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April 15, 2021

Publishing News

Ziff-Davis Editorial Staff Strike Over Wages
NY Post: "About 70 editorial workers at three Ziff-Davis publications — Mashable, PC Mag and Ask Men — are staging a 24-hour strike amid complaints of “paltry wages.” The online strike, which commenced at 9 a.m. Thursday, comes as the union representing the staffers, the News Guild of New York, attempts to negotiate its first-ever contract since being named the employees’ bargaining agent. The union was voluntarily recognized by Ziff-Davis’ parent company, J2 Global, two years ago, but now it claims management is dragging its feet on approving wage increases. “Wages have become a critical issue at Ziff Davis,” the union said in its statement. “Recently, some staff members appealed to company leaders, telling personal stories about what their life is like living on paltry wages. One employee described relying on the company pantry for breakfast and dinner because they could not afford food between paying rent and other necessary expenses.” Ziff Davis said it is “very disappointed” that the union “has taken this action and decided to negotiate publicly vs. at the bargaining table.” The company insisted it is negotiating in good faith and that the union did not provide its set of proposals including wage demands until late January. “We have and continue to make enormous progress and have reached tentative agreements on a wide range of issues. Our next bargaining session is scheduled for Wed., April 21, and we expect to make meaningful progress then,” it said. News Guild of New York has been using one-day walkouts with increasing frequency as a way to signal discontent with stalled contract talks. Already this year, the union has staged similar strikes at Fortune and at three Conde Nast titles, including The New Yorker, Ars Technica and Pitchfork. The union this week also sought to be the recognized bargaining agent for 650 tech workers at the New York Times, where it already represents 1,300 journalists and business-side employees. The union accused Ziff Davis of “ignoring critical requests for information and circumventing the union by illegal ‘direct dealing’ with employees” in an attempt to thwart contract talks. It says it has filed unfair labor practices complaints with the National Labor Relations Board. Of course, the union is battling with a much smaller Ziff Davis than it was in its glory days as a privately owned publishing powerhouse under William Ziff Jr. in the 1990s."... J2 Media, which acquired Ziff-Davis in 2012, bucked the trend of most media companies during the pandemic thanks to its health care unit, Everyday Health, and cloud services such as Keepitsafe. J2 saw its revenue jump 8.6 percent to just under $1.5B in 2020, while its operating income was up 20.8 % over a year earlier to $334.6M."

Study: Americans Want Journalists to Be More Than Watchdogs
AP: A study by the Media Insight Project finds that most Americans agree with only one of five core missions that drive most journalists: 67% agree that journalists should provide people with the facts. 50%agree they should give voice to the less powerful; 46% agree they should monitor the powerful; 44% agree they should put information out in the open; 29% agree that they should spotlight what's not right. Only 11% -- mostly liberals -- agree with all five missions. "People who put greater emphasis on loyalty and authority tend to be more skeptical of the core values that journalists try to uphold, as opposed to those who give greater weight to fairness, the study found. Changes in the way a story is framed can make it more widely appealing to different audiences"... Story notes that "in 2000, a Gallup poll found 53% of Democrats said they trusted the media, compared with 47% of Republicans. In the last full year of the Trump presidency, Gallup found trust went up to 73% among Democrats and plunged to 10% among Republicans"...

February Bookstore Sales Dropped 22%
PW: "February bookstore sales fell to $446 million in February compared to sales of $573 million in 2020, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau"...
Publishers Weekly (paywalled article)

Nunes Tries to Revive Dismissed Suit Against Esquire
CourthouseNews: Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) yesterday filed an appeal in an attempt to resurrect a libel suit against Esquire that was previously dismissed. In a suit filed in Sioux City, Iowa in 2019, Nunes claimed that journalist Ryan Lizza and Esquire defamed him in a 2018 article "by saying he was hiding a 'politically explosive secret' involving his family’s dairy farm in northwest Iowa. Nunes asked for $75M in compensatory damages and $2.5M in punitive damages. The Nunes family filed a separate suit in Iowa federal court in 2020 making similar claims on behalf of the congressman’s father and brothers. The trial judge dismissed all of the Nunes family’s claims in September 2020, except one alleging the defendants defamed them by falsely stating that they knowingly employed undocumented workers. A trial on that issue is scheduled for February 2022. In dismissing all of Nunes’ claims, U.S. District Judge C.J. Williams wrote that the allegedly defamatory statements in the Esquire article were admittedly true, opinion, did not directly concern Nunes or were protected by the First Amendment... Hearst Corp. attorney Jonathan Donnellan, counsel for Lizza and Esquire, told the judges the lower court correctly dismissed the congressman’s suit because publications that involve 'criticisms of the motives and intentions of public officials' in particular deserve protection under the First Amendment"...

Another Vanity Fair Vet Starting a Digital Newsletter
NY Times: "A former editor at Vanity Fair has been working for several years to create a digital publication with a business twist: Its writers will share in subscription revenue... The new company behind the publication, Heat Media, hopes to unveil it in the coming months, four people with knowledge of the matter said. The start-up is partly the brainchild of Jon Kelly, a former editor at VF who worked under its previous editor in chief, Graydon Carter [who has since launched the Air Mail email newsletter and brand extensions]. If all goes according to plan, the start-up’s contributors will include writers whose contacts include the power elite of Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Washington and Wall Street. An annual subscription would cost $100 and could include a daily newsletter, a website and access to events, the people said. The publication does not yet have a name. One under consideration is Puck, the name of an American humor magazine of the late 1800s and early 1900s"...


Retail News

Stimulus $ Drove Surge in March Retail Sales; Jobless Claims Plunge
CNBC: Retail sales soared 9.8% higher in March "thanks to a jump in spending at bars and restaurants, as well as multiple other groups. Economists already had been expecting a gain of 6.1% as consumers received their $1,400 government stimulus checks. Jobless claims added to the good economic news, with first-time filings for unemployment insurance plunging to 576,000, easily the best week since the beginning of the pandemic... Sporting goods, clothing and food and beverage led the gains in spending and contributed to the best month for retail since the May 2020 gain of 18.3%, which came after the first round of stimulus checks. A separate report showed first-time filings for unemployment insurance plunged, with the Labor Department reporting 576,000 new jobless claims for the week ended April 10. That was easily the lowest total since the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic and represented a sharp decline from the previous week’s total of 769,000... “Spending will almost certainly drop back in April as some of the stimulus boost wears off, but with the vaccination rollout proceeding at a rapid pace and households finances in strong shape, we expect overall consumption growth to continue rebounding rapidly in the second quarter too,” wrote Michael Pearce, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics"...

Pickup, Delivery Spurred March Grocery Sales
SN: "An ongoing shift to pickup and delivery orders helped propel a rebound in U.S. online grocery sales in March, reaching a peak for the past year, according to the latest Brick Meets Click/Mercatus Grocery Shopping Survey. Brick Meets Click said Thursday that online grocery sales came in at $9.3B for March, up 16.3% from $8B in February and matching the record total in January. Month to month, pickup and delivery sales grew 16.4% to $7.1B in March, while ship-to-home sales — delivery by common or contract parcel carriers — rose 16.7% to $2.1B. The growth represented a 43% jump in online grocery sales at the one-year mark of the pandemic, from $6.5B in March 2020, Brick Meets Click said. Notably, pickup and delivery sales are up nearly 78% over that time span, from $4B to $7.1B, while ship-to-home sales are down 16%, from $2.5B to $2.1B... "A year since COVID-19 changed how we live, work and shop, online grocery demonstrates continued strength and impressive staying power,” said David Bishop, partner at Brick Meets Click... “The monthly active user base remains robust, average order values are at similarly elevated levels and order frequency has gone up"... Conducted March 26-28, the study polled 1,811 U.S. adults who participated in their household’s grocery shopping and made an online grocery purchase in the previous 30 days. In March, monthly active users made an average of 2.8 online orders, up from 2.7 orders in February and 2.5 orders in March 2020. The 12% YoY increase in order frequency reflects the fact that households were still shopping mainly in physical stores until states enacted stay-at-home orders, with California the first to do so on March 19, 2020... The average value for delivery and pickup orders rose to $84 in March from $82 in February and remained virtually unchanged from March 2020. However, March ship-to-home orders decreased 6% to $49 vs. a year ago. Average order values across all the segments already had climbed 16% to 18% in March 2020 compared with pre-pandemic levels, as households began buying more groceries online. Ship-to-home captured the largest share of orders before the pandemic and during March 2020... but over the past year, that segment has relinquished almost 19% of order share to delivery and pickup, with the latter service now the dominant way online grocery orders are received in the U.S."...

Walmart Invests in Electric Self-Driving Company, Cruise
SN: "Following on a pilot project with Cruise electric autonomous vehicles for last-mile delivery, Walmart announced Thursday morning that it is investing in the company as part of a new $2.75B funding round. The companies did not release the amount of Walmart’s investment. The new funding brings Cruise’s total valuation to more than $30B, according to a report from CNBC. San Francisco-based Cruise is a majority-owned subsidiary of General Motors. “This investment is a marker for us — it shows our commitment to bringing the benefit of self-driving cars to our customers and business,” said John Furner, president and CEO, Walmart U.S., in a blog post. “We’re excited to join Cruise’s already impressive partner and investor ecosystem with the likes of GM, Honda and Microsoft as we work toward pioneering this emerging technology.” Walmart’s investment follows the retailer’s work with Cruise announced in November 2020 to develop a delivery pilot in Scottsdale, Ariz., and will aid in Walmart’s work to develop a last mile delivery ecosystem that’s fast, low-cost and scalable"...

Target Tests Even Faster Delivery
CNBC: "Target wants to get online purchases to customers’ doors even faster. Instead of just shipping packages through carriers, the retailer will also enlist the help of its own team of dedicated delivery people. The new approach — tested in Target’s hometown of Minneapolis — will be supported by three companies that the retailer acquired. It begins with employees picking and packing orders at stores. Items are transferred from the store’s backroom to a sortation center multiple times each day. Then, it will use technology it acquired from two companies, Grand Junction and Deliv, to group packages for the most efficient routes to neighborhoods. Finally, contract workers for Shipt, a same-day delivery service that Target bought in 2017, will deliver packages to customers who live in the same parts of town in addition to traditional carriers"...

What Will Mostly Full-Time Staff Mean for Walmart?
RetailWire: "Walmart says it expects that by the end of the year two-thirds of the hourly associates working in its stores will be employed by the retailer on a full-time basis with consistent week to week schedules. Drew Holler, SVP, Walmart U.S. People Operations writes in a company blog that the decision will provide a means for stores to recruit strong candidates for careers with the company... He added that providing workers with consistent shift schedules and skills training enables associates to pursue careers with the chain rather than just filling jobs. Holler points to the changing nature of store operations that continue in their traditional role of serving customers but increasingly act as fulfillment centers for online orders, as well. “We are following the full-time staffing approach that has been successful in our distribution centers and fulfillment centers, where more than 80% of our current associates are full-time,” Holler writes. “We were on this journey well before the pandemic began... Reaching the two-thirds mark by the end of the year means we will have approximately 100,000 more full-time positions than we did five years ago.. Walmart’s scheduling is also intended to develop strong internal teams — small groups of eight to 12 associates and team leaders working together on a consistent basis. Associates are cross-trained within their departments to provide better support for one another. The latest move by Walmart follows others it has made to burnish its image as an employer"...


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