Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Profit Prophet : The Organized Chaos Theory

Publishing’s systems are under tremendous stress, but we have been given a brief period of time to adjust to the new media order.
By Robert M. Sacks

A few weeks ago, I was reminded of Bob Garfield's 5-year-old book, "The Chaos Scenario," in which he explained that various converging forces will doom mass media and mass marketing. Garfield argued that the style of old media will continue to be under stress and that this stress will change what we, as producers and users, have grown accustomed to expect from our media.

Garfield once said, "It would mean radical changes in the economy, the culture and the society itself. And they wouldn't be easy to swallow. And, by the way, it's happening right now. We are heading, all of us, into a historically turbulent moment in the history of media, with the very real risk of disruption on a mass scale."

Upon a review of his statement five years later, I think Garfield was correct. Applying his theory directly to our own print publishing industry, I think it is time to consider that what we are still confronted with is, at best, organized chaos. I say "organized" because we have been greatly privileged to have a period of adjustment between what was and what will be. We are still able, in many cases, to make a very nice profit from our old media tools as we seek a sensible path to use the new tools and methods that are now available to us. As fast as the new media order is changing our universe, we haven't been totally vaporized, but rather greatly scorched. It seems that we have been permitted a short period of time to make adjustments to our business plans toward a new era of publishing sensibility and sustainability.

So, contrary to what many believe, we are not yet in complete chaos, even though our systems are, indeed, under tremendous stress to survive in this still-evolving convergence of technology and society in addition to what is now a stressed global economy.
What we are all going to need in this new environment is a superior business plan and some luck. Like any successful publishing platform in the past, we still need to be in the right place with the right product and recognize the market conditions as they constantly change. It has always been my personal mantra that change is unavoidable and should not only be welcomed, but must be continually used to your advantage.

How is this chaotic period different from other historic periods? It is what I call the disruptive factor. In the past, when new technologies were invented, entrepreneurs could devise a system to sell that new technology at a profit with the reasonable expectations of both a return on investment and some assurance that the technology would not rapidly or radically change. This is no longer true. Ever-morphing technology increasingly enables fine targeting and interaction between marketer and consumer, while our old-style measurement and deployment standards are primitive almost to the point of ridiculousness.

Did you know that just three years ago the average Internet user spent little to no time with social media? In a recent report, Internet users were found to be spending approximately 16 percent of their time online with social media. Do you think that this social-information phenomenon will go away or continue to morph into some greater form of a socialized, community-information distribution system? The growth and power of this kind of World Wide Web social word of mouth cannot be underestimated. It is, in fact, beyond our understanding. It is a new form of niche. And niche is the publishing world's bread and butter. It doesn't matter what your successful title is; you can survive in the world of chaos with niche.

Now that there are alternatives to our magazines, we need to attempt to own the printed and the electronic population of our individual nichedoms. As I see it, this is not far from what our goals have always been—bringing stability to apparent chaos by owning our sector outright in each and every form available.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What's the Formula for Our Future Business Plans?

BoSacks - The Profit Prophet : What's the Formula for Our Future Business Plans?
A hint: The printed magazine replicated digitally is not the answer.
By Robert M. Sacks

I get the very strong impression that we are on the cusp of the next phase of information distribution. Kindle sales are booming, and there is competition aplenty for the black-and-white Amazon e-reader. Several new machines that cost at least $50 less than the Kindle now are on the market, with more seemingly on the way each week. In cooperation with Google, Sony is making available 500,000 free e-books for e-readers. It is important to note that Kindle sales figures are believed to have grown faster than iPod sales in the same time frame. That is very impressive. Most book publishers are adjusting and adapting to this new platform in one way or another at a rapid pace.

But where do magazines stand in this race for a digital foothold? The most obvious fact we all can agree upon is that magazines are not books. And while book publishers can get away with offering an exact digital replication of their text-only products, can and should magazines do the same and expect success?

I am a voracious digital user, reading multiple newspapers every day and dozens of magazines every week in digital format. But let me be clear: I'm not talking about going to a Web site and reading the news. I'm talking about reading, scanning and thumbing through entire issues of said publications in a paginated format.
Let me ask you this: What's the point of owning a sports car and never putting your pedal to the metal? What's the point of owning the best stereo system money can buy and not turning up the volume? Likewise, what's the point of having a digital magazine that doesn't exploit the full digital nature of the product?
Should the digital version be exactly the same as the printed version? The answer should be a resounding "no"! The editorial surely shouldn't be the same. Why set ridiculous restrictions on an amazing, new publishing product? There are terrific opportunities in the downloaded versions of magazines that ink on paper just can't match, and it shouldn't.
We absolutely need accountability and creditability when detailing circulation figures, but we also must not hamper the new digital magazine business with arcane restrictions based on ancient printing technologies and abacus accounting methods. We must move forward, not back, if we are to survive as publishers in the growing digital information age.
The bottom line is that the ads and the edit do not need to be and, in fact, shouldn't be exactly the same in both mediums.
They should be more enriched and focused in the digital version and have as much creative involvement and special interest as the technology allows. A static informational/branding ad should run in the print issue, while a dynamically charged ad appears in the digital issue. Static, informational editorial belongs in the printed version, while hyperlinked, graphically active, fully charged edit belongs in the digital issue. Those are the choices.

Does the advertising and edit have to be exactly the same in the digital version as in the printed version to be fully credited on an ABC or BPA statement? Of course not. It's time we as an industry start a constructive dialog. What is a successful and satisfactory formula for our future businesses?

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

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

BoSacks Speaks Out: On why Twitter is important to Publishers and their employees

BoSacks Speaks Out: Well, What can I say? I have been posting since 2007 that publishers and publishing employees had better get familiar with social networking and specifically Twitter.

My Friend Steve Smith clearly agrees with me by his report..

Did you know that Business Week editors have over 40 Twitter accounts that they use for reporting. So do many other newspapers, magazines and journalists across the country.

Publishers as diverse as Playboy and Christianity Today have editors posting and experimenting with this unusual communications tool.

Is it the be all and end all? No, of course not. It is just yet another platform in the ever-changing universe of Information Distribution, formally known as publishing.

If you aren't there yet you better get there soon. It just might come up on your next job interview.

Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery.
Dr. Joyce Brothers (1928 - )

Steve Smith's Eye on Digital Media: Listening To Twitter
Posted By Steve Smith
It's 12:11 p.m. and Martha Stewart is at lunch with Ludacris. It's 10:31 p.m. and In Style staffers are watching "Jack and Sharon Osbourne walking in" to an American Idol "Top 13" party in L.A. It's 7:30 p.m. and BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE editor-in-chief John Byrne mentions that he began his career as a rock critic at a college newspaper. This comes after Byrne's asking readers what intro music to use for his next podcast.

Then, it's 3:10 p.m. and Scientific American seems to be responding to a reader query and states (in a way only SciAm can) that "consensus view is that spontaneous mutations of natural pathogens is far more dangerous/likely than terrorist- building smallpox."

Huh? We can't say you will understand all of the chatter on Twitter, but you and your magazine brand had better get there pronto. At MINONLINE's own Twitter page (TWITTER.COM/MINONLINE) we are constructing a makeshift directory of magazine brands and their main Twitter feeds. Visit it yourself to see which of your competitors is already using the micro-blogging service, or tell us about your brand's feed.

So far, we are following nearly 100 of you and getting a fair look at how magazines generally are using this phenom of 2008. Twitter has been exploding in recent months and it is downright fashionable in media circles to broadcast these little 140-character missives to "followers" who subscribe to the feed. Magazine online managers have been setting up official, branded feeds in recent months, and we will be aggregating that list at our own Twitter home for our readers to peruse.

Everyone is in test mode when it comes to broadcasting media messages and/or interacting with readers. Many magazine Twitter sites merely repurpose their RSS (really simple syndication) feeds and treat this as another content distribution platform. BW Online's John Byrne, who uses the platform much more broadly with his 10,700 followers, says that Twitter "is showing up as one of the top referring domains...user response has been overwhelmingly good." His editors now have over 40 accounts they use for reporting. BWO recently put a Twitter feed on its site to invite readers to suggest how President Obama could craft an economic stimulus package.

Redbook editor-in-chief Stacy Morrison says her Twitter feed will point followers to new stories, but it is the chatter over Redbook's annual Americans' Hottest Husbands feature that blew the doors off. "Finalists' wives from around the country are tweeting to drum up support for their guys," she says. "We expect a big increase in the number of votes this year thanks to this additional platform."

You can attract a massive following quickly in this viral atmosphere. Women's Wear Daily editors have been tweeting about celebrity sightings at fashion fetes, and in just three weeks the feed has attracted 69,000 followers.

While posting new content links back to a publisher's main site is a standard, albeit unimaginative, use of the tool, the best feeds that we have seen respect the conversational and even trivial roots of the platform to craft a new kind of reader/publisher relationship.

Playboy's feed will punctuate the links to the latest cyber-Playmate pics with complaints about Twitter's and a roundup of what his Twitter followers snack on. Christianity Today editors post: Editorial page meeting Thurs. p.m. What should we opine about in the May issue? And an editor at defunct yoga magazine Ascent twittered (above) until the bitter end: counting down: 4 days till the final issue goes to the printer.

Doubters once bashed the micro-blogging fad (and who knows? It may still be one) as self-absorbed techies posting the detritus of their bored lives to one another.

This it is. But when you weave into that everyday ephemera real conversation and actual content, then the trivial becomes the essential. It is in the little personal observations and meaningless asides that Twitter feeds achieve an intimacy that is unique and quite different from a blog post or e-mail missive. When handled well, these feeds move between the personal and promotional, the outward facing content that builds a brand and the inner, human workings that make the content.

It is still unclear to any of us how once-imperious media brands go about building the kind of personal connection and community readers now crave. Whether Twitter itself is the answer seems unlikely. But interacting with it sure seems to be raising some good and necessary questions about who media are and how they relate to audiences.

The new min Twitter (TWITTER.COM/MINONLINE) feed will be used not only for reporting and content posting, but we will also aggregate the many other magazine brands in our following section. Come here to see what brands are using the platform or to add your own.

Steve Smith (POPEYESMITH@COMCAST.NET) is digital media editor for min/min's b2b/MINONLINE.COM. He posts regularly on The Minsider blog and directs the min Webinars. Smith also co-chairs the annual min Day Summit and as ceo of Roving Eyeball Inc., consults for a number of publishers in the digital space.