Mike Simmons wrote:
While everyone jumps all over a company when there are cuts -- ascribing
them to people who don't care about their customers -- the fact is that a
business needs to make enough money to stay alive. Making a profit would
be good as well. This isn't a volunteer effort. If the company is doing
poorly then either they make changes or go out of business. Going bust is
also bad for us loyal customers.
You mention that some of the people who lost their jobs were making poor
management decisions. This implies two things: 1) the company was being
poorly run and thus was *not* doing well, which certainly necessitates
changes (which *always* means making very difficult decisions), and 2)
they're getting rid of the right people, which implies they're making the
Or they were given an impossible task.
It's either a company that needs fixing that is finally getting the
attention it needs, or it was doing fine and the new owners are just going
to ruin it (for no apparent reason after a large expenditure to acquire
it). The former makes sense but the latter doesn't. Sky and Telescope is
most definitely not a cash cow (as someone put it); it's a small-time niche
publication in the world of publishing. Wringing "every last dollar from
the company" wouldn't be worth the expense of buying it and the subsequent
As you mention later in your post, you are not a business person. I am
the former ad manager at Astronomy. Long ago, yes, but at least I have
15 years' experience in print media.
Mike, I agree with everything else you've posted, but have to take issue
with the "no cash cow" part. Sky & Telescope has all three of the major
1. Advertising rates are set by cost-per-thousand readers, which is a
magic formula that accounts for both internal and external realities. In
short, how much you need and how much the competition is charging.
Usually the former is more important for S&T because even though S&T's
circulation is lower than Astronomy's, its audience of mid-to-high level
astronomers is prime and very loyal so there's no need for the magazine
to discount to attract advertisers. Advertisers have told me over the
years that their response from S&T is consistently better than from
Astronomy, although both are profitable. See the listing of advertisers
and compare it to Astronomy's, or just heft the two side-by-side.
2. Those loyal readers renew at an extremely high rate, better than 90%,
which means that the expense of replacing them is relatively low.
Astronomy's renewal rate is high also; I don't know which is higher.
Mass circulation magazines can drop below 60, 50 or even 40% renewals,
which means a huge expense to maintain circulation and therefore ad
revenue. See "CPM" above.
3. S&T's subscription price is also relatively high. They dominate
astronomy clubs and this is also the only area where they discount, but
it gives them a high quality audience. Otherwise, they get full price
for their subscriptions. No "save 75% by subscribing" here.
To summarize, S&T gets high renewal at full rates from a very high
quality readership, along with full-price ad revenue. Niche or not,
that's a cash cow.
The fact is that virtually every print publication in the country is having
problems these days. Most ascribe that to the Internet and many are trying
to adapt but most are still having a hard time of it. The New York Times
is one example among many. Sky and Telescope may be a big deal to us but
it's still a niche publication that's going to have a very hard time in an
environment where even venerable publications with world-wide reputations
among the general populace are having historic difficulties.
Interesting point, but I wonder if a niche publication will be affected
by the Internet as greatly as a mass market one. You can get general
news anywhere, even blogs get it right sometimes, but hobby news
coverage is much less thorough. Still, time will tell.
I don't have all the facts so I can't (well, won't) voice an opinion. And
I'm not a business person so I can't evaluate NewTrack's decisions. But
they may just be doing what's neccesary to keep Sky alive. I hope they
succeed. I've been a subscriber for 35+ years and I intend to continue as
long as they're in business. It's still a product that's well worth the
cost for me. And they need all the subscribers they can get these days.
I like S&T also, having been in this game for 40+ years. I compare it to
Fine Woodworking, a quality niche pub if ever there was one.