Thursday, August 21, 2008

Today, I Only Have Questions

Today, I Only Have Questions
Posted by BoSacks
Today, I only have questions. What is the difference between Europe and the United States when it comes to publishing and newsstand sales? Why are the newspapers in Europe not only doing well, but on the whole thriving and growing, while ours are gasping for air, with plummeting revenue and circulations? What does the "old" world know about publishing that we here don't?
Why? How? What is the difference?

A "cub reporter" of this newsletter, who is actually a worldly and knowledgeable publisher, recently argued with me on-line on a similar subject that seems relevant to my vent today:
"Professional circulators analyze reader acquisition costs in excruciating detail, with mountains of real-world data. No one can tell why a publisher picked a price, set a rate base, or chose a sales channel by looking at magazines on a newsstand . . . especially in today's incredibly complex and competitive marketplace . . . Publications with good strategies will prosper and magazines with bad strategies won't."

I generously offered to send him to Europe to find out the answers to these questions, but doubling his T&E budget from last year didn't seem to be enough to send him on the important investigative journey. (Last year his BoSacks T&E budget nearly topped $000,000.00)

So I'm forced to ask more questions:

Why are the last U.S. ABC figures reporting such dire domestic results while European magazines are on the whole doing better than we are? Why do European magazines charge almost the same for a subscription magazine as a newsstand title and we practically give away our subscriptions? Is this a holdover from better bygone days or a real, bona fide science that can actually work in the 21st century?

Let's remember that we are talking about the very same product, manufactured in the very same way, but clearly with a different business model. Why are the European sales numbers for magazines hovering around a 60-percent sell-through while we struggle with a low-to-mid-30-percent sell-through?

Let me move on. Why are the reading scores of our domestic youth plummeting? Is there any connection with the fact that text messaging is on the rise while writing skills are plummeting to unconscionable lows? Why is the biggest expense for so many businesses remedial writing for new employees?

None of these questions address the on-going digital dilemma the publishing world is facing. Clearly, we are going to have to remake our industry and redesign our business models including the circulation paradigm. These questions seem to me to be a great start and a part of that process.

There you have it: a dozen questions and not an answer in sight. These are the things that make me, well, wonder just what the heck is going on with our business-and reading in general?