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April 9, 2020


Publishing News

Texas Monthly Drops Paywall for 2020
MediaPost: "Texas Monthly is lifting the paywall on its website for the rest of 2020, editor in chief Dan Goodgame and president Scott Brown announced on TM's site and in an email to readers on Wednesday. TM's COVID-19 coverage was already free access for all. TM put up a metered paywall in February 2019. Goodgame [says] the pandemic and the collapse of oil prices brought “an opportunity to better serve a much larger group of readers and make ourselves valuable to them in this crisis.” In March, TM's site drew nearly twice its previous record for monthly traffic, for its 2017 Hurricane Harvey coverage. TM increased its editorial staff by 50% during the last nine months, allowing the publication to produce more journalism on the website. Goodgame says the hope is that TM can “show what we have to offer,” and some readers will choose to subscribe once the paywall goes back up at the end of the year. That includes its service journalism — such as outdoor recreation options for Texans, or the best restaurants offering takeout and delivery — and long-form stories, such as the upcoming profile on Paulette Jiles, a bestselling Texas-based author, as well as coverage of COVID-19, the economy and the oil bust. The idea to lift the paywall dovetailed with TM changing the cover story for its May issue... [from] a story about a fishing safari... to [one] on COVID-19, and the slow pandemic response from Texas public officials." Print subscribers who sign up to take advantage of their exclusive access to the magazine's app and new digital replica edition will receive a special issue on country music star Willie Nelson with their September print issues. 

Print Book Units Up 6.9% Last Week
PW: "An earlier arrival than last year of Easter and Passover has helped soften the sales blow caused by the pandemic. In fact, unit sales of print books rose 6.9% last week in comparison with the previous week at outlets that report to NPD BookScan. Sales had been soft in the week ended March 28, falling 9.2% vs. the prior week.All four major publishing categories posted gains last week, led by juvenile fiction (+12.2%). Nine of the top 10 bestsellers in the category were about Easter or spring,.. Overall, sales in the holidays/festivals/religion category jumped 49.2% over the prior week"...

Hightimes Holding Suspends Dope, Culture Mags; GroupNine Cuts 7% of Staff
MediaPost: "Hightimes Holding Corp., home to High Times magazine, in addition to other cannabis-related pubs, is suspending publication of Dope and Culture magazines, several outlets have reported. Six staff from the magazines have been furloughed.The company plans to reinstate all furloughed employees following the outbreak’s containment.Ganjapreneur reports the company decided to make the move after the mass shut down of in-store dispensary shopping following the outbreak of COVID-19. Because customers were now ordering online or taking advantage of curbside pickup, Dope and Culture, which are distributed to dispensaries’ waiting rooms, lost their audience.Hightimes Holding Corp. acquired Dope and Culture in 2018... Separately, digital publisher Group Nine, home to The Dodo, Thrillist and NowThis, will layoff 7% of its employees companywide, around 50 people in total, Axios reports. A small percentage of employees will also be furloughed.The move follows Group Nine CEO Ben Lerer’s warning that the company would take steps to mitigate economic fallout during the pandemic. At that time, compensation reductions across executive leadership and a hiring freeze were announced, in addition to a temporary freeze of its 401(k) matching program and nonmandatory merit increases."

Hearst CEO Promises No Newspaper Layoffs, Pay Cuts "Bucking the newspaper industry trend, Hearst Corporation has told its newsrooms there will be no layoffs, no furloughs and no pay cuts during the course of coronavirus coverage.In fact, Hearst CEO Steven Swartz told publishers and editors in a conference call this week, the company is giving a 1% bonus to all employees, will create an added bonus merit pool later and is waiving the budget targets that determine executive bonuses.In addition, the company is taking out six-figure TV ad buys in some markets to promote the papers and their pandemic coverage. The conference call was internal, but summarized for Poynter from several sources who requested anonymity.Hearst’s 24 dailies include the San Francisco Chronicle, Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express-News, Times Union of Albany, New York, and a Connecticut group"...

Indie Bookseller Survey Shows Toll of COVID-19
PW: Booksellers from New York, Maine, California, Missouri, Washington, and 14 other states contributed preliminary financial estimates on March sales [to PW]… The results show March sales down 9.4% on average vs. the previous March, and down 6.5% on average vs. February 2020. As government orders became more restrictive, many bookstores successfully appealed to readers to stock up on books before staying at home, encouraged gift card purchases, offered curbside and home delivery, and getting readers to shop online for books and audiobooks. As a result, not all stores saw a steep drop in sales, and a handful even saw record-high sales. One store reported a 1500% increase in gift card sales alone.March online sales rose steadily to a minimum of 34.8% of total sales, with many stores still processing orders at the time of the survey. However, online sales come at a cost. Twenty percent of respondents began using the new indie online ordering platform during the month, but even with the generous terms extended by the company in response to the outbreak, the margins on sales through the website are approximately 25% below those of direct sales. Margins are also lower through wholesale direct fulfillment from vendors such as Ingram Direct to Home.Even if margins were not impacted, the rapid transition to online sales has a radical affect on cash flow for booksellers, who traditionally collect margin and cost of goods in the full purchase price of a book and now only receive the profit margin. Taken together, the loss of margin and disruption to cash flow are two reasons that layoffs and furloughs at stores have been so severe"...

Print, Network TV COVID-19 Coverage Get High Marks; Not So Social Media
MediaPost's Rob Williams writes: "Most Americans say the news media is doing a good job covering the crisis, including publishers that have suffered as many advertisers slash media spending. 66% of U.S. adults who mainly get their political and election news from print sources rated the coverage of COVID-19 as "good" or "excellent," while 68% said the same about network TV, according to a Pew Research Center survey. People who get most of their news from social media were most likely to say the news coverage about the pandemic was lacking. More than half (58%) of this group said the news media were doing a "poor" or "only fair" job at responding to the outbreak, and only 41% had a favorable view... Newspaper readers are more likely than other media consumers to say they pay for local news, according to Pew... That favorable view of print media may ring hollow among news publishers cutting costs, firing workers and limiting distribution to survive the crisis. But it's also an opportunity for publishers to showcase their strengths in providing reliable news to people hungry for information about their communities. A newspaper subscription is the best money anyone can spend, especially during a pandemic."


Retail News

Costco's 5-Week Sales Up 11.7% Due to COVID-19 Stockups; Ecommerce Surge
PG: "The most impressive feat Costco achieved in March was a 49.8% increase in ecommerce sales, an online sales record for the retailer..." SN: "Driven by consumer stockpiling in response to the coronavirus pandemic, net sales and U.S. comparable sales at Costco Wholesale climbed by double digits for the March sales period. Total net sales jumped 11.7% to $15.49B for the five weeks ended April 5, vs. $13.87B a year earlier, Costco said yesterday. “Our comp traffic, or frequency, for March was up 3.7% worldwide and 5.3% in the U.S. The average transaction was up 5.7% for the month, which includes the impacts from foreign exchange and gas deflation,” David Sherwood, assistant VP of finance and investor relations at Costco, told analysts. The March results continued Costco’s strong sales momentum triggered by the coronavirus outbreak in February... For the four weeks ended March 1, covering the February sales period, Costco totaled net sales of $12.2B, up 13.8%. Adjusted for fuel and foreign exchange, comp sales rose 11.7% companywide and 11.6% in the U.S., 10.4% in Canada and 13.5% internationally for February, with 22.7% ecommerce growth. “March sales were significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The initial response to the pandemic led to significant sales and traffic increases... Those increases extended midway through the March reporting period,” Sherwood explained. “Around that time... we began implementing operational changes. One example is limiting the number of individuals allowed in our warehouses at any given time... we have changed warehouse hours; temporarily closed some segments of our business such as optical, hearing aid and mini-lab; limited service at food courts; and in some locations ceased sales of certain merchandise deemed nonessential by regulators. These developments slowed sales as compared to the first half of March.” Unsurprisingly, consumables and health/personal care categories saw the strongest comp-sales growth in March, excluding foreign exchange. Sherwood reported that food and sundries rose by percentages in the mid-30s. Departments with the strongest results were food, frozen food and sundries. Fresh foods were up mid-20s. Better-performing departments included meat and produce, he said. Hardlines were down by low single digits and softlines saw declines in the mid-20s... For the fiscal year to date, spanning 31 weeks, net sales came in at $96.25B, up 9% from $88.29B in the prior-year period. Total comp sales rose 7.5% (7.8% excluding fuel/foreign exchange), with U.S. comps up 8% (7.9% excluding fuel/foreign exchange). Ecommerce sales in the period were up 22.2% on a comparable basis."

Unemployment Claims Soared by 6.6M Last Week; 17M Over Past 3 Weeks
NPR: "The number of people seeking unemployment benefits shot up again last week, as 6.6M more people filed initial claims, the Labor Department said Thursday. About 16.8M have filed in the past three weeks, and analysts expect the numbers to keep rising.In the prior week, ending March 28, a revised 6.9M people filed first-time claims. Jobless claims have skyrocketed in recent weeks, as countless restaurants, hotels, factories and offices have been forced to shut down to combat the spread of the coronavirus. A report this week from Moody's Analytics said job losses are expected to mount at "staggering" levels in the coming weeks.The firm estimated that some 45M jobs are at risk of being eliminated, because they're not considered essential and can't be done remotely.The potential loss of so many jobs is "harrowing" and "fuels our expectation that [unemployment insurance] claims will continue to accrue at historic rates in the near term," the Moody's report said. "The harsh reality is that the level of initial UI claims is unlikely to recede in the coming weeks""...

Buehler's Online Tool Tells Customers Best Times to Shop During COVID-19
SN: "Buehler’s Fresh Foods is giving customers concerned about coming to the grocery store during the coronavirus pandemic a heads-up on the “best time to shop.” Wooster, Ohio-based Buehler’s has launched a new online tool dubbed “Best Time to Shop,” which provides a color-coded indicator of the slowest and busiest store hours. On a weekly basis, Buehler’s will evaluate sales at each store for every hour and project the next week’s customer counts into three-hour time segments. That data then will be translated into color-coded time charts for each store, with red indicating the busiest shopping times, yellow showing average store traffic and green representing the slowest shopping times.Customers can access the Best Time to Shop feature on the Buehler’s website. Charts will be shown for each of the supermarket chain’s stores, with the one-week time period indicated at the top"...

Forbes: Amazon's Bezos Stll World's Richest Person; Ex-Wife Makes Ranking Debut
WWD: "While the coronavirus crisis pushed 267 people off Forbes’ annual tally of the world’s richest people, there were still plenty of billionaires around to fill out the list. Sitting at the top of the pile for the third year in a row was Jeff Bezos. This was despite the Amazon founder losing tens of billions of dollars in his divorce, lowering his net worth from $131B to $113B. But while the divorce shrank his fortune, it resulted in a new billionaire, as his ex-wife, MacKenzie Bezos, made her debut on the list at number 22 with a total net worth of $36B. Another retail billionaire featured in the top five was Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. He leapfrogged legendary investor Warren Buffett to claim the third spot, with a fortune of $76B, the same as last year. Buffett ended up in fourth place after his fortune tumbled $15B, to $67.5B, as some of his investments stumbled during the year. Bill Gates, who remained in the number-two spot with a fortune of $98 billion, up $1.5B from last year. Oracle founder Larry Ellison was in fifth place at $59B. Amancio Ortega, cofounder of Zara owner Inditex, was #6 with a net worth of $55.1ZB, followed by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at $54.7ZB.

UFCW: Mandatory COVID-19 Guidance Needed for Grocery Workers; Workers Should Be Classified as 'First Responders'
SN: "The United Food and Commercial Workers International (UFCW) union is urging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to issue standards that protect frontline workers in grocery stores, pharmacies and food processing plants — and the U.S. food and drug supply chain — from coronavirus.In a letter sent yesterday to CDC Director Robert Redfield, UFCW called on the agency to institute detailed, mandatory guidelines on cleaning, sanitation and safety conditions in stores and facilities; social distancing; personal protective equipment (PPE); and safe shopping behaviors for customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. “With the growing threat of the coronavirus, we are urging the CDC to issue new mandatory guidance that standardizes safety protocols for grocery stores, pharmacies, food processing and meatpacking facilities," UFCW International President Marc Perrone said in a statement. "Given the nature of the threat, the CDC must also provide new guidelines for physical distancing, enhanced cleaning, disinfecting and hygiene practices, personal protective equipment and best practices for customers,” he noted. To ensure physical distancing at grocery and drug stores, UFCW recommended that the CDC limit the number of customers at any given time to between 20% and 30% of a store’s capacity. Employees and customers should remain at least six feet apart, and stores should mark a “social distancing line” that starts six feet away from all checkout counters. All workers at grocery stores and pharmacies also should be required to wear face masks, gloves and any other PPE available at the workplace, UFCW said. To that end, the CDC should mandate that all employers provide N95 face masks, gloves and other PPE when available... Meanwhile, the CDC should require customers to “shop smart” at food and drug stores during the coronavirus crisis by always covering their faces with a mask or cloth; practicing social distancing throughout the store, limiting number of shoppers to one per family, discard their PPE in trash cans and respecting special shopping times for seniors... Washington, D.C.-based UFCW represents 1.3M workers in grocery, meatpacking, food processing, retailing and other industries... [In addition,] on Tuesday, the union partnered with Albertsons Cos., the second-largest U.S. supermarket operator, in a national drive to classify grocery workers as emergency first responders as coronavirus continues to spread across the country. Albertsons and UFCW said aim to obtain a temporary designation of “extended first responders” or “emergency personnel” for grocery associates, which would enable those employees to be prioritized for testing and PPE"...
Supermarket News (CDC)
Supermarket News (First Responder Designation)

Opinion: Coronavirus Shows Need for Improved Supply Chain
In SN, SAP executive Randy Evins writes i npart: "When I say that digitalization is the new mandate for the grocery industry, I don’t mean merely e-commerce. Digital strategies must go even deeper to cover the entire value chain — addressing the need for connected processes, real-time transactional data and immediate visibility into store-level inventory.Supermarkets can no longer afford to order new products and additional inventory blindly. They need to know what is available on their store shelves, store backrooms and distribution centers — by SKU and quantity and in light of forecasted demand. Take, for example, a store manager who sees only four boxes of a popular cereal brand on an aisle shelf. It would be helpful to know that a case of it is still sitting in the backroom of the store and five more pallets will soon arrive on the next truck delivery. But without that visibility, the manager may needlessly submit a new order to the distribution center that would result in unnecessary overstock of the one product. In fact, in the future of grocery digitalization, the store manager wouldn’t even look at this content; instead, the business system would do all the work.Meanwhile, digital ordering is becoming a significant trend in the shopping experience. Over the past two years, FMI has predicted that 25% to 30% of a grocer’s sales volume will consist of digital orders by 2025, compared to 6% to 10% today. However, the trajectory of this new reality will likely accelerate dramatically as consumers continue to restrict their exposure and practice social distancing.Let’s face it: Every aspect of the grocery business is connected, and so are consumers. It’s time to become digitally connected — the store, inventory management system, warehouse and distribution centers, suppliers’ value chain and even the consumer"...


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