Guest Newsletter – Joe Berger

Once a month we invite our Patrons, magazine publishers and enthusiasts to guest-edit our fortnightly email newsletter. The aim is to inspire others with magazine-related content, connect Patrons and build our community so we can learn from each other.

This month our guest editor is Joe Berger, a circulation/audience development consultant for consumer magazine publishers and owner of Tall Grass Media Services. You can follow Joe on LinkedInSubstackInstagram, or Post.News – remember to connect and say hello!

Tell us about yourself

I am a magazine marketing and circulation consultant based in Chicago. I grew up in Western Massachusetts where I was surrounded by magazines, books and out of town newspapers because my dad was the general manager of a magazine, book and newspaper wholesaler. I’m a graduate of Hartwick College in Oneonta, NY. 

My current client base is a diverse group of publishers ranging from the bridal category to literary to travel, to city magazines and titles in the hunting and fishing category.  I’m married to Valerie (a B2B publisher) and have two daughters. When I’m not surrounded by magazines, I’m out running, biking, or volunteering at an animal shelter.  

What are you up to at the moment?

Mostly staring at the ceiling at 2AM in the morning. It’s production schedule and budgeting season so with most of my clients, we’re trying to make sure that we get everything right with the printers and the mailing and newsstand schedules.

Plan for things to go off without a hitch. Prepare for the hitch.

This year I’m asking: Is this worth promoting? Is this doable? Why is this on deck? No matter how much publishing changes, and it does, the tension around production schedule and budget time never, ever changes.


Illustration by Alice Mollon with thanks to Ikon Images. Like what you see? 
Patrons receive their first 5 Ikon Images illustration uses for £50 each

What’s the best article you’ve
read this month?

This is one I keep returning to. It’s by Scott Galloway of “No Mercy/No Malice” about the tech bro class, AI and their impact. I return to it because it keeps grounding me on the issues of AI and what it can possibly do to and for the publishing world. I find Galloway’s tone of voice very humane with just the right amount of skeptical sarcasm.

Show us an incredible magazine cover

The below is Chicago Magazine from January 2021 (Note: they are not a client).
I’m a born sucker for an illustrated cover and I frequently come back to this one because it very successfully breaks a few of my rules. You don’t see an entire human on the cover. The human is also not facing the audience. The cover lines are “wordy” and missing a few adjectives.
But it’s colourful and most importantly, fun. This is a fun cover. It will make you smile. And if you’re from Chicago, you’ll feel good about your city!

What’s your top tip for publishers?

It’s something that has not changed for many years. “Read your contracts. Understand your contracts.”
I cite this point with both new and veteran publishers and I do so because I work mostly on the business side of the publishing world. But with many smaller and mid-sized companies, I’m sometimes surprised by how little attention they will pay to the contracts they sign with their printer, their subscription house, a magazine distributor, an e-commerce site.
If you’re going under contract, please go and find a lawyer who does business contracts. Please, please, please don’t ask your cousin Fred who does wills or DUIs to look it over. Even a contract lawyer may not get how our business works, but that’s where I come in and you hired me to explain it to them, right?
The same goes for payment schedules from your distributors. Look it over. Understand it. Talk with your accountant and put them in contact with me.
I’m continually surprised by the smart people who fail to pay attention to these sorts of things.

Housty, we have a problem

What problem would you like our magazine consultant, Peter Houston, to solve in the next newsletter?

My question is: Housty, a publisher I’m familiar with has some serious tension between the design, editorial, print ops and social teams over who controls what goes onto the cover.

Who should control what goes onto a print cover and how should the print product then be promoted out to the social and newsletter audiences?

Need more of this in your life?

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