Kane Communications Publisher Scott Borowsky Shares Secrets to Success
Think magazines are a dying industry? One Ardmore publisher would beg to differ.
MAGAZINE MOGUL: Scott Borowsky gets in some light reading//Photo by Tessa Marie Images.
Scott Borowsky was on his way to a Sunday yoga class when he saw the line. The studio happens to be across from the Reel Cinemas Anthony Wayne Theater on Lancaster Avenue, where, that morning, large numbers of fans had already gathered to check out the highly anticipated release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Five billion dollars in merchandising was predicted in the wake of the film. As the publisher of Souvenirs, Gifts & Novelties magazine, Borowsky knew what was coming. “Star Wars is a monster,” he says. “Years ago, we had that advertising and content. Now, we hope to have it again.”
Borowsky is the founder and executive editor of Ardmore’s Kane Communications, the company behind the largest professional title for the retail gift industry. Kane is s heartening anomaly in the magazine business. While most publishers are cutting back on page counts, scrapping whole issues and even ending print editions entirely, it continues to experience growth. In 2013, SGN reached a milestone with its 406 page October issue.
Kane also publishes Podiatry Management for the foot-care industry and Tourist Attractions & Parks, the world’s top trade magazine for managers of leisure facilities, attractions, entertainment and amusement centers. And while it’s not the most glamorous content from a mainstream perspective, Borowsky has certainly found his niche—and he’s thriving because of it.
Information exchange among industry insiders is the backbone of Kane’s success. “It’s what it’s all about,” says Dan Shoemaker, director of sales for Kalan LP, a third-generation specialty souvenir, novelty and gift company based in Lansdowne. “It gets us together to talk the business and SGN is right there.”
The longevity of Kane’s three publications speaks volumes. Published eight times annually, SGN is in its 54th year of specializing in what Borowsky calls “entertainment retailing”—the sale of licensed toys, novelties, clothing and other merchandise linked to movies and TV shows. The bimonthly TAP is 44 years old, while PM—out nine times a year—is 34.
Kane has a staff of eight full-time and four part-time employees, and limited overhead. Careful business decisions are made to farm out design, production, printing and circulation, and most of the in-house operations are in Ardmore, with 40 freelance writers around the country.
Borowsky still writes a column in every issue of each magazine. He’s still looking to evolve, ramp up digital production, and explore options if he identifies another worthy niche.
In case you’re wondering if Borowsky is a fan of anything he covers, he once had an arcade room in his home. And as a businessman, he’s always on the lookout for opportunities. He bought Podiatry Management after he learned that the industry had scientific journals but only one fledgling professional publication. He suggested a trade magazine to teach those in practice how to make more money. “We’re now a dominant medical publication,” he says.
Scott Borowsky could’ve just as easily stepped into his father’s shoes mid-stride. In 1957, Irvin Borowsky founded North American Publishing Company in Philadelphia. Four years earlier, he’d sold TV Digest—later renamed TV Guide—to Walter Annenberg. He published a dozen trade magazines. The first of those, Printing Impressions, became the bible of the graphic-arts industry.
By the late 1960s, North American Publishing had gone public, eventually testing the consumer market with the purchase of Cue, a New York entertainment magazine. It soon chewed up the money Irvin had made in trade publications.
At his peak, Irvin found himself competing with the great publishing icon, Rupert Murdoch. It was a battle over who would be “Mr. New York,” his son says—until they agreed that they’d both do better by merging interests.
Irvin ultimately sold out to Murdoch. He returned to his core success, dropping shareholders and leveraging one last consumer publication, Audio magazine, by selling it to a network.
Away from the publishing industry, Irvin formed the American Interfaith Institute that morphed into the National Liberty Museum, which he housed in the Independence Seaport Museum in Center City. Scott’s sister, Gwen, is now its CEO. A brother, Ted, has taken over their dad’s manufacturing business. Following Irvin’s death in 2014 at age 90, another brother, Ned, began leading the remaining publishing interests.
Scott attended Wyoming Seminary prep school, and then Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., where he majored in business. He worked his way through law school, graduating in 1975 from the Delaware Law School—now part of Widener University—and took aim at becoming a financial securities attorney. After a start as a lawyer in California, he returned home to help run his father’s manufacturing company, before stumbling into the publishing business.
In 1977, Scott paid all of $5,000 for the Kane Beverage Alcohol Report, purchased with a percentage payout to the seller if he could make it profitable. Scott did. Four years later, he sold it to an ex-Evening Bulletin employee at a profit. A year after that, another purchase gave him five publications—which are the foundation of Kane’s current success.
Scott acknowledges his father’s help, though it came mostly in the form of philosophical validation. “He’s the one who said, ‘You have to go out and try, and if you end up owing money, well, that’s what it’s about,’” says Scott. “When I started, I had no money, but I had the mindset to go and do it. I got that from him.”