2010 Hall of Fame: Bob Sacks
For so many in the publishing industry, Bob Sacks—or BoSacks, as he is also known—is as regular a part of your work routine as your morning coffee. With his daily e-newsletter, "Heard on the Web," he reaches thousands of readers with aggregated articles and commentary related to all aspects of publishing.
According to Sacks, who is being acknowledged with the first-ever "honorary induction" into the Publishing Executive Hall of Fame (technically, the award is bestowed only on those employed by publishing companies), the genesis of his newsletter dates back to 1989, when he received an AOL e-mail account as a result of doing consulting work with the early Internet services provider. At a time when few had e-mail, Sacks used the account to converse with his one friend who did—Ed Cobb, who is now customer service supervisor, prepress and quality, at RR Donnelley.
"I would find white papers about the printing process and other interesting tidbits, and forward it to [Ed] … and I would banter about … why it was good … [or] bad," explains Sacks. "It might have been the world's first blog."
As more and more friends and colleagues obtained e-mail, more and more were added to the conversation.
With the exception of only a couple of rare instances that Sacks can recall, he has sent his newsletter out religiously each weekday, even from locations as remote as the Sonoran Desert in Northern Mexico. "The feedback is enormous. … It has been a positive thing for me and, I would like to think, a positive thing for the industry," he says.
Sacks is also the columnist who, after six years of writing for the magazine, so many Publishing Executive readers have come to anticipate on each issue's back page.
The Express Path Into Publishing
Sacks' career began in the early 1970s, after college, when he and two friends started a weekly, alternative newspaper, The Express. "[Bob] is and always was an entrepreneur," says Cobb, who was The Express' first staff member. "[He] was the engine that powered us. He supplied the 'we might not know what we're doing, but that doesn't mean we can't do it' attitude that got it done."
"[At the newspaper], I learned everything I needed to know pretty much for the rest of my career," says Sacks.
From there, at the age of 23, he became one of the founding fathers of the now-36-year-old High Times magazine, assuming the role of vice president of manufacturing.
"I was always a gadget boy. … To learn the process of putting ink on paper and offset printing, and the mechanics behind it all is still fascinating to me," says Sacks. "I'm always thinking of the end process: The magazine has to ship on 'X' date and nothing will get in the way of that ever—and it hasn't."
"Bob brings to it a fearlessness …," says Andy Kowl—CEO, Next-Tech Markets, an advertising co-op for business-to-business publishers—Sacks' childhood friend who started The Express and High Times with him.
That fearlessness is exemplified in a story that Sacks tells from his days at High Times when he literally stopped the presses. "The cover wasn't right, and I yanked out magenta and put in rubine red, which is unheard of. You don't mix processed colors quite that way," he recalls. "… It might have cost me $600, but it was worth it. That's the sort of production creativity that not everybody gets to do."
After High Times, Sacks held a variety of positions, including director of production for McCall's Publishing, and director of manufacturing and distribution for Bill Communications Inc., part of VNU. In 1998, he left VNU (now Nielsen) to start his own company, Precision Media Group, a consultancy to printers, publishers, web producers and media startups.
He also has since co-founded mediaIDEAS, a research and strategic publishing-industry consulting company. "When I write and when I vent, it is visceral. … It's been a really excellent balance-counterbalance because I participate in the analytical research," says Sacks of his mediaIDEAS involvement. "Now I can scientifically substantiate my emotional reactions to where I think the industry is going. … It's been a win-win for mediaIDEAS, a win-win for me, and a win-win for the publishing community."
"Through all the years in various segments of our industry, Bob has maintained the same level of excellence," says Cobb. "He possesses a combination of integrity, intelligence, common sense, flexibility, sincerity, humor, vision and leadership that engenders loyalty and brings out the best in others. And aren't the best players the ones who not only perform at the highest level consistently, but who … help the people around them to perform at levels higher than they otherwise might … ? That's Bob." PE