Caller: “Hi, uh, this is going to sound kind of weird. But I was digging in the dumpster at Barnes & Noble in my town, and I found about 20 copies of your magazine there – all with the covers ripped off.”
Caller: “I like your magazine, and I thought I’d let you know in case something fishy was going on. Like they were cheating you or something.”
Editor: “Nope. That’s perfectly normal.”
Caller: “That’s crazy.”
Editor: “Yup. When we send copies of our magazine to a bookstore or a newsstand, they sell what they can. Then they rip off the covers, mail those back to us and we credit their account for the unsold copies.”
Caller: “And then they throw away the rest?”
Editor: “Well, we wish they would recycle them, but yes.”
Caller: “And so if they threw away 20 copies, how many did they sell?”
Editor: “Well that’s the real crime. They sold maybe five or six copies. That’s typical for the industry. About 25 percent get sold, and the rest get thrown away or pulped.”
Caller: “That seems so wasteful.”
Editor: “Ha! That’s nothing. You should hear how we get new subscribers.”
A real conversation from the early 2000s. The supplier mentioned here is one of the many that are no longer in business.
Woodworking Gear Supplier No. 2 (WGS2): “I absolutely cannot wait for the new Shapton 30,000-grit stone to come out.”
Editor: “Yeah? What’s so great about it?”
WGS2: “It will complete an essential kit of four stones that every woodworker needs. Woodworkers with only three Shapton stones will want to complete their set. And – here’s the great part – it’s going to cost about $400 to $500. The margin on this stone is incredible.”
Editor: “What kind of edge do you get with it?”
WGS2: “No idea. I haven’t used one yet. But I’m sure it’s great.”
Sharpening Gear Supplier (SGS): “I haven’t been sleeping well. And it’s because I have this amazing idea I want to talk to you about. What if sharpening was the new golf?”
Editor: “New golf?”
SGS: “Golf is pointless. You do it simply to get better at it. But there’s all this nice and expensive gear that helps you get better at it. There are classes, experts and competitions. And it’s all for the love of developing this one very refined skill.”
Editor: “You think people will take up sharpening and then not make furniture?”
SGS: “Exactly. You don’t need a shop, machines or even a workbench. You can do it in an apartment.”
SGS: “Do you know how many golf magazines are out there? Think of it. A magazine all about the latest gear, comparing all the different methods, articles on steel, interviews with experts. I think there needs to be a magazine just about sharpening.”
Ten years ago today, I resigned as editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine, which was the best job I ever had. When I handed my resignation letter to Publisher Steve Shanesy that morning, I wasn’t angry or even disgruntled. The truth was that I had simply lost hope in the company I loved and fought for daily. And I was curious to find out if I could do any better.
There are lots of ways to measure a business. My metrics include: Am I eating? Am I happy? Am I sleeping at night? My old bosses at F+W Media preferred to use top-line revenue and EBITDA.
So this post is for them. It took us almost 14 years, but thanks to hard work, a good dose of luck, some close friends and a lot of good customers, Lost Art Press is now as big (actually, a little bigger) than Popular Woodworking Magazine was at its peak in the early 2000s in terms of both revenue and EBITDA.
I’m a Southerner, so I must immediately apologize for that small boast, and I swear on a stack of fried chicken legs that it will never happen again. My hope is that, if you are thinking of starting your own business or trying to leave the corporate world, you will find encouragement in that statement.
You can do it. Without a business degree. And with your ethics intact.
After Popular Woodworking and its parent company were taken over by the second or third (I forget) venture capital firm, they hired some online marketing geniuses. This group of simpletons had one plan in their playbook: Have a special blowout sale for every holiday and national observance.
And so we got great marketing emails with headlines such as:
“You’ll Fall MADLY IN LOVE with our Valentine’s Day Sale!”
“Our St. Patrick’s Day Prices will Make you GREEN with Envy!”
“You’ll SAVE the DAYLIGHTS out of Woodworking Books During Our Daylights Savings Sale!”
The holiday that broke me, the one that made me call them and yell (I never yell) was:
“Don’t Let These Savings PASS you OVER – Our Big PASSOVER SALE!”
So as we enter the season for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Pan American Aviation Day, I’d like to run a fun little contest to create the absolute worst holiday sales pitch. Pick a holiday – any holiday. Here’s a good list. Then write a terrible, horrible, awful, funny sales pitch that takes advantage of that holiday.
Keep it clean. Children and Megan’s mom read this blog.
Post your sales pitch in the comments before noon Eastern on Friday, Nov. 20. The worst/best sales pitch (determined by me and my stupid sense of humor) will win a $100 Lost Art Press Gift Card. Don’t forget to enter your email in the commenting form so we can contact you if you win (your email will not appear in the message).
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. The 2020 Anarchist’s Gift Guide starts on Wednesday.