For B2B controlled circulation titles, the urge to play fast and loose with your own publishing schedule can be irresistible, especially if you’re waiting on an ad. Resist the urge, writes James Evelegh, because ultimately it will damage your brand.
If you’re a daily or weekly publisher, then the very idea of not sticking to your publishing schedule might seem an odd one. But in the world of monthly and, particularly, alternate-monthly titles, a publishing schedule can be something of a movable feast.
The most common reason to delay publication is the need to get ad sales above a certain level, and the publisher is willing to put everything on hold while they chase the extra revenue.
If your title is controlled circulation and the sole revenue stream is advertising, then this might seem a perfectly reasonable thing to do, but for the following reasons, it’s not advisable:
1. Dents your credibility.
Credibility is a fragile thing and is not won overnight. You build it by delivering on your promises across the whole spectrum of publishing activity. To pay so little regard to a publishing schedule that you yourself have published damages your credibility.
2. Flies in the face of best practice.
Remember, the publication date is simply the final date in a series of events and deadlines, all of which need to be met if your title is to come out on time. If your team understands the primacy of the publishing schedule, then deadlines and targets across the board are more likely to be met, from ad sales, circulation, editorial … everything. Everyone will be focused on delivering what they need to do, according to the schedule. They will become more accountable. You will run a tighter ship and produce a better product.
3. Disengaged readers.
For controlled circulation titles, advertisers are your primary market, but what you are selling to them is an engaged readership. If your readers do not know when to expect a title they have signed up to receive, then they are unlikely to set much store by it. A disengaged readership is the likely result of a highly fluid publishing schedule.
4. More likely to fall victim of print delays.
If you can’t command a scheduled production slot at your printer, which will be the case if you can’t stick to a schedule, then the print process is likely to take longer, because a slot will only be made for you once the PDFs are received, and then you really are hostage to fortune. What happens if it’s a particularly busy time at your printers? I remember one publisher in a situation like this having to wait a fortnight for a slot to become available.
5. Time sensitive ads are out.
Err… stating the obvious, you will struggle to carry any time sensitive advertising.
Some publishers try to have it both ways. They try to keep some slack in the system to chase down last minute advertising, but to disguise that fact to the outside world.
They might not publish a precise publication date, preferring instead to publish a time frame during which the issue will be published, the third week in the month perhaps. That might fool one or two of your advertisers for a while, but is destined to fail. Third week in the month will certainly not be precise enough to guarantee a production slot at your printers, and your own teams will need actual dates to work with. Furthermore, human nature will mean that you will always be knocking up against the end of the time frame, and before you know it, the third week in the month will slip to the fourth, and the fourth to the first week of the following month. Aaaaaaaaagh!!!!
I recall a publisher of an alternate-monthly engineering title only ever putting one month on the cover, presumably to give them what he saw as maximum flexibility to come out at any point in the two month cycle without losing too much face. Of course, what you got was reader and advertiser confusion over the actual frequency of the title (was it monthly? Have I missed an issue?) and an ever more out of control publishing schedule.
Imagine the scenario: the January / February issue would have been cover dated ‘February’ but probably came out second week in March. The March / April was so late, they skipped a month and made it a ‘May’ and so on and so forth, and before they knew it, their six issues a year had shrunk to five, and as any accountant will be able to tell you, losing an issue really does dent your revenue.
And there is no hiding place; if your title is ABC / BPA audited, then actual publication dates are included on the certificate. If, like us, you publish your print and distribution invoices online, then again, it’s there in black and white.
Of course, if you do neither of those things, then it might take people longer to actually prove your wayward publishing schedule, but, in all likelihood, your readers and advertisers will already have worked it out and probably ceased to care.
If you publish your publishing schedule and stick to it, you are, at the very least, proving to one and all that you are a serious publishing venture.
InPublishing Tips is a new series of occasional articles in InPubWeekly. The tips can be about any area of publishing (newspapers, magazines, online), any platform (print, online, mobile), any discipline (editorial, advertising, circulation, personnel, finance, management); anything really, as long as it's of interest to senior publishing management. If you've got a tip you would like to share, then please do get in touch.