New USPS Delivery Dates Affect Publishers and Therefore Marketers

The sky has been falling slowly for print publishers since the economy crashed in 2008, and those that are still around have worked hard to test new types of distribution, production and format until they found some combination that would keep them afloat. Hit harder than the daily newspaper industry has been the once-burgeoning magazine publishing market.

For my third anniversary with M/C/C, I was given year-long subscriptions to two magazines of my choosing. Slightly embarrassed to have US Weekly delivered to the office, I happily selected Marie Claire and Wmagazine. I hadn’t bought an issue of W since I’d been in college, but during those years I considered it a great luxury. It was huge, glossy and full of the most beautiful, artful print advertisements for things I could not afford that I had ever seen. Not to mention the quality of the paper – like really expensive Egyptian cotton; I was in college, and I could barely afford this magazine. So imagine my astonishment when – gasp! – my first issue of W arrives (a little late, since Ambur mistakenly thought it was for her and read it first) looking anorexic with one-third less pages than I remember and printed on what feels like (no, it can’t be!) economically and environmentally friendly recycled paper! I knew publishing must be doomed.

Now, with magazine publishing already in a pickle, another troubled-by-technology business is threatening to make things even more challenging. Facing another 20-percent drop in snail mail volume, the U.S. Postal Service has proposed the elimination of Saturday delivery. This may not seem so dire to monthly mags like my beloved W and  Marie Claire – they have enough problems – but it could be critical for the news weeklies that have the added hardship of delivering compelling, relevant content in a printed medium for two reasons:

  1. News weeklies strategically strive to have their products delivered to the audience on Saturdays.
  2. News weeklies have a greater lag time between the time content is actually published (printed) and the time it actually makes it in front of a reader’s eyeballs.
The strategy behind planning for Saturday delivery of news weeklies makes sense from an advertising perspective. According to a recent article in AdvertisingAge, “…there’s more time for reading – and shopping trips that might wind up reflecting advertisers’ suggestions.” Adhering to that theory, magazines delivered at the beginning of the week will get lost in the manic panic that is Monday, eventually leading to unrenewed subscriptions. Beginning-of-the-week delivery also threatens quality of content.
The difference in lag time from publication to consumption between printed news weeklies and blogs is glaringly obvious. It’s a drastic jump from a few days to instant realization. When you begin to think about the difference it will make for a weekly magazine to be delivered on a Monday instead of a Saturday, you can conclude that the news delivered after the weekend would simply be old. In order to shoot for pre-weekend delivery, editorial deadlines would have to be moved to earlier in the week. This poses several challenges of its own:
  • less time for fact-checking could lead to greater numbers of inaccuracies in stories,
  • pressure to break news in adherence to the earlier deadline could lead to entirely false stories,
  • journalists may have to rely on public relations practitioners more heavily for source material,
  • public relations practitioners and their clients will have to be more readily available to answer media inquiries and capitalize on opportunities.
Friday delivery could still feasibly serve the advertiser’s purpose, but at what cost to the content? It’s an epic battle.
One obvious suggestion is to bail on printed weekly magazines altogether (which would certainly drive the USPS into a deeper hole), but industry insiders maintain that many people still prefer reading print editions. When I read this in the aforementioned AdAge article, I thought, “Huh. I wonder how many…?” It’s not that I don’t fall into this category myself, but I also enjoy listening to radio programs…if you see what I’m sayin’. Anyway, I couldn’t find the stats by deadline. Go figure. Regardless of how the numbers stack up today, the wild holiday success of Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet only forecast an increasing number of people with the ability to find out whether they prefer print or an app.
At the end of the day, the USPS will do what it has to do no matter the grumblings of publishers and advertisers. What say you – do you prefer an app or a printed pub?

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