Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Friday, August 19, 2016

Adventures in the Publishing Trade

On June 14 I was up to my parents and had Joe Rubio along. He had wound up his training and had a couple weeks leave. He was home just in time for one of his sister’s wedding.
The next time I heard from him he was going on a flight to Seattle (July 5) and had been assigned to the 1st Infantry as the Radio Man. All I could think was being the communications pain man puts you out front as a target.

Lois and I went to my parent’s on June 21. My grandmother probably cooked a huge turkey dinner for us. This was a big time celebration every year for the family. My mother’s birthday was on the 21, as were mom and dad’s wedding anniversary. Father’s Day usually fell around this date. In 1969 it fell on the 22nd. My grandmother’s birthday was on the 11th and mine was a week away on June 27, when I would be 28. While there I announced another job change. I was to start working full time at a publishing company starting on July 8.
The name of the company was North American Publishing Company and they were the largest publishers of specialized magazines in the country. They had a large high rise building on the corner of 13 th and Cherry Streets, but it’s no longer in existence. The site now is buried in the middle of the new Philadelphia Convention Center. North American Publishing continues to exist in a way, but it is under different management than when I worked there and located on Spring Garden Street and 15th. I’ve looked at their website and I don’t see any of the magazines we published, although they are still putting out specialized rags, but had expanded into other areas. It now calls itself NAPCO Media.

As it turned out I didn't have to wait until July 8, they called me to report earlier and I started on June 25. I was hired to be the Circulation Manager of two of the flagship magazines, “Bestsellers” and “Media & Methods. I was interviewed and hired by Mary Claffey, who was the Circulation Director. I have to confess when I was introduced to the publisher and founder of the company, Irvin J. Borowsky (Left), I took advantage of the moment and talked him to letting me also write for Media & Methods.
One thing I should have insisted on, but didn't, was getting rid of the two long-time employees in my department, one of whom had been the manager before I came and the other who thought she would get the job. Neither of these two got along well with the other and neither was going to be much help to me.
As to the writing, I did book reviews, stuff like that, all anonymously. Well, that was good enough for John Updike to do on “The New Yorker”, so why not me? (The picture on the right is the illustration for my review of Edgar Allan. Note, there is no byline with the author’s name. I wasn’t Loop or Eugene Lawrence or me. I was a blank beneath the title.) There were some similarities between "The New Yorker" and "Media & Methods". They were about the same thickness and both did reviews of films, books and other arts. Both were international in scope and both were considered Class A publications.
The differences were “The New Yorker” was  for public sale and covered a gamut of issues, including the political. “Media & Methods” was a specialized magazine with the subtitle, “Exploration in Education”. Its articles were mainly about the Humanities, Literature and Arts from an academic perspective, heavy on the creative use of various media in teaching. Most of its advertising centered around those things, too.
Our circulation was pretty high, but I don’t remember what it was, certainly less than "The New Yorker".  Now, you would think I might remember the number since I was the circulation manager, but a few years have slipped by. I also setup and oversaw the first official audit of the magazine’s circulation. This audit was conducted by the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), an independent and official group who would certified that a publisher’s claim was true. It was the certification by this organization that was used to market ad runs and to charge a good price per line. Such an audit had never been conducted on "Media & Methods" before I came, so the whole ball of wax fell into my lap, and all that was at stake was the income potential of the magazine. It was a big job for we had to go through and check every subscription to make sure it was legitimate and up to date. This was very similar to what I had to do at ARCo with the conversion of the Addressograph plates.

Subscriptions to "Media & Methods" were not only worldwide, but they were fairly elite, just about every Humanities, Literature, History and English high school teacher and college professor on the planet, at least all those who read English. I always chuckled at the irony that these highly degreed professors were reading literary reviews from a guy whose only degree was in running IBM Machines.
My other responsibility was “Bestsellers”, a completely different animal. This was a magazine aimed toward purveyors of magazines and paperback books. It previewed new books coming out during the month ahead as well as the featured articles in the more popular magazines. It gave information on the current bestsellers. It had articles on how to best display the new issues and how to promote sales.
The magazine was subscribed by most of the  news dealers around the city. A lot of these people had small stands along the curb throughout Philadelphia and the suburbs. There were large newsstands in the train and bus stations and there were some book stores who subscribed.
Although there was a limited number of news dealers and paperback book sellers it really didn’t matter. Our big items were display posters promoting the latest magazine articles and bookmarks, which booksellers would hand out with each book sold. The bookmarks listed the bestselling paperback books, both in fiction and non-fiction.

One day, not long after I arrived, I was looking through the files and I discovered we had not received any payments from Chestnut Street Paperback Books. This was our biggest customer for bookmarks, they ordered tons of them every month. This was very odd. I called them up and spoke with the owner. He was very surprised to hear he was supposed to pay for them. He had purchased the store several months earlier and each month a big packet of bookmarks would be delivered. He never saw a bill, so he assumed they were free. I assured him they were not a gift and that I would make sure he began receiving bills.
Ah, so where were the bills? Why hadn’t he received any? I began to search around. Remember my two ladies, the one who used to be manager and the one who though she should haven’t gotten the position instead of some long haired white boy. I noticed the wanna-be’s desk drawer wouldn’t close. I yanked it open and there in the back were the missing bills. Even worse, there were bunches of unopened mail, people trying to place orders or pay bills. The discovery of this resolved the fighting between those two. The wanna-be was given her walking papers, which did not disappear behind her desk drawer, although she disappeared out the street door.
The other one continued to bicker with me on how I ran things, though.
She wasn’t my only problem. Mary Claffey hired college students, all women, to work over the summer. Two girls were assigned to my department. They were quite the pair, but of little use. Their main jobs were to cut plates on the Graphotype machines in the side room. The one girl was fairly adequate at the job; unfortunately, she had a huge attitude. You could not always depend on her showing up on time, or at all, and when she wished to smoke or otherwise take a break, she would simply get up and go outside. Her viewpoint was at the end of summer she would be back in school and all this job represented was some extra spending money for the summer. If she lost the job, she could care less. Her parents would look after her needs and she could just go soak up the sum at the shore.
The other girl was always there when she should be, full of enthusiasm and willing to do the work. Unfortunately, she couldn’t. I do not know how she made out in college, because she didn’t seem to have a mind for grasping things. If fact, she barely seemed to have a brain at all. She would sit all days cutting plates, but every plate had to be carefully reviewed and half or more had such errors they had to be chucked. I had to have a talk with her about the future of her employment.
I sat at my desk and she next to it. The first thing she did was cry. I hate dealing with a crying woman. A waterfall of bawls and tears flowed from her. After we stifled some of these dramatics she began to lean in toward me more and more. She was a pretty girl blessed with a envious build. She wore a blouse that buttoned down the front and was open enough to show off her cleavage, and the more she earned, the more she showed. There was a real and present danger that something or two would pop out. I did everything I could to avert my eyes, but she still kept leaning forward. Eventually her breasts were resting upon my arm. They were warm and heavy.  I’m no Bill Clinton. I know when not to take advantage of a foolish young woman. I sent her packing.
The other girl stayed a bit longer, then she quit leaving behind some choice words for North American and myself I prefer not to repeat.
Now I was left with the former manager, who hated my guts, and the crew Mary had hired about the same time as I started. Oh my, I could have dealt easier with lions and tigers and bears or Dorothy’s apple throwing trees. They were nice ladies, but they were a mess. Curtis Publishing had closed down their Philadelphia operations the year before. You remember Curtis, they published “Saturday Evening Post”, “Ladies Home Companion”, “Jack and Jill”. “Holiday” and several other major American mainstays of that era. They hadn’t stayed mainstay enough to keep Curtin in business, however. This left a lot of publishing house experienced people out on the street.
North American snapped up these ex-Curtis employees in batches and a batch of about 12 landed in my domain. They were all nice old ladies, with the emphasis on old. Curtis was founded in 1881 and these women probably started their careers there then. They could be some of those very women pictured in the vintage photo on the right for all I know. Now age doesn’t have to be a factor for the type of work they were being asked to do; however they can’t be afraid of it either. I don’t know how Curtis functioned in their circulation department, but at North American we used Addressograph and Graphotypes. This was equipment these ladies had never seen before and they were scared to death of the machines. Getting them to use the things took quite an effort.

Somehow I made everything work and we straightened out the disorganization of the department and also got the initial ABC Audit accomplished. I also found time to talk with Frank McLaughlin, editor of Media & Methods at times. I learned a lot from him, especially in the matter of direct mail campaigns and how just a 1% response was good enough. I even reached the point where people came to me for advice.

One day I was consulted on a new marketing scheme. As I told you, we did a brisk business with “Bestsellers” by selling bookmarks and posters. We also sold the frames to display the posters. Marketing decided we could increase our sales of posters if we offered to give the frames out for free for each poster the magazine dealers bought, including to those who already subscribed. The frames cost us $1.09 each.
I told the assembled group, which included the Publisher, Irvin Borowsky that it was not a good plan, that we would lose our shirt. Someone pointed out that the newsstand owners loved the frames. Yes, I told them, they do, and they’ll love them even more if they are free. I tried to explain the illogic of it. These newsstands had very limited space for displays. They were already ordering as many posters as their places would hold. They would take the frames because they really liked the frames, but I doubted they would buy more posters. I also calculated how many new posters we would have to sell to cover our costs of buying these frames, and we would never do it. It was a total loser.

I then got a tongue lashing from the publisher, who told me I too negative. This would not be the first time in my business career I got jumped on for telling the truth nor for being right.
They went on with the promotion, sold not one extra poster and lost a bundle in the deal. No one ever came to me and said, “Sorry, we were too positive.”
I was not happy working for the company. There were a number of practices that seemed unfair, especially in the way they exploited their employees, at least those beneath my level. The pay was low and the demands were high. They deliberately hired people in vulnerable situations, like the former Curtis ladies. If they hired an exceptional worker for you, Mary would steal the person away for her own department and send you someone with less skills or desire.

One day I had to go on a delivery and I got lost. I spent a good hour or more wandering about the city streets looking for the address. All the while I was thinking about my feelings for the company and growing angrier. When I got back to the office I sat down and wrote out my resignation. I had lasted there about six months.

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