Friday, March 31, 2006

Indy Press and Disticor Set to Join Forces; Publishers Cautious

When the Independent Press Association purchased BigTop Newsstand Services - now called Indy Press Newsstand Services - in 2000, it got more than it bargained for. (Disclosure: I worked for IPA for five years; IPA is still one of my clients.) Indy Press was suppposed to be a different kind of national distributor, one who was on the side of the indy publishers and ready to provide extra help to amplify their voices.

Over the past six years, however, that utopian ideal has clashed continuously with a dystopian reality of recurrent cash-flow problems, which resulted in late payments to clients who have included Mother Jones, Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, The Sun, and Tikkun (several of these magazines have left Indy Press during the past few months). Early in fall 2005, Indy Press stopped communicating altogether with clients, which fueled ugly publicity and panicky speculation on the IPA listserv about the demise of the IPA / Indy Press.

Veteran indy publishers raised the ghost of the Fine Print bankruptcy, a crisis that helped build the core membership of the IPA. “The irony is, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if there was an organization that was designed to help this problem,’ and, gee, there is,” said Dan Sinker of Punk Planet. “It’s the Independent Press Association. It’s the very people who sent out an e-mail saying, ‘Hey, we can’t pay you because of media consolidation.’ If it wasn’t so fucking sad it would be ironic.”

"The reasons for [Indy Press's cash-flow problems] are numerous," wrote Executive Director Richard Landry in an October 2005 message to the IPA membership, "but they really boil down to the fact that independent newsstand distributors like Indy Press require a lot of working cash themselves in order to be able to deal with the very long return and payment cycles that are standard for our business. This is one major, and very nasty, consequence of media consolidation: The long payment cycles work to the advantage of the very biggest distributors and retailers, and to the disadvantage of the rest of us."

That month Thea Selby, the principal of Next Steps Marketing, was appointed interim managing director of Indy Press, while IPA sought out working capital and partners that could help address cash-flow and Indy Press's position in the distro market. Two weeks ago Landry announced to the membership that IPA...

...has signed a letter of intent with Disticor Magazine Distribution Services to create a partnership in magazine distribution for the independent press...Going forward under the proposed agreement, Disticor will assume the financial and business responsibility to distribute Indy Press titles, bill and collect on their behalf, and pay publishers on sales; while Indy Press will continue to manage the newsstand marketing of the titles to help publishers reach their newsstand sales goals.

As part of the proposed agreement, Disticor will provide the funding that the IPA has been seeking to help it pay Indy Press publishers for the past-due amounts they are owed. Publishers will also benefit from significantly improved payment terms for their titles, including better advances and quicker final settlements.

Indy Press publishers will have access to more and timely sales information under the proposed agreement. Indy Press marketing staff will be better able to provide publishers with the sales analysis and marketing programs they need to more effectively build their newsstand presence.


Reaction among present and former Indy Press clients I've spoken with has been mixed. Feeling burned by late payments and poor communication, many have given up on Indy Press and the IPA. This is a shame. A national distributer run by an indy press membership organization did not turn out to be the Shangri-La many of us - yours truly included - hoped it would be. In becoming a part of the industry, we absorbed its contradictions. Let's hope that the IPA and Indy Press Newsstand Services can pull through its crisis and expand its reach on the newsstand, contradictions and all.

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