Morton Sosland: Publishing tracks course of food business
January 12, 2010
At the start of each year it has been customary to devote this page to a report to our readers and advertisers on the status of this magazine as well as the publishing company responsible for it and related publications. Typically, this page has told of plans for the year ahead, often revealing initiatives that are aimed at enhancing the information we provide to the executives, the companies and the industry we serve. These pieces, really editorials of a very different sort, have been frank in relating how this business has done, the troubling and challenging issues faced and how they have been dealt with, and the prospects that lie ahead.
This year saying that all is well in the publishing business might prompt more than a few guffaws on the part of readers who follow developments in the business world at large. No industry, it would seem, currently faces greater uncertainty or more questioning about its future than newspaper and magazine publishing. As the result of the global recession and changes within publishing itself, many companies have gone out of business, many have suffered huge losses, most have slashed employment of editors, journalists and business staff, and a majority express doubt about the viability of the business model. In many cases, publishers face dealing with lenders and other financial institutions that dismiss optimism and counsel instead that efforts be made either to sell the company or to pare operations to the core.
Quickly, let it be said that this is definitely not the experience of Milling & Baking News nor of the family-owned company that produces it. To be forthright, sure the past year has been challenging, primarily due to cautious spending on advertising by companies mainly influenced by what has been happening all around them, but well beyond the borders of the industry in which this magazine and its universe operate. The grain-based foods industry, the center of this magazine’s universe, as well as the broad food industry to which this publishing company is strongly committed, have done relatively well — some might even say very well — in what is now considered one of the worst recessions of modern times. Reaching out to readers and advertisers has never been regarded by this company as easy. It is a task to which great diligence and much attention have been given, and it is rewarding to see how this focus produces positive results, even in what might for many publishers have been the worst of times.
In asserting that this magazine and its publisher have benefited from strict adherence to the business at hand, attention must also be paid to the one development that in some ways accounts for many, if not most, of the troubles besieging so many publishing companies. That, of course, is the relation of print media to the Internet and the web. These new electronic-based systems, which were hardly conceived of a decade or so ago, are causing a full-scale revolution in publishing. Indeed, analogies to what is happening currently are being made with the introduction of the printing press many centuries earlier. The power of this change is underscored by the inability of some of the publishing companies that once were counted as dominant newspapers and overwhelmingly strong magazines to maintain anything resembling their former highly vaunted positions. These new methods, not of writing, making, interpreting or discovering news, but of simply how it is delivered, have turned the media world topsy turvy. The ruins of once proud and exalted companies bear testament to what has happened.
So far as this publication is concerned, the Internet has been embraced, not as a victorious foe, but as a powerful ally for doing an increasingly better job of what we are meant to do. Our goal always has been to provide the news about industry and markets in a a totally focused manner so as to enhance the ability of reader-executives to do what they want to do better than would be possible without what this magazine provides. Everything that is written, on this page or elsewhere in many column inches, has that single purpose in mind. If the job is done well, then enhancing the way information is delivered, through new design on the printed page or through improved web sites, stands as a common pursuit efficiently executed and also roundly celebrated. In so doing, we are confident that readers and advertisers will not only want to support these efforts, regardless of the way they are delivered, but will show their appreciation and understanding by expanding their support of and participation in our efforts.
The main question facing publishers of magazines like this journal is the extent to which readership will shift from print on page to the Internet. As yet, no iPod-like moment, when a single device suddenly changed an entire industry, like this Apple device did of music, has occurred for readers of newspapers and magazines. It is still awaited even for books where electronics are being introduced at breakneck speed. Yes, it would be foolhardy to say it doesn’t matter where articles and editorials are read, because switching from print on paper to the electronic screen is and would be a huge change. Yet, we are pledged to making that transition, if and when it occurs, an easy one for both our readers and our advertisers, and thus not a trying one for this publication itself.
As has been noted on this page in past annual reports, the people involved in this and its sister magazines sometimes wonder if they are in the publishing business or in the food business itself. After all, the ability to withstand the economic distress of the past year or longer stems from the magazine’s central role in the food business, which itself has fared better than almost any other industry in these hard times. In those few periods when the food business has not been all that was wished, such as when the Atkins diet fad wreaked havoc with bread baking, the experience of the publishing company has closely paralleled the food business. No one could say an industry as vast as food is a niche, but this publishing company’s commitment to the food business, its belief in the business as one of the best, most promising and most exciting, even with its venerable age and its strong underpinnings, make us confident that this sector is the right place to be as publishers and journalists. In effect, we are promising without hesitation to continue to serve the industry we have worked in and with for a truly marvelous 88 years.