Bo Sacks - The Profit Prophet: Stop Firing the Editors and Writers
Rance Crain, president of Crain Communications, made an interesting point last month. In a Jan. 4 Advertising Age column, he wrote, "Consumers are getting used to saving again, and they won't part with their money unless they're given pretty good reasons." So where does that leave the magazine business?
I think that if Crain's prediction comes true, we actually might be in pretty good shape—provided we actually have indispensable edit. Ask any devout magazine loyalist if her favorite niche title is primary and essential to her life. I think she probably would say yes.
Now, I ask you—the publisher—whether you're devoting enough corporate energy, resources and financial backing to your editorial staff in order to actually produce an indispensable editorial package? If the answer is yes, then why are you charging so little for such a valuable product? Ask the Economist how it feels about its edit and its worth. Why do you think it can charge a premium and you can't? What makes it so special? You guessed it—its edit is worth that price, or so the reader believes, and that is all that matters.
The entire magazine paradigm has changed in the space of just a few years. Nothing is as it was. Or, as the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam put it: "The Moving Finger writes, and having writ, Moves on; nor all thy Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line."
Like any poem, you can interpret it in your own way. To me, it says that you can't go back to the way it was—you can't change history—and yelling, screaming and bemoaning your current situation is basically irrelevant. The only choice is to accept the now and move forward so in the future, when there is a new now, you have no further regrets. I hope that wasn't too metaphysical for you.
My hope is that, for those magazines that do endure in printed form, you adapt a new strategy where printed magazines cost more—because they should and because they are deemed vital and indispensable. If the old advertising foundation continues to crumble as I expect it will, how critically valuable is your edit to both you and the reader?
Although the market for printed products is not likely to recover to yesterday's print runs, there will still be billions of dollars available to those who produce the right product.
Digital reading and digital platforms are growing faster than anyone can track. It is my belief that digital reading will soon be totally ubiquitous and provide data and a reading experience that is perhaps more useful than print because of its ability to probe deep into the depths of any conversation.
But I also accept that print, for many, is a buffer zone from the world around us, and that has a certain charm all its own. Many have postulated that it is that very lack of ability to "connect" that is at the bottom of the charisma of the printed product. Regardless, there is room for both if they have what the reader wants.
The answer to the publishing industry's woes is to provide something worth paying for. For far too long we have been lured with the easy money and wicked ways of our advertising mistress. Well, in the past few years we got dumped. And it hurts. But I say we pick ourselves up out of the gutter and find our self-worth once again. Stop firing the editors and writers, and start paying for the production of excellence. There is no other choice.
Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a printing/publishing industry consultant and president of The Precision Media Group (BoSacks.com). He also is the co-founder of the research company mediaIDEAS (MediaIdeas.net), and publisher and editor of a daily, international e-newsletter, Heard on the Web. Sacks has held posts as director of manufacturing and distribution, senior sales manager (paper), chief of operations, and every other job this industry has to offer.