization waves sweep through the industry. Even my friends who sell ads, who aren’t exactly the most studious types, have gotten into the act. They especially like talking about third-party data because they figure that means there’s a first party and a second party – and there’s nothing salespeople like better than three parties on the same day.
Denialsizing: the art of cutting back while claiming that all is going well. Or, in the case of our industry during 2016, bragging about increases in Facebook “likes” while print ads and newsstand sales drop by double digits, digital ventures fail to close the gap, and major titles like More and Self fold. But at least Time Inc. paved a bold path to the future by acquiring MySpace. (I’m not making this up.) Its next purchases: Gawker, Friendster, and Pets.com. (I am making this up.)
Fraudvertising: 2016 was the year when the world discovered (Shock! Horror!) that the advertising industry is full of liars and fraudsters. Kickbacks, bid rigging, click fraud, bots – the next thing you know, the agencies will start creating ads with misleading and even false claims.
Flyover: Amidst the continuing collapse of the newsstand systems, Newsweek found a way to boost revenue from retail sales: Distribute a “Madam President” special issue because of course there was no way Trump could win, then “recall” it when it turns out that millions of people in the Heartland didn’t get the memo. The issue became an instant collector’s item, fetching more than $100 per copy on eBay. Perhaps 2017 will be the year when publishing’s elites venture out of New York for field trips to such exotic “Flyover” climes as Wisconsin and Tennessee.
Waterfailing: A common tactic for increasing the revenue from programmatic ads (from, say 1/10 of a cent to 2/10) is waterfalling, which offers an ad position first to premium ad networks and subsequently to less desirable networks. But it, and other efforts to turn online ad positions into auctions, are backfiring: As the supposed milliseconds it takes to conduct such auctions drag on to seconds, and then to crashing pages and browsers, readers give up or, worse, install ad blockers. That, in turn, is driving publishers’ move to supposedly faster “header bidding” and their fascination with the newest shiny toy, server-to-server connections. (Don’t ask me to explain.)
Ghost ship: The organization that delivers most U.S. magazine copies was set adrift two years ago this month when the USPS’s 11-member Board of Governors lost its quorum. (Congress was too busy naming post offices to trifle with filling the board’s vacancies.) The USPS’s governing body became the Board of Governor earlier this year when it lost all but one outside member. Then, this month it became the Board of the Ungoverned now that only the Postmaster General and her chief deputy remain. That means our country’s largest government agency cannot fire or change the pay of its CEO and that it may not be able to make such basic decisions as changing postal rates or even hiring an auditor. And you’re counting on postal reform to happen when?
Virtual reality: the belief that online banner ads would more than make up for the decline of print. 2016 was the year our industry finally faced up to real reality and began turning to new saviors, such as native advertising. (And just in time, too, because next month President Trump will issue an executive order deporting all non-native ads.) As for the technology known as virtual reality, it will follow the path of all breakthroughs: It will have no impact on the publishing industry until the pornographers show us how to make money on it. (Disclosure: Mr. Tree does not own a pornograph.)
Related story: Paper Money: A Hidden Threat Facing Magazine Publishers