One of the best parts of what I do for a living is that I get to go a multitude of magazine/media trade shows to meet people and listen to lectures from absolutely every part of the magazine food chain. I go to writers associations, editors associations, production, distribution and circulation, digital workshops, libraries, regional magazine associations, and countless other types of publishing events. These events cover in great detail everything from the initial concept stage of developing a magazine through the entire process to the final sale of our work.
This past week I had the opportunity to explore the retail part of our business at the PBAA in Baltimore. Most of the time on these trips I have been requested to give a talk about my views of the future of our industry, and sometimes I go as a member of the press to learn and absorb anything and everything that I can about our business. All this cross-pollination gives me the widest possible peripheral vision of the many components that make up the magazine/media business. Speaking for myself, I have a damn good idea of how they actually all fit together.
For those who don't know, the PBAA's mission is to represent newsstand publications to the retail community. It is the PBAA's mission to establish relationships with the people and the businesses that actually sell our magazines to our newsstand customers. What the PBAA does is the tail end of the newsstand magazine business cycle. But this tail rewards us with the sale of the products we work so hard to make. After all, as much as we all love what we do, it is a business and we expect a paycheck for the fun we have getting these issues out.
Here are a few sound bites from two of speakers at the retail convention.
Roger Fordyce of the Hudson Group expressed the need to stay relevant to our customers. He explained in some detail that stores like Target know what you want before you do. He wasn't kidding.
Roger told a fascinating story about Target's pregnancy prediction model - a model that Target uses in direct mail campaigns from information gleaned from web activity. Apparently, an angry father saw that his teenage daughter was getting mail about products for newborn babies. He went to the store and demanded to know why his young daughter was receiving such mail. The store manager deeply apologized and when the father went home, to his chagrin, he discovered that indeed the pregnancy prediction model was correct. I'm not sure what happened in the house later that night, but prediction models like that are surely a double edged sword. The power to know about our every interest is a powerful tool indeed. I hope we have the caution not to abuse it. Business is not usually known for restraint of a successful sales tool. I wonder where and how far programs like the pregnancy prediction model will go into our intimate lives?
Roger went on to explain that impulse buying of magazines remains strong and that 23.3 million copies of magazines were sold in Hudson airport stores in 2011. As a man who travels quite a bit for business, I doubt there are any trips that I go on without a trip to a Hudson Airport store. I'm in there for something each time I fly.
The next speaker I want to talk about is my dear and good friend Andrew Davis. Drew is the chief strategy officer at Tippingpoint Labs. Drew is an amazing person and a terrific speaker and, like BoSacks, he is a futurist. You have to see his approach to speaking. He stuns the audience with ideas, concepts and great humor.
Drew expressed many ideas suggesting that digital does not mean the death of print, but rather that, if handled correctly, digital could and should lead to more, not less, print. He expressed the need to reinvent old conventions and approaches by reinventing some of our retail sales models.
Here are just a few ideas he presented:
His company, Tippingpoint Labs, did exhaustive research for a huge understandably unnamed company, and the undeniable conclusion was that print magazines continue to have the unique ability not only to engage people, but to actually drive sales.
Drew said that print is not dead; it is evolving. He had a few charts and graphs that explained that there were 17 new web pages being launched every second. The conclusion was a situation of information overload. This digital overload offers unforeseen print opportunities.
He went onto great detail about how the retail focus and placement of magazines should reflect and parallel editorial focuses using the magazine's power to sell related products in stores. He suggested we place specific magazines next to specific retail products. An example was baking magazines in the baking goods section. His point was to bring the magazine to the buyer while the buyer's headspace was in a very particular and specific place. Another example is cooking, which is the latest successful trend. Why not, take advantage of America's growing interest in cooking by placing our magazines at the right place at the right time? If it is true that magazines deliver the highest percentage of profit per square foot of anything else in the supermarket, then retail outlets just might consider this as a pilot program.