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Commentary & Analysis

Magazine Frequency, Clipping Coupons, Note to the NYSE, PR Translation Services

Magazine Frequency Declining?

By Dr. Joe Webb
Published: September 26, 2003

Magazine Frequency Declining?

Not long after my September 17 WTT webinar, an interesting news item came through that said that Editor & Publisher , the weekly magazine for the newspaper business, was changing from weekly to monthly.

The news release stated, "This shift will enable us to keep pace with the changes in the news industry which, thanks to the Internet, wants information now, not next week," quoting Michael E. Parker, president of the Marketing/Media & Arts Group of VNU. The magazine will publish breaking news on its Web site while the printed magazine will focus on trends, features, and commentary.

In my WTT webinar, I said that the trends in print have become fewer jobs, fewer pages, lower run lengths, less frequency.

Newspapers changed their content in response to radio, then television, then cable news, and more recently the Internet. In many cases, newspapers made significant investments in those competitors as they grew into media conglomerates. But now it looks like one of the industry's stalwart publications is having difficulty making its own transition.

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Just Sitting Around Clipping Coupons

The Promotion Marketing Association's (PMA) Coupon Council recently released details about the use of coupons in 2002. Their release stated.

According to the PMA Coupon Council, marketers distributed 336 billion coupons in 2002, a 3.4% increase over 2001. Distributed coupons had an average face value of $.81 and an average expiration period of 3 months. Many of the product categories with the largest coupon distribution in 2001 stayed on top in 2002, including household cleaners, prepared foods, detergents and paper products. Categories with the highest growth in coupon distribution in 2002 included oral hygiene (excluding toothpaste and toothbrushes), skin care preparations, cosmetics, baking mixes and first aid products.

In times of economic sluggishness, an increase in couponing is expected, to some extent, as a means of mitigating price competition. It should be remembered, though, that couponing has a broader context. Price discounts are still an effective way of changing behavior and acquiring customers. Coupons are a way of disrupting buying habits and chipping away at larger competitors. Marketers know that for many consumer products, couponing is an essential part of a regular promotional strategy.

As best as I can tell, there has been no significant Internet impact of note on the coupon and newspaper insert business. While discount offers are made by e-retailers all of the time and consumers can download coupons, the impact has been minimal in the grand scheme of things.

 On the Web

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Note to the New York Stock Exchange

I know you folks have been having a problem replacing Dick Grasso. It was a bit strange to offer someone a huge chunk of money because they did a good job and then fire them for accepting it, but I realize you have a bigger problem. Now that Dick has left and it seems no one wants the job, I hereby declare that I would be pleased to accept the position. I will gladly do it at half of Dick Grasso's pay, so you'll save scads of money. And speaking of that, my expense account will look nothing like his. I promise to take Southwest Airlines as often as possible and to stay at Fairfield Inns whenever they are available. And yeah, I know that I have said bad things about living in New York and I also promised that I'd never take a real job ever again, but I am willing to help you folks out since I know you're hurting so much in this difficult time. Okay, okay, I'll even do it for a third of what Grasso was making. Deal?

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Translation Services

Over the years, I have been pleased to provide translation services, gratis, to the industry at large. The reason I do this is that I'm trying to start a movement in favor of plain speaking in press releases.

Last week, a press report about a supplier's exit from the US market underscored the need for my translation services. The report included verbiage that would truly stymie any industry observer. So I am pleased to offer a translation of the following, as part of my lifelong (or career-long) commitment to our business:

...we shifted from visionary mode to operating mode in an effort to strengthen and grow the company, and this is a logical and prudent move for us. It will reduce duplicate overhead expense and concentrate our resources where the market is the strongest for us.

Okay, this is a tough one, but I'm up to it.

  • Shifting from visionary mode to operating mode We thought we had a great idea, but we couldn't find enough customers who thought the same way. Then we got stuck, and since cash flow was so bad, we actually had to learn how to use a checkbook before we spent any money. We thought that if we still had checks left, there must be money in the account...
  • Strengthen and grow the company Ah, yes, the management paradox of cutting costs and still growing. This is just like trying to save on gas by buying a beat-up, old, used Cadillac. It's the old "we're stronger after we cut our arms off" argument;. sounds like a scene out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail to me.
  • Logical and prudent I remember those terms from somewhere.Logical means that actions have to make sense, and prudent means you're careful about what you do. Is this, then, the opposite of visionary mode? Does it mean that if you have a vision, it is by definition illogical and imprudent? I suspect that they did not mean to imply that.
  • Reduce duplicate overhead this refers to the things that you didn't think were going to be overhead until you had to cut costs. They didn't seem like duplicates at the time, but on closer examination you just have to choose. Sounds like they scaled the operation to their dreams rather than some logical, incremental plan.
  • Concentrate our resources where the market is strongest for usThis one's easy: there are no fish here, so we're moving our boat! This sounds like the only logical and prudent thing in the release, and it took a lot of wading to reach it.

Why can't people just say

Our business is not what we expected. We are taking swift action to retrench in a manner that will keep us in the market, and still retain the loyal customers who use our services. We wanted to do this in a way that would ensure that those customers would continue to be pleased with our products. Instead, the company sounds like a mismanaged dot-com bubble victim, sending out too many conflicting messages.

Plain speaking, in a way that doesn't tie people up with internal whining but speaks to the customers and the marketplace in terms that they might actually care about, is not easy. One thing I learned a long time ago is to use the resources of good public relations people, because they can save you from saying things you're better off not saying. (No one really views PR as marketing risk management, but they should.) This is especially true about bad news, and in that situation, you should just say it and get it over with. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case here.

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Software Tip from Dr. Joe

For those looking for an alternative to MS Office but don't feel comfortable about the free OpenOffice programs, Sun Microsystems has released Version 7 of StarOffice. It uses OpenOffice as a base, but adds more templates, a data base program, and more filters (including filters for WordPerfect which OpenOffice does not currently support). It sells for less than $80 and has tech support, which OpenOffice does not.

I was able to download an evaluation copy here . The evaluation version will be available until October 14, and expires on December 15, 2003 .

StarOffice is available for Windows, Linux, and Solaris platforms, but will not be available for Mac. OpenOffice has a limited offering for OS X.

Dr. Joe Webb is one of the graphic arts industry's best-known consultants, forecasters, and commentators. He is the director of WhatTheyThink.com's Economics and Research Center.

What do you think? Please send feedback to Dr. Joe by emailing him at drjoe@whattheythink.com.

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