Don't look now, but somebody is having a silver anniversary. Vending Times printed its first edition in 1962 (after incorporating in 1961), and is 50 years old this year.
The pleasure of telling some of the great stories of the magazine's founders -- Vic Lavay and Morris "Tiny" Weintraub -- I will leave to others who can do a far better job. (Let's hope publisher Alicia Lavay, managing editor Nick Montano and editor-in-chief Tim Sanford will find the time and space to recount some of that history.)
In this column, however, I simply want to take this occasion to think out loud about how far the industry has come since 1962, how much the world has changed, and what the role of a trade publication is in a relatively small yet multi-billion-dollar industry.
How long ago was 1962? Vending Times was founded the same year that John Glenn orbited the earth three times in a Mercury space capsule and transfixed the world's attention. 1962 was the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was the year Polaroid's instant film was relaunched in filmpacks, and the year Marilyn Monroe died.
The most commercially successful musicians on the scene in 1962 were the Four Seasons, who scored three consecutive number-one hits. Telephones were still rotary-dial contraptions. Newspapers were the dominant news medium. Network TV newscasts were 15 minutes long (and broadcast in black-and-white).
It's remarkable how much has changed in 50 years -- and equally remarkable how much has remained the same. Today, thanks to TV, the Internet and Netflix, Marilyn Monroe is more omnipresent than ever. You can still turn on your car radio and hear the Four Seasons belting out their 1962 hit "Big Girls Don't Cry."
In the world of the trade press, VT is still faithfully performing the same mission with which it began 50 years ago. Of course, the magazine is no longer confined to slick pages that arrive in your mailbox. It is an equally powerful presence on the Internet. Every hour of every day, hundreds of visitors from all over the world come to VendingTimes.com as a first resource to learn about the industry, and professionals from across the nation go there to keep up with the latest breaking developments. When you perform a Google News search on dozens of industry terms, a VT story often pops up in the first 10 results.
I can't speak for the full-line and bulk vending sides of the market, but the amusement industry, it seems to me, has always had a slightly ambivalent relationship with its trade press.
On the plus side, operators, distributors and manufacturers love to read profiles of themselves and their colleagues. They appreciate educational columns, accurate statistics, and an unbiased perspective on the news. Readers sometimes (but not always) appreciate being informed about new technology and new forms of regulation and competition.
Also on the plus side, this industry has been fortunate to be served by several publications that not only provide news coverage but also perform a quasi-ambassadorial role. Trade pubs can sometimes explain the business to political, regulatory and other economic powers in a way that even trade associations have a difficult time doing. Occasionally, this function has been quite valuable to the industry.
That's the plus side. On the minus side, a small industry with a unique business culture sometimes prefers discretion to transparency...and cheer leading to criticism. As a result, the spotlight function of the trade press is not always welcomed with 100% enthusiasm.
In an industry that often seems so democratic and diffuse as to appear nearly leaderless, VT has earned its place as a thought leader. VT always has been known and trusted as a solid, sober, thoughtful trade journal. For 50 years it has diligently reported the news, charted the trends, and generated some of the industry's most useful and widely quoted statistics.
And something more. Mohandas K. Gandhi, who published a small newspaper for several years, said one of the most important roles of journalism is to create and sustain a sense of community among its readers. VT has certainly done that.
Most important of all, perhaps, the publication has consistently offered a progressive yet realistic vision of the industry to itself. That vision has always been based on a broad and inclusive perspective... revealing a complex, multifaceted industry that embraces not only merchandise vending machines but also jukeboxes, amusement equipment, bulk and flat merchandise venders and kiddie rides.
The industry's "community" is constantly changing, almost as quickly as the technology it deploys and the markets it serves. But there will always be a need for objective information -- and broad perspective.