This week we hear from Bo Sacks, a columnist and lecturer with a long career history in magazines and publishing. He talks about trends that have come and gone, why he thinks print is strong as a niche product, and why we’re currently in the golden age of publishing. As the publisher of ‘Heard on the Web’, the longest running e-newsletter in the world, he also gives his thoughts on the current rush back to newsletters.

In the news roundup we discuss the vampiric Alden Global Capital acquiring Tribune Publishing (née Tronc), Snapchat’s push into augmented reality, and Axel Springer’s “sudden” and “inexplicable” partnership with Facebook. Watch Peter floss over at the Media Voices TikTok channel.

The full transcript is live here, or here are some highlights:

What has kept his newsletter going over 20+ years

I didn’t design to do a newsletter. I was first intrigued by sending words over the phone. And then I figured if I knew how to do that, I’d be more employable than the next guy, I’d have an extra skill set. And that was the modus operandi in the early days. I wasn’t trying to create a business, I was trying to stay employable.

So when I started sending the stuff out, I have a criteria, the same criteria that I have now I had, then this is the stuff you need to know to keep your job. That’s my secret formula. And everything I send out, from my perspective is, ‘Yeah, you really need to know about this, to stay in the media field.’ That formula has been very successful.

Why newsletters are seeing a resurgence

It’s a mystery to me that people have [re]discovered newsletters. It’s sort of the difference between push and pull. If you have a website, or even a newsstand, people stumble upon your product. If you sell a subscription, or in my case, you sign up for the newsletter, I’m pushing it out to you, you do not have to remember to come to my website, you don’t have to remember to come to the newsstand.

As long as you produce quality work, people let you in.

What makes a publisher today

There is no clear definition anymore. We used to be in the magazine business, I used to be in the magazine business. Now they call it magazine media. What is that? It’s nothing.

The lowest common denominator that I can make is that we sell words and thought for a profit. I’m indifferent on how we distribute it. As long as you can get your readers to understand what who you are and what you are, and what your identity is, fine.

On print as a niche product

I don’t find niche as belittling. Yeah, magazines are going towards niche and that’s a good thing.

I think that’s a quality move for the industry, where once you can zero in on a particular section of readers, regardless of what the subject matter is, you now have a very, very good relationship with that reader, that enthusiast, that activist, in whatever field that is, and then that should, done properly, equate to a very lucrative operation. So small is good.

Why this is still the golden age of publishing

I think COVID accelerated wherever the magazine industry was going. It’s accelerated it by five or 10 years. And we’re doing things we never dreamed about doing before. new platforms come out every day that facilitate communication, taking the broad range of what publishing is.

But if you go back to what I said, distributing thought and words for profit, there’s never been a better time to be in publishing.

Key story:

  • The New York-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital – known for slashing its newspapers’ budgets to extract escalated profits – won shareholder approval Friday for its $633 million bid to acquire the Tribune Publishing newspaper chain

News in brief:

  • Snap has debuted a number of new products including augmented reality lenses built using Snapchat’s developer tools. The platform also announced that they now have 500 million monthly active users.
  • Spotify is having a push to make podcasts more accessible by launching an automatic podcast transcription feature. The feature is rolling out in beta over the coming weeks, and Spotify have said they eventually want to have transcripts for all podcasts on Spotify.
  • DuckDuckGo is the latest browser to say they will block Google’s latest update, which enables FLoCs – Federated Learning of Cohorts (Google’s answer to replacing third-party cookies). It joins Firefox, Brave, and Microsoft-owned hosting platform GitHub in the FLoC rejection.
  • Future plc has announced its acquisition of the US edition of Marie Claire. It already publishes it in the UK as part of its acquisition of TI Media. Given Marie Claire has a number of strong eCommerce propositions, this is a smart move to deepen Future’s US reach.
  • Axel Springer and Facebook have agreed on a ‘global cooperation deal’ where content from the publisher will be featured on Facebook’s News product, with CEO Mathias Doepfner saying that the relationship between content providers and platforms “has now become fairer and more predictable for both sides.”. Content from Springer’s German titles Bild, Welt, Business Insider and Computer Bild will be distributed in Facebook News at its German launch.
  • AT&T and Discovery, Inc. have announced a deal which would see WarnerMedia spun off and combined with Discovery in a new standalone media company. 
  • TikTok has launched a #FactCheckYourFeed campaign to support media literacy. The platform is struggling with a growing amount of vaccine misinformation springing up and spreading quickly. The new campaign aims to help equip TikTok users with the skills they need to ‘critically engage with content’.

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