Says Publishers' Retail Sales Systems Are 'On Life Support'

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RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. ( -- The chairman-CEO of the Reader's Digest Association today officially took over as chairman of the Magazine Publishers of America
Photo: Doug Goodman
New MPA Chairman Thomas O. Ryder pointed to and its 'flawless' next-day delivery service.
during the first morning of the MPA's American Magazine Conference here.

MPA representatives said this year's attendance at the conference would total around 550, a slight increase from last year's attendance.

'Quaint' delivery systems
In his inaugural address this morning, Thomas O. Ryder said magazines had to "rethink" their delivery systems, which he called "quaint.", he pointed out, "flawlessly" executes next-day delivery to its consumers. Magazines, on the other hand, require a six- to eight-week wait for subscriptions to kick in.

"I promise you, that's going to change," Mr. Ryder said. He also pointed out the folly in depending so heavily on the U.S. Postal Service for delivery, given the convulsive changes that have hurt it -- and the dynamics underpinning those changes that look likely to worsen.

Mr. Ryder also addressed the basic economics of the business. "In the future," he said, magazines needed to be "produce[d] for less and sell for more." He bluntly warned, "If you doubt that, you are wrong."

Competing with TV
He went on to wonder, as publishers have for years, why magazines as a medium are not competing effectively with TV. That medium was a particular sore spot for Mr. Ryder, who called its hold on advertiser imaginations "vulnerable." He touted magazines' editorial strengths, which he stood in sharp contrast to the "absolute drivel" he said constituted the bulk of TV today.

Mr. Ryder also cited the industry's need to "rethink" its staffing and build in more ethnic diversity. "By 2020," he pointed out, "so-called minorities" will make up the majority of the American population.

Recent successes
As the MPA's new chairman, Mr. Ryder succeeds Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing's president-CEO. Dan Brewster. In his parting address, Mr. Brewster touted the MPA's recent successes in two of the three goals he'd set out for his two-year term: staving off postal rate increases and marketing magazines as ad vehicles. The third mission of his tenure, he said, was reforming magazines' retail systems, which, he said to laughs from the audience, was a "goal I'm going to leave for my successor."

In his own remarks, Mr. Ryder implicitly acknowledged this challenge, saying magazines' "retail sales channel" was "on life support."

In other MPA-related news, TV Guide, which declined to renew its membership during the American Magazine Conference in 2000, rejoined the association.

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