A time of great change in publishing

by Josh Sosland
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Considering the sorry state of most parts of the publishing business, especially those focused on print magazines, it is with a measure of pride that we at Sosland Publishing Co. review the results of 2015. Revenues for the year, while short of ambitious goals, showed gains over the prior year. Few print-on-paper publishers can so report. Margins gained at three magazines, Milling & Baking News, Baking & Snack, and Meat & Poultry. The Purchasing Seminar, our largest non-print effort, topped its budget by an impressive percentage reaching new highs in attendance. Challenges were faced by Food Business News, World Grain and Bake that led to budget shortfalls. These varied results reflect the volatile marketplace characterized by stiff competition, mergers cutting the number of advertisers and readers and economic uncertainties.

Hardly anything underscores harsh realities better than the number of publishing companies planning to change names to drop “publishing” in favor of “media.” Most important for the new word is that it preserves print-on-paper while embracing digital formats that seem to multiply. With publishing still proudly in our name, this company has succeeded in Internet expansion with steadily climbing revenues. This year we recorded 6.8 million web site views, up nearly 20 per cent. Food Business News leads in gaining Internet presence.

None of last year’s achievements would have occurred without the strong leadership team S.P.C. enjoys. As important as electronics may be to successful publishing, it is the editors collecting and writing the news and interpretations that our valued readers require and the publishers managing advertising sales and expenses who deserve the credit for 2015.

Hardly anyone better represents this essential element in support of these publishing successes than Mark Sabo, who retired at the end of the past year. Mark’s 43-year career spans nearly half of this company’s history. His tenure coincided with dramatic change where he actively participated and helped to lead a two-publication business blossoming with the creation or acquisition of multiple titles while venturing into new endeavors and strongly committed for growth in the digital age.

When Mark joined in 1973 after graduating from the University of Kansas, S.P.C. published only Milling & Baking News (then still a new and somewhat strange name to longtime readers of The Southwestern Miller) and Retail Baking Today. The roster of additional titles published today — Food Business News, Baking & Snack, World Grain, Meat & Poultry, Bake and instore — all bear his imprint as a leader of the publishing business. Mark spearheaded the growth of the annual Purchasing Seminar, helping make this event an important enterprise for this company and an annual focal point for the entire industry.

The same irrepressible energy Mark brought to his work at Sosland spilled into the industry as a change agent in numerous and important ways. Emblematic of this impact was his dogged determination to rid this publication and the industry of their sentimental attachment to the ancient expression “breadstuffs” as a description of the finished products made from flour. Mark recognized the degree to which the industry was changing from one centered principally on white bread, cookies and crackers, and it was he who coined, embraced and championed the term “grain-based foods” as a more representative reflection of where the industry is heading. It was a source of delight that large publicly traded companies in the industry and others adopted the term in annual reports and in varied communications. The term is now ubiquitous.

Along with his associates in publishing, Mark has been a prominent figure across grain-based foods, respected for his insights, energy and leadership. The esteem he won was evident in numerous requests for his services as presenter and moderator at industry conferences, as a member of the American Bakers Association Board of Directors and as chairman of AIB International Inc. With Mark’s well-earned retirement, his presence will be missed, for it is certain now as it was when he began that the future of publishing and of grain-based foods is undergoing amazing, rapid change.

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