Ten Years Ago Today

Ten years ago I entered the publishing world when I bought Connections Magazine from its founder, Steve Michaels.

The transaction was done in parts, that is the documents for the sale were not signed at the same time or at the same location, but on different days via fax and mail.  As a result, I don’t know what day the sale was official, but what I do know is that the package of publication’s records and files arrived on September 10, 2001.

Early that next day, I dove into the treasure trove of information that would set my career in a new direction. I was understandably excited and wanted to quickly grasp the nuances of my new business.

My morning bliss, however, was interrupted by my bride who uncharacteristically popped into my office to inform me that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center building. Assuming that it as a novice pilot in a single engine plane, I dismissed the news and resumed work. But not for long.

Soon I was drawn to the TV and the horrific events that would forever change life in the United States. For a time, my labors no longer mattered; ceasing all attempts to work, I watched the news in shock. I wondered what this would mean to the future of business and commerce — and the magazine operation I had just bought. Would I end up being a victim of bad timing?

For the rest of that week, I did only the work that was absolutely required. Then, life slowly began to reclaim a degree of normalcy, even if normal no longer existed.

As we remember the events of 9-11 and the people who innocently lost their lives, we can also celebrate the resiliency of our country and our ability to prevail and succeed. Personally, I can also celebrate Connections Magazine and the new path it has provided.

Magazine Goes Green – Sort of

A weekly (or almost weekly) magazine that I receive, recently announced that it was going to have four “green” issues this year, with the goal of being “carbon neutral” in 10 years.

I was curious how they would handle this “green” issue.  o their credit, they emailed me when it was ready and I went online to check it out. (Even though I proof the magazines I publish on a computer and online, I greatly dislike reading magazines on my computer.  To be direct, I don’t have a computer where I do my magazine reading.)

Upon clicking on the link, it took me to a sign in page, where I essentially requalified my subscription, which was a good idea on their part, as it will save extra work and effort for them later. Additionally, I didn’t need to pick a password and login, which is a good thing, too, as I have over 150 logins and passwords for the various sites I need to use and will thankfully be spared one for this site.

The presentation of the magazine was a PDF file (as I do with the electronic versions of my Connections Magazine and AnswerStat), with some hyperlinks in the table of contents to go directly to the articles. There were also links on the top and bottom of each page to speed readers back to the table of contents, to the next page, or to the previous page.

So, all is good — sort of.  The magazine had a green issue, it was relatively painless to access, and I could read it online — unfortunately, I don’t like reading magazines online.  More on that tomorrow…

A Salute to Google Alerts

One of the many things I appreciate about Google is Google Alerts (I enjoy both the service and the fact that it is free).  With Google Alerts, you enter in a name or phrase to be tracked.  When Google finds it online, they let you know about it.

I use Google Alerts to track references of my name and magazines online.  This helps me keep my finger on the pulse of what is happening relative to me in Cyberspace.  Plus, if there is misinformation (which happened once), I can to correct it (which was partially successful).  I think everyone should set up a Google Alert for his or her name and business.

Of course, many of the matches that pop up are to my own websites.  Other matches are not for me.  For example, a prodigious blogger who shares my name seems to post daily on a couple of blogs.  I only have a faint idea of what he is talking about, but am quite sure that he is an expert.  Thanks to Google Alerts I know about him; I wonder if he knows — or cares — about me?  (I’m not narcissistic, just curious.)

The phrase “Connections Magazine” gives frequent matches to other publications with the word Connections in the title, such as “Cycle Connections” magazine, “Irish Connections” magazine, “Cable Connections” magazine, many “Connections” magazine, and even other “Connections Magazine.”  At this time, I’ve logged over 30 and I am sure there are more.  Someday I will post a list.

Over the weekend, there was a blog post by Randy Saunders mentioning Connections Magazine.  He wrote an article in Connections, back in ’07, entitled “Creating a Virtual Contact Center.”  He shared with readers how he could link to the specific page of his article, on the PDF file of that issue, by appending the web address with “#page=” and the page number.  If not for Google Alerts, I would have never known about his post or the nifty trick that he shared.  Of course, I felt obliged to comment on his post, thanking him for the info and letting him know of the link to the text version of his article.

Thank you Google and thank you Randy.

Green Publishing

A growing trend in magazine publishing is “going green.”  Green publishing means different things to different people and includes many facets.  The most common and visible result of green publishing is digital editions.  Digital editions are issues that are not printed on paper but read on a computer screen or reading device, such as Amazon’s Kindle.

For my magazines, we offer two options for digital reading.  One is a PDF file of the complete issue, exactly as it will be printed.  The other is a list of links to each article on our websites.  This is a basic, first step that I have taken, while awaiting for the more advance digital publishing technologies to shake out and for a reader preference to emerge.

Our digital editions are available a week prior to the magazine being printed and mailed, so our on-line readers get a huge jump on everyone else.  We’ve been doing this the longest with Connections Magazine and about 15% of our readers receive digital issues.  AnswerStat magazine is at 3%.  For both, the new subscribers tend to opt for digital over print.  This is certainly a trend that we will see more and more of, which is being accelerated by the current recession.

Here are some stats, courtesy of Folio magazine, from PennWell Digital Reader Surveys, about why magazine subscribers go digital:

  • 67% – easy to save
  • 61% – environmentally friendly
  • 52% – the ability to search issues
  • 48% – easy to forward
  • 45% – more timely than print
  • 34% – prefer reading on a computer

As for me, there is something about holding the magazine in my hand and not being tied to my computer that I just can’t shake.

Why Work Is Cyclical

In theory, my workload should proceed as a steady flow of predictable effort year round.  In reality, it doesn’t happen that way.

It takes five weeks from start to finish to produce one issue of one magazine.  Since Connections Magazine is published ten times a year and AnswerStat is published six times, this means that I am typically working on two issues at any given time.  This results in a steady, expected ebb and flow of activity.  Add to that, ArticleWeekly, which is updated weekly, scheduled monthly duties, and at least one blog entry every business day (for one of seven blogs).  It would seem that my work should smoothly move from one day to the next, evenly paced throughout the year.

The reality is that my effective workload is quite cyclical.  From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, things are slow.  Between Christmas and New Year’s, it’s extremely slow.  It’s also slow during the summer.  After Memorial Day, things drop off noticeably, and after the Fourth of July, it’s as if someone turned off a switch; it stays that way until Labor Day.

The times between New Year’s Day and Memorial Day, as well as Labor Day to Thanksgiving Day are my “busy times.”

Ironically, I have the same amount of work to do throughout the year, but it takes twice as long to accomplish it during my “busy times.”  The reason is that during my “busy times,” I receive many more ancillary phone calls and email messages (mostly email).  These communications don’t directly relate to my primary work of publishing magazines or websites, but are tangential to it.

The flood of these secondary interactions is so much so that during my “slow times” I can generally do all required work in 3 to 6 hours a day, whereas during my “busy times” it takes 6 to 10 hours to accomplish the same amount of essential work.  In fact, during my “busy times,” some Mondays are so bad, that all I do is respond to messages; some Friday afternoons are like that as well.

My conclusion in all this is that secondary email messages result in a huge productivity drain — in my case about 50%.  If we can just curb non-essential email, we could reclaim a great deal of lost productivity.

A Trip to the ATA Convention

Tomorrow afternoon, I’m heading off to the ATA (American Teleservices Association Meeting) in San Antonio, Texas.  It should be a great meeting and I’m excited about it (all except for the traveling part).

I won’t likely be blogging while I’m gone, but do plan to submit some convention reports on the Connections Magazine newsfeed, so if you’re in the call center industry, check that out next week (October 5-8).  I also hope to record some interviews as well.

In an unrelated issue, Detroit is currently playing San Antonio for the WNBA finals.  Ironically, I will not be in state where any of the five scheduled games will be played (not that I have any interest in going).  The first two were in San Antonio this week, while I was in Michigan.  The next two will be in Michigan, while I am in San Antonio.  The final game, if necessary, will be in San Antonio, after I return to Michigan.  I doubt, however, we will ever get to game five, as Detroit took the first two and only needs to win one more.  They should accomplish that on Sunday — unless they get overconfident.

So, when I return, I may have something to blog about traveling (airlines and hotels), continue on my NEA post from earlier this week, or share about my latest saga with the post office… or maybe something completely different.

In any event, I will try to keep it interesting.

That’s a Lot of Blogging

I’ve been officially blogging now for 8 months, 19 days.  During that time, I have made 180 entries in this blog, totaling 51,620 words — the size of a small book!

Although I enjoy blogging, finding the ideal time to write has not been easy.  Initially, I wrote in the evening, after my workday was done.  This kept blogging from encroaching on vocation, but was also the time at which my writing prowess is at its lowest.  In addition to that, I found that if I blogged just before bedtime, I had difficulty shutting my mind off and falling asleep.  Next, I tried ending my workday with a blog, but then didn’t work either as I was pushing to finish my workday with a flourish, which bogged down my blogging focus.  Most recently, I tried to write right after a shortened lunch, but again work distractions abounded.

Actually, my best time to write is first thing in the morning; I’ve known that all along.  However, if I blog then, I’m not doing the writing for which I actually earn a living, but the kind that is merely fun.  So my dilemma of when to blog continues.

I also intended to write about three blogs a week, but with so many ideas bouncing around my brain, the desire to write has triumphed, producing five or more entries a week.  So, to maintain a sustainable and manageable plan, I’m going to (try to) cut back to three times a week, while attempting to set aside mid afternoons for blogging.

On top of this, I have started other blogs.

That’s a lot of blogging!

Internet Sales Rise and Fall With Catalog Mailings

The DMA (Direct marketing Association) recently released their annual report on the catalog industry.

The report indicated that in 2007, 36% of sales [for the catalog industry] were conducted online. What is shocking is that this statistic is a decrease from 2006, when it stood at 40%. In fact 2007’s percentage was lower than both 2005 and 2004. To find a lower number, we need to go back to 2003, when it was a mere 29%.

What’s the deal? Is there a backlash against online buying?

No, seemingly it was a postage increase! This convincing theory blames the huge postage increase in May of 2007 as the culprit. Many catalogers drastically scaled back their mailings when their postage costs jumped 40%. Although some Internet buyers function strictly online, others are driven online when they receive a catalog or other direct mail piece. Ergo, less mailings equal less orders, and a decrease in sales.

I, too, feel the pain of the catalogers, as I experienced similar increases in postage for my magazines: Connections Magazine‘s postage increased 39% and AnswerStat, 41%. As a result, I began scrutinizing my subscriber list much more closely. Some magazines were pushed to e-publishing, dropping their print versions altogether.

So it should not be at all surprising that the USPS is seeing a drop in mail volume, which caused them to suffer a $1.1 billion loss for the third quarter. As a result, next year’s postage increase is expected to be the maximum legal amount. Experts predict that could mean magazines and catalogs will face a 5 to 6% bump.

Of course that means the affected mailers will scale back more, further lowering mail volume, and necessitating another maximum increase in 2010 — as mailing costs and post office efficacy spiral further out of control.

So, You Found My Website — Which One?

Many people are amazed and impressed that my web address matches my name: PeterDeHaan.com. I’ve had it for almost eight years. When I registered it in 2000, it was not hard to procure a domain name matching one’s given name. (At the time, DeHaan.com was also available, and I vacillated on which one to register.)

However, I also have several other websites:

ConnectionsMagazine.com and AnswerStat.com are for my two magazines, as well as Article Weekly for online articles. These are also my most visited sites.

Most of my other sites relate to the call center industry. Three are locator sites: FindACallCenter.com, FindAnAnsweringService.com, and FindAHealthcareCallCenter.com

Two other sites: StartACallCenter.com and StartAnAnsweringService.com, were both started when I was doing consulting and grew weary of answering the same basic questions over and over.

I also have AuthorPeterDeHaan.com (about writing) and Peter DeHaan Publishing (my business website).

Then there is www.ABibleADay.com, a site to encourage regular Bible reading, with basic information for those not familiar with the Bible. Plus there are six more.

Altogether, they represent 5,000 pages of information and collectively generate about 5 millions page views a year!

On top of all this are 20 more domain names, registered and waiting for me to develop.

Express Mail is Urgent and Should be Delivered Immediately — Unless Fuel is Expensive

Each month the post office sends me two Express Mail deliveries. Each contains a CD of address changes for my two magazines, AnswerStat and Connections Magazine. It is a service that I subscribe to in order to keep my mailing lists as up-to-date as possible.

I really like the service, but dislike Express Mail because I have to sign for the deliveries. If I’m on the phone or out of the office when the mail carrier arrives (I’m a one-person office), then I have to wait until the next day. Plus, signing for the packages always interrupts something more important.

When my deliveries arrived this month, I was out of the office. The carrier left my other mail and a card about my Express Mail. I expected them to be delivered the next day, but they weren’t — nor the day after that, or the rest of the week.

Eventually, the Post Office called to say that if I didn’t pickup my packages, they would be sent back. Before I could ask them to simply deliver them, the postmaster explained that because of high fuel prices, they would only make one delivery attempt.

That’s nonsense — because they deliver mail to me every day. It’s not going to take extra fuel to drop off the Express Mail at the same time. How idiotic — and ironic, given that the package says, “Extremely Urgent — Please Rush to Addressee.”

As postal volume decreases, they become less efficient; they need a sufficient quantity of mail to be cost-effective. (If the number of pieces mailed increases 10%, their costs rise less than 10%; if there’s a 10% decrease, their costs do not go down 10%.)

Given that reality, it’s foolish to give people a reason to seek alternatives, but not delivering Express Mail in order to save fuel as a great reason to do just that.