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Waiting to See How the Mercury News Situation Shakes Out

Publishers balance support while mulling alternate distribution plans.

Linda Ruth By Linda Ruth
05/15/2013 -12:01 PM

I was recently reminded of a long-ago occasion on which one of my daughters went for a walk on an icy slope and begin to slip. Though she tried to dig in her feet scrabbled with her hands, the downward momentum took her right to the edge of a quarry, where she grabbed a tuft of grass to hang on until our local fire department came to fetch her home.

In an industry that has already weathered many blows, some pretty recent, it can’t be good news that Mercury News is ordering product from month-to-month by purchase order rather than standing order; it can’t be good news that they are accepting product C.O.D. rather than paying on invoice; it can’t be good news that they have cut their orders back to the top 500 or so publications and do not provide the orders for those titles until days or weeks after the publications have been printed.

Besides the general anxieties associated with this kind of thing, the situation is just plain sad. We all want to see Mercury succeed, and it isn’t only because none of us want to see another bankruptcy or further industry consolidation. We want them to succeed because we like them. They’ve been the plucky agency, associated with the News Group but maintaining some independence as well.

We know the people at Mercury, some recently moved over from other distributors, bringing their skills to the support of the wholesaler. When Mercury was able to operate at full strength they were very cooperative; we hope that such a time will come again.

But there are other reasons to feel shaky about this situation as well. When Mercury cuts out all but the top 500 titles, and cuts the ones it keeps back to a percentage of base draw, it does affect distribution of, well, pretty much everyone.  

Because here's the thing: Mercury distributes in Texas, a state not inconsequential for magazine distribution. Indeed, historically it's been in one of the top three to five markets for many specialty publishers. Mercury distributes to Walmart and to airports. There are publishers to whom Walmart, Texas, and airports represent three important distribution targets. There are publishers who have paid dearly for that distribution.

From a publisher's point of view, it seems fair to question how much sense it makes to wait to develop backup plans, alternate ways of distribution into the market. The situation, we hear, is fluid; it changes minute by minute, day by day, week by week. And Mercury is doing what it can. It's engaged a company whose specialty is restructuring companies facing challenges such as theirs. It's working with its distributors to come up with mutually-beneficial plans.

We all want to do our part to maintain the health of our business. Part of that means to support the players their hour of need.

In the meantime, we clutch what tufts of grass we find and wait to see what unfolds.


Linda Ruth is Principal of Publisher Single Copy Sales Services. Her book of case studies, "How to Market Your Magazine on the Newsstand," is available at BookDojo.com and at Amazon.

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