Weekend Media Threads, July 6, 2019

MAD Magazine is all but dead, so is Thud, Amazon owns everything, but can Walmart challenge them?

MAD Magazine announce this week that it will will discontinue publishing new content this fall. They’ll continue to publish special editions with classic content, but there will be no new content. At this point a print media icon shutting down isn’t news, it something that occurs regularly at this point.

This particular end is of personal interest to me, however. I was a huge fan of MAD. I have a framed copy of a random issue hanging in my foyer, and keep a copy signed by my eight grade classmates in a memory box. I haven’t read the magazine regularly in well over 20 years, but I have checked in occasionally to see how the magazine is holding up.

When I did pick up a copy, what I found was what you see in MAD’s print cousins: less pages, smaller format, confusing layout, no sense of continuity, etc. I also found that I outgrew most of the humor a long time ago. Although, while the humor no longer struck a chord with me, the artwork has remained top notch, a fact that will remain through the final issue I’m sure. MAD’s artists have always been second-to-none.

I even checked in to its website on rare occasions, and started following them on various social sites. Unfortunately what I found there was a sad version of the once-great magazine. MAD and its staff of artists and writers, like many traditional media outlets, never figured out how to thrive in our modern media landscape. Unlike most media outlets, from my perspective, it didn’t feel like they even tried. Like they decided they would ride and die with a dying print presence.

With its irreverent humor, political takes, and stylized art could have positioned itself to become a unique online satire website. Instead, MAD’s web presence feels like a box to check someone checks once a week instead of a destination for users to experience new content.

The fact that Cracked will outlive MAD it terms of societal relevancy, seems like an awful joke to my 12-year-old self. I assume most of the people who visit Cracked.com have no clue its history in magazine publishing and how it was the only satire magazine to really compete with MAD. In Cracked’s Wikipedia entry they reference a joke that I always found to be true:

and it [Cracked] “spent nearly half a century with a fan base primarily comprised of people who got to the store after Mad sold out.”

MAD was always more popular and socially relevant. Yet over the past two decades MAD continued its decline into obscurity while Cracked magazine folded and it reinvented itself into a successful website.

Somewhere I imagine Sylvester P. Smythe standing over Alfred E. Neuman laughing.

Thud!

Not that building a satire/comedy brand is easy, just ask Elon Musk.

Before I read that linked article I had never heard of Thud, or at least I don’t remember hearing about it. Thud is a satire brand that was envisioned to consist of more than just a website. Announced in March of 2014, Thud would create fake brands, products, and museum installations that would exist in real world.

The reason I, and I’m guessing most people, never heard of it is because it got off to a rough start and never found an audience. Which was a result of its “quirky and limited” marketing:

Thud’s quirky and limited approach to marketing meant that few people discovered its projects. Of its initial send-ups, two out of the three that include social media components have fewer than 150 followers combined across their Twitter and Instagram pages. The most successful project, DNA Friend, has around 2,000 followers across both platforms.

I looked through some of the brands they did create and they just scream of trying too hard. I’m all for quirky, and love satire, but nothing hear strikes me a something that is needed. And apparently most people agree.

Amazon owns everything

I came across this list from BuzzFeed News on businesses owned by Amazon (of course named with more SEO value than I wrote above). According to the article, “Amazon will make up an estimated 38% of the U.S. e-commerce market this year.” According to Shopify, the e-commerce market in the U.S. is $561 billion. Amazon’s e-commerce business will bring in $213 billion in 2019. To match this you would need to combine the e-commerce markets of Canada ($44b), Germany ($77b), and the U.S. ($93b).

That’s incredible.

What’s even more incredible is the number of individual businesses that Amazon owns that makes up its empire. They even own a wind farm.

Can anyone challenge Amazon?

One of Amazon’s main competitors in e-commerce is Walmart. Actually with just 4.7 percent of the market, it might not be fair to call they a competitor. At least not yet.

Walmart has moved aggressively into the e-commerce space over the past few years in order to position themselves as a competitor. More than you can save for most retailers. Although its currently behind the curve, credit Walmart for recognizing the future and quickly carving out a path to get there. At least they understand what they need to do.

But can they do it?

As with any traditional brand that aggressively moves into the digital world, it will be tough. A fact that is detailed in this Recode article on Walmart’s internal conflict in regards to its race against Amazon.

It’s not easy for a company to move into a new space. There is a huge amount of risk. It’s uncomfortable, unnerving and, when you’re in catch-up mode, can be a money-losing proposition in the short-term causes. Which can cause internal strife. A reality, according to Recode, that Walmart is now fully entrenched in.

According to sources in the article, Walmart’s e-commerce division lost $1 billion on revenues of between $21 and $22 billion (just five percent of Walmart’s U.S. business). And folks on the profitable side of the business are getting nervous.

From Recode:

This is the reality Lore [Jet.com founder, which Walmart bought in 2016] is still struggling to get Walmart’s entire executive team and board to accept, though sources say McMillon [Walmart CEO] also acknowledges it: E-commerce in the US is becoming a “winner take all” industry. Or, at a minimum, a “winner take most” market.

Amazon is a very real existential threat to Walmart’s entire future if the retailer does not significantly close this gap — and fast. If Walmart falls further behind Amazon or doesn’t make up ground, we’re increasingly likely to face a future where Amazon is even more the de facto online store for everyone, with little legitimate competition or compelling alternatives on the market.

It’s a fascinating look at the internal workings of large-scale change at any organization.

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