BoSacks on Why Disruption is Our New Normal – and How We Can Thrive There

Is the publishing industry finally settling down, after years of chaos and disruption?

As nice as it might be to believe that, Bo Sacks says it’s not true.

“As I sit here in the industry analyst’s seat, I see the following: a hopeful expectation that the chaos will finally settle into a period of stasis — not quite a period of inactivity, but more of equilibrium,”Bob “BoSacks” Sacks writes in Publishing Executive. “I must report to you that isn’t going to happen any time soon for the magazine media industry. Expect continued disruption for the foreseeable future.”

If that’s the case – and I believe he’s right – what does that mean for publishers in the near term? Bo Sacks believes the key is to stay focused on your own business and stop trying to adjust your business around the industry itself.

“Look at Condé Nast vs. Hearst to get a clear picture. Hearst revenue grew 4% to $11.4 billion in 2018 and Condé Nast reportedly lost $120 million. Same industry and somewhat similar large publishing companies with different executions and results,” he writes.

“All magazines once ran on cookie cutter business plans. Large or small the publishing plans were more similar then they were different. Now it is the opposite with most publishers creating a media model as different as fingerprints,” Bo Sacks continues.

It’s far too easy to be distracted by industry news like the big layoffs announced recently, but BoSacks takes a deeper view there as well.

“The news of last week’s layoffs where more than 1,000 media jobs were lost in one day is not in my opinion indicative of the entire industry, especially as most of the layoffs come from a single failed company,” he writes. “As bad and as horrifying as the Oath (now Verizon Media) layoffs sound, they shouldn’t have been unexpected to anyone. Verizon Media is expected to cut roughly 800 jobs, or 7% of its global workforce. But this isn’t really news. It was/is a failed attempt to reach digital scale from the still failing AOL-Yahoo/Verizon merger. Clearly bigger isn’t always better.”

BoSacks reminds us that niche and enthusiast titles are doing well in both print and online, and state and regional titles continue to thrive in many places.

“There are a few I can name that are outperforming their own expectations, such as Our State Magazine of North Carolina or feisty W42ST, a New York City magazine that just hit its stride with its 50th issue,” he notes.

(Side note – one of my team is a huge fan of Our State; it’s everything a regional magazine should be. And she discovered it not online, but in print at the checkout counter of the local grocery store in North Carolina, right where all the tourists line up to stock their beach house pantries. It’s almost a no-brainer to toss it in the cart.)

The difference between success and struggle in our industry can’t be pinned down to a “do this, don’t do this” approach. Rather, know that we remain in a period of continuous change; in fact, it’s probably the new normal. Like me, Bo Sacks believes that this is the new Golden Age of Publishing, with huge opportunity if we only see it, seize it and act intelligently on it. There are plenty of brands out there going about their business and making a profit.

“A few years ago, I suggested that this is a great time to rethink the unthinkable. That this is a unique and historic period where the unthinkable has never been more possible,” Bo Sacks says. We live in a period of experimentation, innovation, and entrepreneurism that the world has never seen before. There is no choice, we must embrace it, not fear it.”

“The only time to panic is when people stop reading,” he concludes.