Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Getting to Work and Getting Paid: Jack Newcombe Talks Priorities as the New Head of Creators Syndicate

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Getting to Work and Getting Paid: Jack Newcombe Talks Priorities as the New Head of Creators Syndicate

Article excerpt

"YOU COULD WORK ANYWHERE, AND YOU'RE going to work for a newspaper syndicate?" Jack Newcombe recalled how his friends responded when he revealed his first job after completing his MBA at Stanford University would be to work for his father, Richard Newcombe, at Creators Syndicate.

Rick founded Creators Syndicate in 1987, only the second major independent syndicate started since the 1930s, and has now handed over the reins to Jack, who took over as the company's president and chief operations officer in July. Rick continues to serve as CEO and chairman of the board, but it's Jack's company now, calling the shots in a transitional period for the newspaper industry.

Jack certainly isn't bashful. His youthful optimism and ambition in the face of a cataclysmic shift in the media industry inspires confidence, even as he admits to not knowing all the answers.

I recently spoke with Jack about his goal of building Creators Syndicate into a large media company that competes with the likes of Disney, News Corp. and Viacom, and the practical reality of getting creators paid amid media budget cuts.

How have the last few years of media cutbacks affected Creators, and how have you weathered the storm?

I read that the Newspaper Association of America released figures to the AP that newspaper ad revenue declined for 20 straight quarters, most recently by 7 percent. Those are obviously extremely negative numbers over a long period of time.

With regard to Creators Syndicate, we are one of the positive ones in an otherwise volatile media landscape. Our main clients are newspapers, and some newspapers are in serious trouble. As a result, since the recession hit at the end of 2007, like all the other major syndicates, we have absorbed a lot of cancellations.

Now, recently, we have actually seen an increase in feature revenue. I cannot speak for the industry or for our clients, but I can say that this is no accident for Creators Syndicate. Our sales staff, our operations staff, our business development department, and all employees at Creators have been working tirelessly to get those numbers up, and we are just now seeing the results.

How do you bridge the gap of editors who are set in their ways and afraid to change their offerings?

Step one--acceptance. I'm not going to change that person's mind. I could come out with "Far Side," show them, and they'd say, "We have budget cuts. I'm not kicking out 'Hagar.'" The best thing I can do is not try to change their mind. They're on their own, and I still have a fiduciary responsibility to our creators.

Now, I need to figure out how to get my creators that audience of loyal fans. Today, the fan base you can get, while potentially smaller, is also getting more loyal and more passionate.

Yes, but how do you make money with passion?

I'm not going to pretend to know the answer to that. There used to be the idea of get a billion eyeballs, charge X dollars for those eyeballs, then you value the content at Y. Advertisers aren't willing to pay as much, or as often, for digital ads, so it puts our customers in a bind.

One answer is ancillary revenue, making money through different avenues.

That's across the board from charging for archives, toys, and TV shows. We've placed a huge focus in the last six months on building relationships with agencies and producers. None of it is finalized, but it's been unbelievable getting these ancillary products and revenue streams going.

Stand-up comics do a podcast that they give away so they can sell out a live event. …

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