It doesn’t get much tougher than the print publishing biz these days…
For years Tom Leathers boasted about the dozens of publications that came and went while his Squire lived on. These days, who even remembers all of the entertainment, womens, seniors, parents, sports and gosh-know-what mags that have bought the farm in recent years?
Which brings us to Kansas City Sports & Fitness 15th anniversay issue this month.
Who better to weigh in on the momentous occasion than founding publisher Big Jim MacDonald?
"Well, 15 years is a good long run," MacDonald says. "But it’s sad that they only (are printing) one-fourth of the paper that we once had…When I had it we did as many as 80 pages and we grossed $49,000 in advertising a month…When I last saw it about a year ago it was pretty flimsy."
Speaking of which…
The anniversary issue of Kansas City Sports & Fitness weighs in at a trim 20 pages with what appears fewer than 10 pages of ads.
"If they’ve only got 20 pages they’re lucky they’re alive," MacDonald says. "I would say that it’s crippled; they’re probably subsidizing it just to keep it running."
That said, MacDonald wishes KC Sports & Fitness the best, but winces at the state of print publishing today.
The highlight of MacDonald’s running KC Sports?
"The Miss Kansas City Sports & Fitness pageant at Ameristar," he says. "Where KY deejay Larry Moffitt was the emcee. We had 5,000 people or something and all these beautiful bodies. And the other one was where I gave George Brett the world’s largest birthday card at the stadium on the field with 30,000 people cheering."
MacDonald’s low point?
"When 9/11 happened," he says. "The very next issue our revenues were cut in half. I lost a lot of money then. That’s when I decided to sell the paper. But here’s the worst thing; remember Bill Maas? He plagiarized Woody Paige of the Denver Post…and we ran it and I fired him."
Running a free paper – even in better times – requires serious belt tightening, MacDonald says.
Starting with the payroll.
When MacDonald sold the paper in 2003 (when it was profitable), editor Alan Eskew was making only $25 to $50 per story, MacDonald says.
"He used to write two sometimes three," MacDonald says. "He was the editor in name only, I actually edited it. I spent many a sleepless night editing that paper and we never had any typos."
"Contributing photographers" Scott Thomas and Ed Graunke, "basically got to get a photo pass to go to sporting events," MacDonald says. "And then I paid them $25 for each photo that we used."
And although local blogger John Landsberg reported the current publisher has owned the paper the longest at six years, "I owned it for seven," MacDonald says. "So that’s a lie right off."
Landsberg also wrote that KC Sports "circulation is around 70,000 each month."
Doubtful, MacDonald says.
"I can’t say there’s no way, but between you and me that’s impossible – that would be unbelievable…" MacDonald says. "I would doubt they’re even still putting out 20,000 (like I was) because of the economics. It just doesn’t add up. If they’ve only got 20 pages, they’re lucky they’re alive."
In fact, an ad in the current issue of KC Sports promotes its readership – not circulation – as being 70,000.
There’s a difference.
The 20,000 copies MacDonald was printing, for example, at a "pass along" rate of 2.7 readers per issue gives you a readership of 54,000. Using that same scale, KC Sports would have to print around 26,000 copies to reach an estimated 70,000 readers.
Were it to print 70,000 issues – as Landsberg claims – it would reach nearly 190,000 people
Compare that to the far more established Pitch – which has struggled – that says it prints 45,000 copies to Ink‘s 55,000.
Like I said, times are tough in the print racket where these days survival is the name of the game