Thursday, June 26, 2008

BoSacks Speaks Out: BoSacks Speaks Out: Who Should We Put On The Cover?

BoSacks Speaks Out: BoSacks Speaks Out: Who Should We Put On The Cover?

I was cruising the web tonight, as is my habit and at
Rex Hammock's Blog, he pointed me to the article below and noted the following quote:

"I look forward to the day when magazines can return to serving their audience and not the newsstand. Until then you're stuck with 109, free, biggest, hot, ultimate, travel, toys, secrets, great, perfect, best, sex, abs, weight-loss, getaway, new, insider, easy, delicious, shortcuts, paired with a celebrity you keep seeing over and over on the covers of magazines."

Those are true and in a way very scary words. We have homogenized and dumbed down our covers, with elating numbers, ridiculous claims and a plethora of nonsense freebies. Where is the focus on excellent content? Where is the compelling editorial that excites the reader after the newsstand purchase gets home?

I was just at a publishing convention a day ago, that had as usual an assortment of magazines on display. Not one, not two, but at least three were touting that we all could have flat abs in ten minutes. Hmmm. Would that, that could be true? It ain't.

I'm sure that it is successful and sells magazines to the twenty something crowd of ab busters each and every month. The publishers wouldn't do it if it wasn't successful. Or at least, I would like to think they wouldn't. Who the heck knows, it's brutal out there on the newsstand these days.

I guess what I'm getting at is that this process which might help sell newsstand titles seems to somehow cheapen the overall product. Maybe that's it. If we don't respect ourselves how can we expect others to do so?
For me it's late at night on a poker night and perhaps I'm off target. What do you think?

Who Should We Put On The Cover?
Photography Director Rob Haggart

In my career I've gone from "let's see which of the stories we have this month will make a good cover" to "we're going to call every single A list celebrity that has a movie this month till someone says yes" and then of course, task some writer with throwing a story together in a week or less. The cover of the magazine was the single source of more anxiety, stress and nightmares than anything else I've ever worked on. There was always a deadline looming and unreturned phone calls to publicists, a photographer to figure out, location, wardrobe and then what will he be doing on the cover, it was always just hanging out there for weeks on end waiting for a date, time and place to land so the rest of the pieces could be jammed in.

I'm sure it's quite a different experience working at GQ, VF or Time where the celebrities and politicians have heard of your publication and are actually interested in appearing on the cover. I've always been in the hapless position of pitching a publicist and providing material to actually prove we're worthy enough for a celebrity to grace us with their presence.

The importance of the cover image, coverlines, background, expression, wardrobe is at an all time high these days because advertisers need some sign of the health of a magazine and newsstand sales are a decent indicator because consumers are free to decide what purchase to make that month. Except everyone is trying to game the system so the coverlines, subjects and many times the photography have turned into such predictable garbage, because everyone is using the same handful of words and subjects that have proven effective at capturing eyeballs.

Who should we put on the cover? How about someone who actually wants to be there and that the audience cares about. How about someone we can spend some time with a write a meaningful story and take interesting pictures of. I look forward to the day when magazines can return to serving their audience and not the newsstand. Until then you're stuck with 109, free, biggest, hot, ultimate, travel, toys, secrets, great, perfect, best, sex, abs, weight-loss, getaway, new, insider, easy, delicious, shortcuts, paired with a celebrity you keep seeing over and over on the covers of magazines.-------------------------

Rolling Stone: A Picture's Worth a Thousand Coverlines
by Matt Haber
No Words: Obama
Mere words cannot express the awesomeness that is Barack Obama. At least that's what the new cover of Rolling Stone tells-or doesn't tell-us. The cover of the magazine's new issue features only a photograph of a smiling Senator Obama (with prominent flag pin!) and no text whatsoever. In keeping with the photo theme, Rolling Stone's Web site features a photo gallery called Barack Obama, a History in Pictures, with a whopping 98 (!) images of the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate.
The wordless cover is not Rolling Stone's first. The motif has also been used by the magazine for other important, "words are not enough" stories like the deaths of John Lennon and George Harrison.
It was also used to great effect on February 1995 for a cover story about Demi Moore.

Monday, June 2, 2008

BoSacks: Looking at the Future of New LaunchesBy

BoSacks: Looking at the Future of New Launches

By BoSacks

Will the increasing costs of entry make print publishing a world where only the brave and truly committed dare to go?

As you may know, my friend Samir Husni, also known as Mr. Magazine, tracks new magazine launches. He has done so for decades and has amassed a wealth of data. In his latest announcement, the overall numbers for our business are less than stellar. Many possible reasons exist for this decline. Both Husni and I can postulate about its causes, but neither of us actually knows.

According to Husni: "The number of new magazine launches in the first quarter of 2008 (150) increased by five titles compared to Q1 2007. [While it was an increase,] it is still a far cry from the introduction of 192 new magazines in the same time period in 2006. However . . . only 41 magazines were launched with the intention to be published at least four times a year compared with 50 in 2007, and 72 in 2006."

Husni goes on to ask: "So what does this mixed bag of numbers mean? Not much. Since I have started tracking new magazine launches, I have witnessed a two or three years' decline after a very healthy and busy year. [2005] was a very healthy year-1,013 new magazines were launched. The decline started in 2006. We are in our third year of decline. In 2006, we [saw] 901 new launches. The number dropped to 715 last year, and if the trend of the previous years continues, we will see another drop again this year before the numbers bounce back. Call it market correction if you please, but definitely it is not a sign that print is on its way out."

Well, on that last point, Mr. Magazine and I agree. Printed magazines are not on their way out. Not by a long shot. I believe that the printed magazine will have a prosperous run until the advent and adaptation of new technologies, which will finally surpass the printed magazine around 2025. So there is some breathing room left. And even in 2025, magazines will not be completely gone, and those publishers established to produce them will do just fine. But I do believe that by 2025, the printed magazine will not be the predominant way that the public will read, but rather only one of the ways. Sort of like it is now, only more so.

So what will happen to Husni's belief that there will be a predictable parabolic curve of highs and lows of new title releases? I think there will always be some high points of new releases and some low points. But as we move into the future there will be periods of lower highs and lower lows. And the long-term trend will be a decreased number of new printed titles, until we reach a new level of sustainability.

That new sustainability will be predicated on the dictates of the new information age, balanced with the cost structure of print-and-ship manufactured goods. This may not be a bad thing for the printing and publishing industry. Perhaps a more expensive entry fee to be a printed publisher will lead to a greater survival rate, as only the brave and the truly committed will apply. I believe we will reach a new successful, sustainable plateau of new releases more in line with the new business realities of the day.

The further the reach of a new digital infrastructure, the less drive there will be to spend money on printed products. Publishing has always had a component of vanity attached to it. Almost everybody wants to be a publisher. In the past, the only way to do that was to put ink on paper. It was significantly less costly than it is today to materialize those vanity impulses. I think we will find that the new world order is based on dematerialization.

The dematerialization business plan can send billions of words anywhere on the planet in an instant with no material form and no manufacturing expenditure. So, as usual, Mr. Magazine and I agree on some points and disagree on others. For today, we agree that the printed magazine is not going away any time soon, but disagree on the relevance of the decreasing trend in new startups.

Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a printing/publishing industry consultant and president of The Precision Media Group ( He is also the co-founder of the research company Media-Ideas (, 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.