BoSacks Speaks Out: A Salute to the Evolving Publishing Industry
At this time of year I’m asked many times by many magazines and web sites for my prediction of the future. The request is not only for long term punditry but near term predictions, as in what will be happening next year. My usual glib answer is something like, “Next year will be like this year only more so.”
As I look back on 2016 and then forward to next year I am starting to think my comedic answer over the years was more prescient then humorous. Each year for the last decade, has indeed been like the year before, but in an oddly condensed and accelerated fashion from the previous year. All the trials and tribulations, growth and refinement of technologies, and the much lamented, on-going loss of our iconic media’s status have been compounding like interest in a bank and over time have delivered us to the unforgettable 2016, the year of undisputed media realignment.
So, let’s quickly review. We have and are still dealing with fake news, fake ads, real ad blockers, fake impressions, fake humans (bots), fake ad placement (below the fold), industry-wide declining magazine sales, and undeniable declines in magazine advertising.
Are there exceptions to the declines? Of course, there are. As I’ve stated for the last decade, what really matters is the success or failure of your magazines and your effective productive place in those magazines. It doesn’t matter what the industry as a whole is doing, as many tiles are doing quite well. But it is unrealistic not to admit that when all the information and stats are compiled together into one data set as an industry, it isn’t pretty.
Yet, I am bullish on the industry as it clearly grows and morphs into something new. Our forefathers’ magazine industry is increasingly a relic of business models past. The present and future magazine industry is one being built on hyper-focused niches, with the up-selling of our brands and the repeated development of new revenue extension models other than print. This kind of like-minded community brand extension is the future of magazine media, whether it is BtoC or BtoB. The same rules apply.
More people read, collect and share distributed media information than ever before. There is more revenue being made in media beyond the wildest dreams of our publishing ancestors. The only problem with the visions of those past is that most of the money isn’t in traditional businesses. Facebook, Google, YouTube, and the like, who are undeniably media companies, have the lion’s share of the revenue pie, and their growth is exponential while traditional print’s isn’t.
I’ve been wondering lately with the obvious growth of these new mega-media giants about an old unwritten law of business dynamics that I used to believe in. It goes something like this: Business, like nature, abhors a vacuum. With the advent of unprecedented personal data collection, do the old rules no longer apply? Can the new media giants behave and deliver niche-seeming products and extremely narrow spheres of influence effectively? Can the new biggies curate to the ultra-small, passionate niche groups? Can they appeal to the enthusiast segment of the population? I ask, because that is the very last strong-hold of printed products. Can Facebook or Google create skiing, backpacking, yoga or knitting interest segments?
History always has some momentum into the future. We just have to be observant enough to see the trends and act appropriately. All the pining over yesterday’s business models means nothing for the transactions of the future. These questions and observations are mere shadows of the past. It is what we now do with the knowledge we have gained in the last year or two that has any meaning for our future businesses and successful careers.
In my many travels over the years going to media conferences and publishing houses, the one clearly evident and most important constant above all else is the on-going reinvention taking place like never before in our media history. These observations make me happy for my industry, because I believe fully in our ability to persevere and be profitable.
So as 2016 draws to a close, and the world's future sometimes seems somewhat dark or at the very least uncertain, know that there is hope and light all around you, if you seek it. That hope and that brightness are achievable goals for all. I actually think there is room for more optimism than may at first seem apparent to many other prognosticators.
Our industry is changing and may seem a bit battered, but it is not defeated. It cannot be vanquished, because the distribution of information (publishing) is the cornerstone of a free and democratic society. Writers will write and publishers will distribute that writing for a fee to a willing public. Our future is just as vibrant as it always was, and I expect as necessary changes occur, it will manifest itself in positive ways we can't yet imagine.
As we are moving into 2017 now, it is a perfect and natural time for us to take a moment or two for reflection and for evaluating the current and future possibilities of our professional and personal lives.
I suggest that we look back with pride on what we and our fellow publishers have accomplished in the past, before we look forward into the unknown future. Recognize that we as a group and as individual businesses are indispensable. As information providers we are the glue that holds society together. We provide the mortar known as knowledge, and we make it available to all.
Technology has given us expanded markets of information distribution unheard of a decade ago. Though the outreach and growth is exponential, our profits haven't always kept up with the new technologies. We clearly need new business models. Fear not – we are inventing them. We will go through a complex series of transformations before we are who we are going to become – profitable, new era, information distributors. This is not a "might be," but rather a "will be" state of affairs.
As I’ve noted before, a look at history proves that wars come and then they go; that economic downturns have happened before and will happen again. They appear when least expected and retreat with the same irregularity. We know that the winter is cold only to be followed by the joy and beauty of a warm summer's day. But the most enduring cycle throughout history is the love of family and friends. I send warm greetings to you all with a big hug and the hope that you are surrounded by the love of your family and friends.
As my long-time readers know, I found the following message from Fra Giovanni more than 20 years ago. It was first sent from one friend to another in 1513 A.D. It has become part of my traditional year-end expression of hope and reflection. In it I find a certain central peace and great depth. Every time I read it, I come away with a little more understanding.
Like the author, I hope that your paths are clear of shadows and that you have the time and sensibility to take a few moments to really stop and look around you. Most of us work too hard and forget the reasons for our energetic professional pursuits. I decided years ago that I was "working to live, not living to work." I think sometimes we forget that. Work is a means to keep a safe roof over our heads, food on the table, and to help facilitate the comfort and joy of our family and friends.
In the end, the truth is that it is our ability to love and share that love that has any real or long-lasting meaning. My friends I salute you all.
I SALUTE YOU!
There is nothing I can give you which you have not;
but there is much that, while I cannot give, you can take.
No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today.
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant.
The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach, is joy.
And so, at this holiday time, I greet you, with the prayer that for you, now and forever,
the day breaks and the shadows flee away.
Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a printing/publishing industry consultant and president of The Precision Media Group (BoSacks.com). He is also the co-founder of the research company Media-Ideas (Media-Ideas.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, pressman, circulator and almost every other job this industry has to offer.