The Price of Information

If I subscribed to every email newsletter and information service that was offered me, there would not be enough time to read them all.

So when a newsletter offer appears in my in box, which frequently happens, I give it only the briefest of consideration before pressing delete. Last week, however, I paused long enough to give one such solicitation serious consideration.

As a magazine publisher, a newsletter about publishing seemed worthy. I looked at the sample issue. It was a PDF file of eight pages in length. Eight pages is a bit too much to read online, yet I dislike printing a document merely for the sake of portability and convenience.

I scanned the contents. One article was of great interest and a second of passing appeal. Perhaps, I considered, this newsletter might be worthy of my time. I clicked on the “subscribe” link and was shocked with what I saw. It was not a free publication, but one with a cost—945 dollars. Not 9 dollars and 45 cents, but nine hundred and forty-five dollars! When I assumed it was free, I was mildly engaged, but at 945 dollars I was appallingly disinterested.Information does have its price, but how much should it be? Click To Tweet

How can someone have try to charge for news that is free and readily available? What impudence.

Yes, information does have its price, but unless it’s unique or protected, the appropriate price in today’s information laden society approaches zero.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

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Two Different Ways to Go Paperless

There is a trend of sending customers their invoices and statements via email. Businesses that do so save the expense of printing and mailing paper documents. For consumers, they receive their information faster and can file it digitally, without the need to waste paper (but I wonder how many print it anyway).

This is a practice that I both love and hate.

I love it when companies email me my invoice as an attachment. It is easy to access, view, and file. Time is saved and natural resources are not consumed.

I hate it when the email notice simply tells me my invoice or statement is available online. Then I need to go to their website, login — often a multistep process, navigate to the appropriate page, select the desired document, download it, open it, and then save it — which in some cases requires I convert it to a PDF file first. The process might be a tad easier if I click on the link provided in their email, but I don’t do that in order to protect myself from being victimized by a phishing scam. (To make this even more frustrating, one financial institution won’t even notify me via email when my statement is ready — I need to go through all these steps just to check.)

I understand these steps are required to protect my information from being accessed by the criminally-minded. But really, being forced to go paperless is not a customer-focused practice. If a business is truly interested in serving their customers, they wouldn’t force them to jump through all these hoops just to receive their statements, they would offer options: paperless or paper. It is the right thing to do.

Save a Tree

On a recent mailed statement, there was a notice that “for every 13 people who go paperless, one tree can be saved.”  Really?  What does that mean?

  • 13 people go paperless with this company for one month and one tree will be saved, or
  • 13 people go paperless with this company for one year and one tree will be saved, or
  • 13 people go paperless with this company for as long as they’re a customer and one tree will be saved, or 
  • 13 people go paperless with all companies for the rest of their lives and one tree will be saved…

None of these explanations makes sense.  The first two would not save much paper, while the last two contain too much variability to be accurately quantified.  What does make sense is going paperless when it is sensible to do so.  Going paperless and then printing out the paperless statement gains nothing, so if a hard copy is needed, don’t go paperless.  However, many statements can be received electronically, stored electronically, and later on, destroyed electronically.

I enjoy receiving invoices as email attachments.  I don’t like the alternative of receiving a notice that a statement is available for me to download.  Although a desirable precaution for banking and investment records, it is a hassle.  You need to log into a secure site, enter your login and password, navigate to the right page, and download the statement.  To make matters worse, it is inadvisable to click on email links, as they can direct you to a bogus site.  It is also inadvisable to use the same login and password for each site, which adds another level of complexity and confusion.

I’m all for saving trees and doing whenever it is practical.  However, when saving a tree is time-consuming and frustration-laden, I’ll pass.  After all, a tree can be planted to replace the one I used, but the time lost in trying to save the tree is gone forever.

A New Blog: From the Publisher’s Desk

This blog, the “Musings of Peter DeHaan,” is about nothing, but covers everything. It is essentially a sharing of my stream of conscience. While this blog will continue unabated, I have started another blog, one with a stated purpose and goal.

It is a business blog, called “From the Publishers Desk,” and shares my tips and commentary about advertising and marketing. If this topic is of interest, I encourage you to check it out. Just like this blog, you can sign up to be notified via email of new posts or subscribe to a list feed.

[In 2013, the name of the blog changed to “The Book Blog,” and the focus became book publishing. All old posts were saved in the archive section.]

The New Phone Book’s Here!

In Steve Martin’s 1979 movie, “The Jerk,” one scene shows protagonist Navin (Martin) gleefully proclaiming “The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here!”

For some reason, I recall that line each year when the phone book is delivered.  Back in the day when I ran Yellow Page ads, I would, with an equal amount of excitement, quickly turn to see my ads.

Later, my focus became checking the listing for my residence in the white pages.  But it wasn’t the same.  Even that practice has waned in recent years.  Now, half the phone books I receive are immediately discarded without their contents even being considered.

This year, however, that urge to review my listing re-emerged.  To my surprise, this year’s installment contains no residential section, just a business listing section and the yellow pages.  On the cover, there’s an unobtrusive instruction to go to their Web site for residential listings.

That seems strange.  They need people to use their book to give value to the advertisements that appear in it, yet they give people one more reason to not use it.  True, the residential white pages generate very little revenue and are an expense, so for the short-term, it seems like a no-brainer to eliminate them.  But for the long term, they are doing themselves harm.

By the way, their book ended up in the trash.

The Work of Publishing Periodicals

I publish four periodicals: two magazines, an e-publication, and an e-newsletter. There is an established workflow to each, with every day requiring that some task be accomplished for at least one of them.

Additionally, one of the magazines has an overlapping production schedule, meaning that sometimes I have to start the next issue before the current one is finished. The result is that at any given time, I am working on four or five publications. Given a bit of discipline, it is all quite manageable — when I am in the office.

Two weeks ago, I missed four days in the office due to traveling to and covering a convention. I began my preparations in earnest two weeks prior to departure, working in advance and accomplishing tasks ahead of schedule to the degree it was possible. Essentially, this meant doing three weeks of production work in two weeks. Some ancillary things, such as blogging, fell by the wayside.

Then I was gone for a week. Then I spent a week getting caught up from being gone. This included doing those tasks that could not be done in advance, responding to issues that arose while I was gone, and following up on everything from the convention.

So, the essence is that being gone for four days required a concerted effort lasting four weeks.

Although this may sound like complaining, it is really explaining — why it has been 21 days since my last blog entry.

[If you are interested, my publications are Connections Magazine, AnswerStat, TAS Trader, and Medical Call Center News.]

Forty years ago today

Forty years ago today, on July 20, 1969, two men, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, landed on the moon and walked on its surface.  It was an historic event, the crowning achievement of space travel to date, and produced one of the most iconic images of the twentieth century.

Other visits were made since, but none in the past 30 years.  Apparently, there are no compelling reasons — at this time — to return.

Still, it was and continues to be a memorable event.  As with many events of great historic significance, people tend to remember where they were, what they were doing when, or how they heard about it.

For me, other such events of such monumental proportions were not happy ones or joyous occasions, such as the assassinations of JFK and Dr King or the terrorist attacks on September 11.

Do you remember where you were when you heard about or saw man’s first step on the moon?

Although Neil Armstrong was and is the focal point of attention with his “one small step,” there were countless others how worked to make the “giant leap for mankind” happen.

Today we can salute them all as we remember with awe the great feat that was accomplished.

Is Two Really Twice As Good As One?

Several years ago, I sought to add another product to my publishing business. I looked at options and considered alternatives. Two possibilities rose to the top. I began investigating both, planning to pursue whichever path opened up first.  Instead, they did. So, I embarked on two nearly simultaneous publication launches: AnswerStat magazine (addressing medical call centers) and Answer Plus Newsletter (for telephone answering services). 

AnswerStat is an advertiser-supported magazine, in which ad revenues cover the production and distribution costs; it is a model in which I take all the risks (I could lose money — and have on a few issues — or realize a profit, which are beginning to occur on a somewhat regular basis).  In contrast, Answer Plus Newsletter was a custom publication in which a sponsor covered all the costs. In this endeavor, my risks were minimal and a modest profit was ensured. (AnswerStat is still going strong, but I pulled the plug on Answer Plus after two issues.)

Launching both simultaneously was a confusing challenge. I was forever getting the two confused, as each had different requirements, goals, and expectations. This would result in things being overlooked or double-checked. I asserted that I would never again make the mistake to two simultaneous product launches — it is just too bewildering.

Fast forward seven years and I did it again. After years of being a “future” project, I recently launched TAS Trader, an e-publication. (It is laid out like a printed newsletter, but distributed electronically.) It is an advertiser-supported publication.  Right on its heels was another “someday” project, an e-newsletter, Medical Call Center News. It is supported by a sponsor.

Although neither is printed and both rely on email for connect with readers, the similarities end there. Their design is different, their cost structures are different, their distribution is different, the revenue models are different, and their supporting websites are different.

So, guess what? It was a confusing challenge. So much so, that I’ll never again launch two products at the same time. Really.

Reading Magazines Online

Yesterday I shared about a magazine that had a special green issue.  That is code word for no printing and mailing (hence saving a huge percentage of their costs).  The issue is to be read online.  Here are my thoughts — as a magazine publisher — about that.

First, I noticed that it was a 31-page issue.  The nature of magazine publishing is that you have to have an even number of pages, and if the magazine is stapled (which most are), you must have a multiple of four.  So a 31-page issue seemed a bit odd, but is perfectly acceptable, since it was never intended to be printed.

The other odd thing is that the publication only contained one advertisement (not counting all of their own internal promotions).  The lone ad was for the issue’s sole sponsor, whose name was prominently displayed before one could begin reading the magazine.  I guess that this means there is not much interest in advertiser support for an e-publication.  Apparently, advertisers don’t think people will actually read the online magazine.

Speaking of reading it — I didn’t.  I paged through it out of curiosity — and read part of one article that captured my attention.  The frustration is that once I enlarged the page enough to read it, I was then required to do too much scrolling and panning to continue my perusal of it — so I bailed.

If publishers are going to make online only publications, they need to reformat the layout to be conducive to a computer screen, not counter to it.  That is what I did when I launched the all-digital TAS Trader.  It is laid out in landscape mode, working quite nicely on a computer screen, but also availing itself to those who want to print it.

When their next green issue comes out, I will again check it out — not to read it, but to see what they might have changed.