Publishing Insiders React to Sale of National Distributor Curtis Circulation
It’s the dawn of a new era: The last remaining national distributor, the ANC-owned Comag Marketing Group, has bought the second-to-last remaining one, Curtis Circulation Company; and if I’m doing my math right, that puts us down to one. One company to interact with publishers, do their billing, manage their distribution, handle their marketing. One company to write their checks.
You could also make a case that there are essentially two major wholesalers left, Hudson and ANC, and you find yourself wondering if the math works here, too. A last-remaining wholesaler (ANC?) and a second-to-last, (Hudson?). Who else is speculating: Will there soon be only one national distributor and one national wholesaler? Already the line between the two functions is growing thinner. As ANC’s wholesaler marketing people have become the Comag Marketing team, the duplication of functions between the two arms of ANC is being reduced and eliminated.
Which leaves us with (again, essentially) one mammoth company doing everything for magazine publishers — ANC, or American News Company.
In my experience this is unprecedented, yet it does have precedent. When the Chatham Group bought TNG and Comag and put them under the banner of ANC, it was a pretty clear signal where all this was going. Toward the end of the 19th century and through the first half of the 20th, American News Company dominated magazine distribution. Then, as now, this company served as both national distributor and periodical wholesaler. It blanketed the US and employed several thousand employees (I confirmed all this on Wikipedia).
The first American News Company lasted until (pick your favorite reason):
- It became the target of government antitrust legislation, and
- its terms became onerous to publishers, who rebelled by starting up their own independent distribution networks outside the ANC monopoly.
So things, it seems, are going around and coming around. Where does that leave us? I asked some industry experts for their thoughts.
- “I’m sad about all the people being lost,” a major publisher said. “I hope ANC picks some of them up. And the team at ANC is already completely overworked; there isn’t anyone with the time or resources to take on the titles coming from Curtis. They are going to have to have a few people anyway, to help with the transitions and handle the additional business.”
- “Listen, we’ve had a great run,” said a national distributor executive. “We outlasted a lot of them, and we made a difference in publishing.”
- “I’m concerned about the possibility of additional costs, now that there isn’t any competition,” said an independent publisher, echoing the concerns of many. “More costs are going to put a lot of publishers out of business. Us for one.”
- “The new owners are going to be looking to find more profit, but hopefully they’ll do it by improving merchandising and streamlining delivery,” said an optimistic multi-title publisher. “The owners publish, too; they know what’s at stake.”
- “Ten years ago, when Anderson went under, everyone freaked out,” said a smart consultant, who likes to stay off the record. “My phone lines and emails were burning up. No one is freaking out now; no one seems to be thinking about newsstand.”
Comparing this event to Anderson’s demise a decade ago — or the ones that have come since, including Source Interlink, Kable, and others — reveals a bit of a bright spot, in that Curtis held out for a sale and gave their publishers time to transition in a controlled fashion, without the panic and losses that come from bankruptcies. Curtis is continuing to handle everything with an on-sale date prior to October 1; Comag is taking over all releases after that. It isn’t a rout — it’s an orderly retreat.
That doesn’t detract from the sorrow of seeing so many great people continuing to exit our industry. “I’d like to save them all,” said my smart consultant friend.
So would I.
Linda Ruth, as president of PSCS Consulting (www.PSCSConsulting.com), offers communication companies worldwide the keys to magazine launches, search engine optimization and audience development online and at retail. She is a pioneer in the fields of Online Audience Optimization (OAO) and gamification for content publishers. Her books, "Internet Marketing for Magazine Publishers" ; "How to Market your Newsstand Magazine"; and "Secrets of SEO for Publishers" can be found on Amazon. Find her online at Google Plus, Magazine Dojo, LinkedIn, and Twitter @Linda_Ruth.