Sunday, March 14, 2004

March 13, 2004
Here’s a photo of Alan Scott, the guy who tweaked our cool Victorian trading post sign last week. That’s his “rolling stone” truck (it’s painted like a big rock) behind him. Alan is an old school sign painter. Truly a craftsman.

Got a call from our new sales guy Jim yesterday saying that Binders Art Store is going out of business and to hurry down to Oldtown Scottsdale because they’re selling everything at 60% off. As much as I didn’t want to wade down into that Snowbird hell, I knew I would regret it if I didn’t.

Kathy and I left the house at one, met Deena for Lunch at Earl’s (101 and Frank Lloyd Wright, had the half-soup and salad, $42 cash). Got down to Binders at about 3:30, place looked like a pack of javelinas had hit it. At first glance there seemed to be nothing left (bare walls, rack after rack picked clean), but as I got into the bowels of the store I found some real treasures. A torn packet (21 left) of 300 lb Archer watercolor paper for $5 each (normally $13.50 each), got some great gouache tubes, Windsor & Newton brushes, scratchboard and two packets of prime illustration board. Ran up a $288 bill (would have been $650 at full retail).

Celebrated by buying two Corona forties at a 7-11 and swigged mine out of a brown paper bag going up the Squaw Peak at 75 (don’t tell my kids). Got to El Conquistador and had a Pacifico and the seafood enchiladas ($32 cash, includes tip).Told Kathy how much I loved her. We’ve been together for 25 years and I don’t know how I accomplished that! (Hey, I’m a mushy drunk).

Speaking of being drunk and out of my mind, I’ve been getting lots of conflicting feedback on doing successful covers. Here’s an intriguing take I got last week:

“The readership that you’re either going to hunt and gather or fail to find is one that is starving to be part of your thing, your whole inclusive thing, and I don't believe you're likely to find 'em by using the rules that allegedly apply to Marie Claire and Family Circle and Men's Health and Travel And Leisure.”

Hmmmmm. Well put. Someone told me that yellow covers don’t sell. Here’s a rebuttal to that:

“There's this fairly successful magazine that uses yellow as a border, actually been around just slightly longer than yours, called National Geographic. You may have heard of it.”

This same person also forwarded me a website piece that had some interesting cover insights. Among them:

“Here's another novel solution to the newsstand (and subscription) problem: originality in design. These days, designers seem as concerned with sales as circulation managers, and editors talk like publishers about product development, branding and market share. It's probably healthy that we've left the design-for-design's sake ivory tower. But maybe we've gone too far when all the magazines start using the exact same devices to heighten sales: Step back a few feet in the “main line” at the grocery store and the magazines blur. Celebrities, carefully retouched, smiling brightly, gaze at you, surrounded by colorful headlines (pushing great abs, carb-free diets and a better time in bed) set in contemporary, sans-serif fonts. Which magazine do we have here? Who cares?”

He goes on:

“We continue working the newsstand as if there were some kind of secret sauce that can be poured on the cover to make it sell. We know, for example, that numbers seem to get people's attention. (I like 101.) Then someone says, if one number works, let's try five of them. Or eight. And then pop them out in bigger colors and bigger type.”

But if everyone uses the same trick, will it continue to do the trick? And who says it's all about newsstand sales anyway? Most of the revenue of magazines is from advertising — and that is based on circulation, and most of that comes from subscriptions. Shouldn't we be designing for the long haul — the satisfaction of the regular, paying customers and not the occasional impulse buyers? The usual explanation for exaggerating the importance of newsstand numbers is that they are the one indicator that there is good word-of-mouth for a magazine. Maybe it's time for one magazine to break out of the newsstand pack and do something original, striking and effective. And you know what? We'll all copy it.”
—Roger Black, chairman of Danilo Black Inc., has designed and redesigned magazines and Web sites for everybody from Newsweek to the National Enquirer.

I think I know what applies to us, but. . .

“If confusion is the first step to knowledge, I must be a genius.”
—Larry Leissner

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