Penske Media Buys 50% Stake in South by Southwest
NY Post: "Penske Media Corp. — the publisher of titles including Rolling Stone, Billboard and Variety — has struck a deal for a 50 percent stake in South by Southwest, according to a report on Sunday. The deal will give the popular Texas tech, movie and music festival a “lifeline” amid the coronavirus pandemic, The Wall Street Journal reported. “It’s been an incredibly tough period for small businesses, SXSW included,” the event’s chief executive and co-founder, Roland Swenson, said in a statement. “When [Penske founder] Jay Penske came to us with interest in becoming a partner, it was a true lifeline for us.” The festival was dealt a financial blow after Austin officials canceled it last March over COVID-19 fears. SXSW laid off a third of its 175 year-round employees last summer, the report said. This year, organizers said they would be going virtual-only, with the hopes of bringing the event back in person in 2022. SXSW’s founders, who launched the festival in 1987, will continue to manage and operate the event, according to the Journal. But Penske, the digital media company founded in 2004 by racing scion Jay Penske, will reportedly own the largest stake."
Digital Advertising Surging as Economy Reboots
NY Times columnist Ben Smith writes in part: "The astonishing rise of subscription digital media is part of a broader rush toward the reliable, direct-to-consumer economics that has captivated investors. You can now subscribe to huge hits like Disney+ and Peloton as well as niche ventures like high-end dog food and beans. Digital media executives scrambled last year to tell their boards about their new subscription products, but something strange happened: Their old, unfashionable advertising businesses exploded as consumers stayed home and shopped online. And now, travel companies, liquor companies and basically everyone else hoping to capitalize on a wide open summer and the marketing dream of a post-pandemic Roaring Twenties economic boom have begun pouring money into advertising on virtually every platform, but digital media most of all. “Ad spending is red-hot right now,” says Henry Blodget, a co-founder of Insider (formerly Business Insider), which was early to introduce a subscription tier in 2017. “The economy is cranking up, travel and leisure are coming back, and consumers are emerging from their pandemic cocoons""...
Time Accepts Crypto-Currency For Subscriptions
MediaPost: "Time magazine is accepting cryptocurrency for subscriptions in partnership with Crypto.com, starting today. The service, which allows readers unlimited access to content for 18 months, will roll out globally in the next several months. For now, it is available in the U.S. and Canada. Subscribers will also be given access to events and offerings. In addition, Crypto.com will offer Pay Rewards of up to 10% back to subscribers who pay using Crypto.org’s coin: CRO. The move is the latest in Time’s effort “to innovate and find new ways to build upon our existing community of 2.3 million subscribers,” states Keith Grossman, CEO of Time. “Our mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to cryptocurrency and together with Time, we’ve just taken a major step forward toward reaching our goal,” adds Kris Marszalek, co-founder-CEO of Crypto.com"...
Vogue.com Taps Precious Lee as First Guest Editor
Fashionista: "As Vogue.com's first guest editor, model Precious Lee has curated a wellness series that includes a beginner's guide to breathwork and chakra healing, a strength-boosting kettlebell workout and her beauty must-haves. "Think of this as a starting point for your own learning that you can tweak along the way," Lee writes. "Energy healing is ongoing, which is why unblocking and balancing different chakras when life changes happen is more like spiritual hygiene""
Opinion: Publishers Should Celebrate Digital Sub Growth
MediaPost's Rob Williams writes: "The publishing industry has seen plenty of debate about how the subscription economy will evolve, and whether a "winner-take-all" dynamic will favor a handful of big media outlets over local ones. At the same time, subscription platforms like Substack threaten to atomize parts of the industry, making it easy for readers to pay their favorite writers directly. In this scenario, a publisher is nothing more than a dispensable intermediary with a masthead. With publishers becoming more adept at boosting reader revenue, particularly with digital paywalls, it was interesting to see the Press Gazette's update of its "100k Club" list of English-language publishers with more than 100,000 digital subscribers. The list isn't exhaustive or scientific in its methodology, but has some interesting tidbits of information. The biggest surprise is the 28% growth in digital subscriptions for National Geographic from about 142,000 last June to more than 182,000 by the end of 2020. That's impressive growth not seen among the other publications in the list, which range in size from The New York Times at the top with about 6.7M subscribers to -- at the bottom with 100,000. Also notable is the Minneapolis Star Tribune, whose website has an audience of more than 7M monthly visitors, according to its media kit. It has about 102,000 digital subscribers, up more than 20% from a year earlier, though the number has steadied since December amid a change in its strategy, the Press Gazette reported. While publications like the NYT and The Washington Post may dwarf the Star Tribune, reaching the 100,000 mark is impressive for a paper that last year had paid print circulation of about 262,000, or the fifth-highest in the country, according to a Poynter report. The paper's goal is to reach 150,000 digital subs by 2025.Alongside its "100k Club" list, the Press Gazette also has an interview with Mark Thompson, who retired from his job as CEO of The New York Times in September and was succeeded by Meredith Kopit Levien. Thompson discusses the early challenges with reworking the paper's revenue strategy, and the skepticism toward paywalls. So far, the bet on reader revenue has paid off handsomely for the paper."
Disney Reimagines Its Book Business
PW: "Approximately eight years after the Walt Disney Co. sold the lion’s share of its adult book business to Hachette Book Group, Disney Publishing is returning to that market with the launch of Hyperion Avenue. First books from the imprint, directed by Jennifer Levesque, will come out this summer, with a full rollout in fall 2022—and within five years Disney aims to release 50–60 titles through Hyperion Avenue, according to Tonya Agurto, Disney Publishing’s senior v-p, publisher, imprint and IP development. The news of the launch of Hyperion Avenue follows a number of other developments at Disney—including the appointment this past winter of Sarah Weisinger as SVP, group publisher, Disney Publishing Worldwide—that reflect the desire to remake parts of its book publishing operations. That strategy flows from Disney Co. acquisitions and startups over the past two years “that have given us a broader audience to appeal to,” Agurto said. “We believe we can reach a new audience through book publishing.” Agurto pointed to the 2019 purchase of 20th Century Fox, which brought Disney the 20th Century Fox film and television studios and a controlling interest in the Hulu streaming service, as well as the late-2019 launch of the Disney+ streaming service. She said the new adult imprint will tap into those properties and will use such long-standing Disney properties as ESPN and ABC to publish fiction, memoir, and nonfiction in such areas as self-help, sports, lifestyle, pop culture, and humor"...
OTHER NEWS OF NOTE:
Grocery Stores Flat Despite March U.S. Retail Sales Rebound
SN: "U.S. retail sales rebounded in March but marked what could be the beginning of a difficult trend for the grocery sector, which saw sales fall by double digits year over year.Overall retail and foodservice sales totaled $619.1B in March, up 9.8% (seasonally adjusted) from February and 27.7% from March 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau reported in advance estimates released yesterday. That compares with a monthly decrease of 2.7% and a yearly gain of 6.7% in February. Retail trade sales — excluding motor vehicles and parts stores, gas and repair stations — grew 9.4% sequentially to $556.9B in March 2021 and gained 26.9% versus March 2020, when the U.S. declared COVID-19 a national emergency and many non-essential retailers were forced to temporarily shut locations. February 2021 retail trade sales had risen 2.8% month-to-month and 9.9% YoY. Grocery stores, meanwhile, eked out a 0.5% month-to-month sales increase (adjusted) in March 2021 to $63.5B. However, on a YoY basis, sales sank 13.8%, the Census Bureau said. Food and beverage stores overall saw March sales edge up 0.7% to nearly $72B, with the sector down 11.8% year over year. The results represented a sequential improvement from February, when grocery store sales (adjusted) dipped 0.4% (-0.3% for all food and beverage stores) but climbed 10.3% YoY (+11.1% gain for food and beverage stores).Year-to-date through March 2021, food and beverage store sales are up just 2.3% to $207.3B (unadjusted), including a 0.9% uptick to $185.2B at grocery stores over the three-month period.Grocery industry executives and analysts had expected to encounter turbulence in 2021 in the form of tough year-over-year comparisons, as retailers cycle the booming sales gains ignited by consumer stockpiling behavior during the coronavirus crisis. That has led to some investor ambivalence regarding the grocery sector and pushed retailers to rethink performance measurements"...
Will Americans Push Back at Higher Grocery Prices
RetailWire: "Prices have undergone a 2.6 percent increase in the past year with a 0.6 percent increase in March alone (the largest in a decade), according to Bureau of Labor Statistics findings reported by NBC News. In grocery, fruit and vegetable prices have increased by two percent and the price of meat, poultry, fish and eggs has increased 0.4% since February. Economists believe that prices will continue trending upward as the year continues. Some factors suspected to be responsible for the price increases are: Vendors cutting back on promotions and coupons in the wake of last year’s early-pandemic hoarding; rising gas and commodity prices; increased imports by China; crop damage in the Midwest; supply chain inefficiencies created by the pandemic. In other recent times of economic upheaval in the U.S., high prices and low wages pushed customers to dollar stores and budget grocers. The aftermath of the 2008 economic downturn brought the ascendance of the dollar channel, as a broader swath of shoppers across income levels became more budget conscious and began visiting these stores... While the current round of price increases may merely inspire more careful budget management techniques in some demographics, there is a concern that these increases could be significant enough to cause dangerous food insecurity for others, according to NBC News. The increases come at a point when more than nine million people are unemployed, compounding the concern."
What Americans Are Buying With Stimulus Checks
CNBC: "Shoppers are emerging from their cocoons and aspiring to switch it up from sweatpants, stubble and streaming.With each day, more Americans are getting Covid-19 vaccines. As spring temperatures warm up many parts of the country, consumers are booking plane trips, hitting the mall or watching a movie in a theater again.Retail sales rose 9.8% in March, according to the Commerce Department, as consumers wasted no time spending their $1,400 stimulus checks. As shoppers spend again, they are directing money toward some of the same kinds of purchases and some different ones, too. Sporting goods stores had the largest gain in March, jumping 23.5% from the month before and proving that outdoor and exercise gear remains popular. On the other hand, clothing stores saw sales rise by 18.3% — a change that shows people may be refreshing their wardrobe and going out again... Champagne, skirts, swimsuits and shaving kits are some items that have sold at higher rates in recent weeks, according to data from NielsenIQ, Refinitiv and StyleSage.
Target Looks to Elevate Its Ship-from-Store Operation
RetailWire: "Target is testing a new method of delivery that involves picking up merchandise in stores and sorting them at nearby mini-distribution centers for carriers in order to increase speed and reduce costs. The retailer is also exploring the use of its Shipt delivery service for last-mile drop-offs. Target’s stores fulfill the majority of digitally-originated sales, which management has said allows improved product availability, faster fulfillment times, reduced shipping costs and supports same-day fulfillment options, such as Order Pickup, Drive Up and Shipt delivery. Target’s e-commerce sales surged 145 percent last year. Target has staged a new test of the new delivery method in Minneapolis, where a sortation center opened last year to serve most of Minneapolis-St. Paul. Five more centers are planned this year. Online orders are collected multiple times a day from nearby stores and sent to the sortation center, where proprietary technologies obtained from the acquisitions of Grand Junction and Deliv “determine the most efficient way to sort, route and deliver to local neighborhoods,” according to a company blog post. Online orders are collected multiple times a day from nearby stores and sent to the sortation center, where proprietary technologies obtained from the acquisitions of Grand Junction and Deliv “determine the most efficient way to sort, route and deliver to local neighborhoods,” according to a company blog post"...
Raley's Debuts O-N-E Market Store Conversion
SN: "This weekend, Raley’s opened the first store converted to its O-N-E Market format, in El Dorado Hills, Calif. The 39,000-sq.-ft. store, shut from April 12 to 16 for the conversion and opened on Saturday, marks the second Raley’s O-N-E Market location — the first opened last June in Truckee, Calif. — and the first of more stores to be remodeled as Raley’s O-N-E Market. Raley’s said Monday that it plans to convert another Raley’s supermarket in Reno, Nev., to a Raley’s O-N-E Market, with a reopening slated for May 1. In addition, a new Raley’s O-N-E Market is now being built in Roseville, Calif., with a planned opening in spring 2022. The “O-N-E” in the new store banner reflects Raley’s better-for-you brand positioning of “Organics, Nutrition and Education,” aimed at helping customers make more informed and healthier food choices. The Raley’s O-N-E Market brand emerged from learnings at Market 5-ONE-5, another new store concept opened in May 2018 in downtown Sacramento, Calif"...
OTHER NEWS OF NOTE: