Surviving Publishing’s Cosmic Shift

The recession is only one factor to hit publishing with an uppercut to the chin. Add the gradual exodus of readers from newspapers and magazines to the more current (and for now) free internet. The brutal tug of war for diminishing advertising dollars. The lack of a sustainable profit model. Rising postal costs. The greening of America. And, well … so much more!

This litany of changes certainly has had a profound effect on direct mail: Fewer packages mailed. Tweaks on existing packages instead of new creative. The all-too-often reverent nod to the low-cost, high-return voucher.

Just ask any fulfillment house, direct marketing consultant, marketer, list broker or creative about the direct hit to his or her bottom line. On second thought, maybe not.

So what are copywriters, designers, printers and direct mail marketers doing to accommodate publishing’s cosmic shift? Where are they now? How are they making a living? The answer is: all over the board. Here’s a quick look …

The Gadfly
“Copywriters have an excellent strategy to cope with challenging times,” says Don Hauptman, a longtime New York copywriter and author of “The Versatile Freelancer” ( “They can share their knowledge and experience, and get paid for it. Early in my career, I diversified into consulting, critiquing and staff training for client companies, as well as public speaking. This tactic gave me multiple streams of income and a sort of insurance policy in a recession. What’s more, these services are often more in demand in bad times, when copywriting assignments may decline but companies still need and want outside marketing guidance-for example, to fine-tune their existing promotions.”

The Adapter
“If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevancy even less,” says Peter Milburn, owner of RE:DIRECT LLC, a boutique creative shop that receives 80 percent of its revenue from large publishers such as Time Inc., Condé Nast and Hearst. He’s had to adjust quickly as clients shifted their promotion budgets from direct mail to predominantly online sources. That has meant replacing fees from seven-effort mailed renewal series with e-bills, e-renewals and other online promotions. It’s also meant partnering with other firms to fill in technology gaps. Milburn says, “I have had to work quickly to find the right partners to meet publishers’ changing needs. Whereas I used to spend my time concepting packages, now my function involves finding the right subvendors-from web and flash designers to mobile, social media and digital firms that can help build widgets, integrate with Facebook and contribute the expertise needed to execute on a wide variety of digital promotions.”

The Bottom Fisher
A circulation manager I know with 20 years of experience in magazine circulation marketing is a survivor of three mergers and scores of reorganizations. In terms of hiring teams to create new magazine promotions, she says that now “there’s much less emphasis on quality and more on price. The client is unquestionably in the driver’s seat. We give our vendors a budget and say, ‘Take it or leave it.'” Thanks to the success of vouchers, she doesn’t believe full-fledged promotional packages will ever come back. “Today everyone is fixed on multichannel promotions and shaving dollars off their promotional budgets.”

The Procrastinator
Designer Theo Pappas had a novel approach that included sleeping late and buying lottery tickets. According to him, “If I kept that up much longer, I’d forget how to use my software, and if a job came in, I’d have to farm it out. Not a good solution for affording necessities and cat food.

“On the advice of a go-getter colleague, I joined a professional organization, though I have yet to attend a breakfast meeting or anything else. (But I will; I will.) I’ve sent out emails to clients showing HTML renewals and online promotions, and I’ve gotten some work.