Saturday, July 30, 2016

What Does the Third Law of Plumbing Have To Do With Publishing?

Hard at work in the Production Department
Some of my fellow magazine production managers have been known to quote the First Three Laws of Plumbing: 1) Hot on the left; 2) Cold on the right; 3) Shit don’t run uphill.

It’s the Third Law of Plumbing (our Publishing Word of the Day) that we find especially relevant: You can fling around fancy words like collaboration and workflow, but eventually everything – editorial content, ads, subscriber files, etc. – ends up in the production department, also known as the manufacturing or operations department.

If there’s human fecal matter in the flow, guess who gets to clean it up. While still meeting all the deadlines. And the budget.

I’ve seen savvy operations departments find clever ways to save small fortunes and create new lines of business. And I’ve seen dysfunctional ones miss huge savings opportunities and bring publishers to the brink of ruin.

With print publishing on the decline, you’d think all of us production dinosaurs would be nearly extinct. And, in fact, a lot of good production folks have left the business.

But understanding how to get stuff from one end of the pipeline to the other also gives us a career advantage: In a notoriously siloed industry, where each department typically has a myopic focus only on its own part of the business, someone who knows how to get everything flowing together can be valuable.

It’s no wonder that our industry’s most notorious pundit, BoSacks, is a production guy (not to mention yours truly): Nowhere else are you forced to learn as much about what goes on in the other publishing silos.

Know the flow
Knowing the flow has become more valuable as the shift into multiple media have made magazine – forgive me, magazine-media – publishing more complex and less compartmentalized. Already accustomed to wearing multiple hats and tackling new technologies, I’ve seen some production colleagues morph into roles like web design, email marketing, and data analytics that seem far removed from their dead-tree beginnings.

And never has the need to knit together the various, and growing, publishing disciplines been more critical.

“You can’t always have every relevant department represented in a discussion, so I often find myself looking out for the interests of the missing ones,” says a colleague. “The advertising people think I’m a circulation expert. I’m not, but in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king.”

Digital publishing products likewise have employees at the end of the pipeline, with a wide variety of titles, who know the Third Law of Plumbing all too well. They too try to keep things flowing while praying that the next flush of content or data won’t overwhelm them with icky brown stuff.

You can create as much native this and responsive that as you want. But the people who can actually knit all that fancy-ass stuff together, make it comprehensible, and then actually implement it are priceless. And, like my production colleagues in the ink-on-paper world, they're largely unsung.

This article is part of our continuing Publishing Word of the Day series, which explores new and obscure terms that will help you make sense of the contemporary content-peddling business. Yeah, we promised one article every day this month, but it's gotten a bit nasty down at our end of the pipeline, so we're extending the series into August. And, who knows, maybe September.

Previous Dead Tree Edition looks inside the magazine industry include:

Monday, July 25, 2016

S&M Marketing: Welcome to the Echo Chamber

Baiting the S&M marketers. It worked.
This weekend, I discovered a fast, easy, and basically useless way to gain new Twitter followers.

Despite having more than 900 Twitter followers, my tweets these days often seem to disappear into thin air, with seemingly no one noticing.

But it’s different when I use the hashtags #SocialMediaMarketing or #ContentMarketing.

For those, the audience and “engagements” (follows, retweets, likes) are roughly four times normal. And all that action seems to come from the practitioners of those two over-hyped marketing methods, even when I’ve trashed them and their kind as charlatans.

So I conducted an experiment on Saturday:

Hypothesis: Using both hashtags in a single tweet will generate lots of new followers, regardless of what the tweet actually says.

Experimental Method: I sent the “basically sucks” tweet you see here on Saturday, followed a few minutes and five new followers later by the “robo-followers” retweet.

Results: In the next 48 hours, I picked up 27 new Twitter followers, almost all of them self-described social-media (S&M, for short) marketers or content marketers (CMs). (Or both, God help us.) I rarely get more than one new follower per day. I was added to two Twitter lists, which basically never happens. And both the tweet and retweet are still getting additional likes.

Conclusion: Hypothesis confirmed. A lot of S&M marketing consultants’ idea of marketing is to set their Twitter accounts to robo-like any tweet about S&M marketing and to robo-follow the sender. The same goes for CMs.

Testing the conclusion: Come “join the conversation,” as the S&Ms like to parrot: Try this experiment yourself -- preferably with a tweet about this article -- and see what happens. Of course, the likers won’t actually read your tweets and the followers won't look into who you are before following you.

ISIS could tweet “Hitler is God #SocialMediaMarketing” and I swear these Pavlovian sleazeballs would follow.

What this means is that any idiot can set himself (they’re usually men) up as an S&M marketing expert and immediately gain cred by racking up a host of followers from the S&M echo chamber. And look, Mr. Unsuspecting Client, every time our expert tweets, he gets lots of likes and even more followers. Wow, he must really know S&M marketing. (He ought to, as much as he tweets about it. But what can he actually do for your business?)

So what does robo-following, our Publishing Word of the Day, have to do with publishing? The S&M marketing and CM hype networks have for the most part set themselves up as enemies of advertising-supported publishing. (“Why do you need to pay for advertising? Everyone is on Facebook. So just let us set up a Facebook page for you. It's free -- except for our fees.”)

Some of what publishers offer, such as native advertising, is arguably content marketing. The CM purists, however, will have none of that, insisting that Paid Media doesn’t count, that CM marketing must be free. (“But pay me within 15 days or your blog is toast.”)

Don’t get me wrong: Not all S&M marketing and CM are a useless waste of time and money. Just the vast majority.

Set your social-media accounts to robo-follow Dead Tree Edition’s 31-part Publishing Word of the Day series, which explores such useful new terms as Facehumping and denialsizing.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Publishing's Invasion of the Monitor Lizards

"It looks fine on my monitor."
Magazine publishers' moves into digital media have spawned a new type of monster -- the monitor lizard.

"It looks fine on my monitor" are the favorite words of monitor lizards. Our Publishing Word of the Day describes designers hired for their digital-media chops who find themselves creating work for an unfamiliar medium, print.

These reptiles don't understand that what appears on their screens is a somewhat idealized version of what will happen in print. They don't realize that, without a few simple precautions, that beautiful page they created could turn to disaster.

I'm sure the infographic excerpted here from a section front of The Wall Street Journal, with a blurry "France" and nearly illegible "Germany," looked stunning on the designer's Mac. But the mess that resulted should have been no surprise: Small "knockout" (white) type atop a multi-color background is a recipe for disaster.

Blurry "knockout" type in The Wall Street Journal
It's one thing when the lizards are inhouse, where the production director has (some) credibility and can show the designer that printed colors don't usually "register" (align) perfectly.

You can eventually get them to understand that, because the printing and trimming of pages are somewhat imprecise, there are industry standards and a few basic tricks they have to keep in mind.

But now the monitor lizards have invaded the advertising business. These poisonous reptiles seem to have taken over the entire design and production functions at some small and even medium-sized ad agencies. Clients are paying these agencies good money to do something they have no clue how to do -- create magazine ads.

I find myself increasingly having to reject  ads for the most basic of problems -- like PMS colors in what's supposed to be a four-color ad, lack of bleed, and failure to include crop marks. Sometimes it's just carelessness, but often I have to explain some real Print 101 concepts to the agency personnel so that they can fix the ad.

And sometimes we just say, "Screw it. We'll add the crop marks ourselves."

Other articles in which Mr. Tree has gotten his print geek on include:

Friday, July 22, 2016

Adrift for 19 Months: The U.S. Postal Service

If you want to understand why the U.S. Postal Service seems so dysfunctional, look no further than its governing board.

If you can find it.

The USPS Board of Governors is a ghost ship (our latest Publishing Word of the Day), set adrift 19 months ago when its vacancies outnumbered its members. Now it's down to three members -- the Postmaster General, the Deputy Postmaster General, and a former Congressman -- and eight vacancies.

The USPS has become "another front in the lasting conflict between the White House and Congress over the appointment process," writes the R Street Institute, a think tank that apparently first applied the ghost ship moniker to the USPS board.

Before it lost its quorum, the board appointed the remaining governors as a Temporary Emergency Committee to guide the nation's second-largest employer.

"There is a question about whether the courts would hold this valid, but no one has challenged it," Chairman James Bilbray, the lone independent member, has been quoted as saying. "We can't function. We can continue to deliver the mail for now but we can't do the things we need to do. We can't change policies or make major purchases like a new fleet of trucks. There could be lots of problems."

And with PMG Megan J. Brennan and Deputy PMG Ron Stroman holding a majority of votes, it's nearly impossible to institute any changes or restructuring of USPS's top management.

Feel the Bern
Congress has not filled a vacancy on the board since 2010. Multiple reports indicate the hold-up is Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, who has reportedly blocked President Obama's nominations to protest the closing of some USPS processing and distribution centers.Or perhaps he thinks President Trump will appoint members more to his liking.

In any case, the Postal Service is "Berned": The Senate's arcane rules don't allow it to approved a nomination that a single senator has placed on hold.

For those of us in the magazine industry, it's quite comforting to know that we're turning over, oh, 80% or so of our copies to an organization that is so neglected by its Congressional overseers. And I'm sure the 630,000-plus USPS employees just love working for such a political football.

In honor of the magazine industry's largest vendor, Dead Tree Edition's Publishing Word of the Day series includes such USPS-related terms as inadvertent, cap carping, and U.S. Parcel Service.