Editor’s Note: This is a re-write of a piece I often include in information packets for regional publishers. Their biggest issue with their single copy sales is that they can’t seem to find their title, and they don’t know where to start looking. In today’s environment, this makes for a viable blog post.
We Wonder Too
Does it feel like, the “other guy” always gets a better display? That theirs is the preferred title? That your magazine gets stuck in the back row? It’s unfair that “they” (Wholesalers and retailers) treat you this way! To many regional magazine publishers, these statements are a fact of daily life on the newsstand.
Considering the current state of the newsstand distribution industry, there seems little reason to think otherwise. The reality, however, is often a mixture of opinion, fact and chance.
Your UPC code tells the magazine wholesaler and retailer a lot about your title. The UPC code is first scanned when the magazine is checked into the warehouse. It tells the wholesaler who you are, when you’re supposed to go on sale, how much you cost at retail and what your frequency is. Lastly, and most importantly to you, the wholesaler reviews which retailers you are scheduled to get delivered to.
The retailer learns your sales history from your UPC and your cover price (How profitable are you for the retailer?). Go to a major chain store some time and watch them scan your title. Many retailers now pay the wholesalers based on what their computer system shows they sold through their cash register (“Pay on Scan”).
The frequency code in a wholesalers’ distribution program tells him how long you get left on-sale. In theory that means that a monthly magazine has a three to four week on-sale period. Following this logic, bi-monthlies, quarterlies, annuals, etc., are on-sale even longer.
The practice is quite different. The conventional wisdom is that the average magazine sells most of its copies in the first few days and is lucky if it is on the rack for more than two weeks.
Many mainlines have specific “plan-o-grams” and most merchandisers will follow them closely. But believe it or not, if the merchandiser happens to take a liking to your magazine (Something to keep in mind when designing your cover), you could get some extra display space.
What Should You Do?
If you don’t see your magazine in a store but you see your competitor, you should to ask yourself the following questions:
1) How close is it to my new on-sale date? If it’s the end of your on-sale period and you don’t see your magazine, that’s good. You sold down.
2) When did the competition go on sale? Just now? Did you go on sale a week or two before them? If you don’t know your competitors on-sale schedule, learn it. Now! The more you know about what they really do, the more power you have over your own newsstand sales.
3) Cover treatment. Remember the comment about the stock person taking a liking to a particular title? What did the competitor have on the cover? Was there a local person or issue of particular interest? Compare his to yours. Be honest.
Don’t forget this very important fact. Newsstand copies have two audiences: 1. The reader, 2. The wholesaler and retailer. To get your magazine to your ultimate audience, the reader, you have to have a product that will also appeal to the wholesaler or retailer.
Sometimes you will have people reporting to you that they don’t see the magazine “their”stores. Does it feel like you’re getting a lot of these calls?
Find out by doing this:
1) Create a log of these calls. When the issue in question closes, you’ll see how many calls you really received. Depending on the size of your circulation, five calls a month might be a lot, or a little.
Keep the log going and you’ll soon have a good idea of where the success stories and the holes are for your newsstand distribution.
2) On this log you should ask the person who reports this problem the following questions. Their answers are the key to solving the problem:
A) What day were they in the store?
B) What the location? If they have the store number, even better. It should be on their receipt.
C) Was the competitor on display in that store? If so:
1. Where on the rack was the competitor?
2. How many copies were there? (I usually divide this number in half).
3) Know your production schedule! Did I say that already? You won’t find many or any of your magazines on display a few days, or even a week before you’re due to go on sale with a new issue. If you do, then you didn’t sell many copies.
When All Else Fails
Take these actions:
A) Make friends. Get to know the store managers or general merchandise managers at those stores you deem important to your visibility and sales. Many times these are chain outlets. Their parent companies often have promotional programs they sell on a national level, but nothing for the regional title. But, if you make friends, you may help your displays for that special issue.
B) Make friends. They’re actually very nice people. Get to know who your local magazine distributor is. In this day of consolidation, they may be hundreds of miles away. So if you can’t get to know the distribution manager at the headquarters, get to know the route manager at the local depot (where the delivery trucks pick up their orders).
Do you have hats and t-shirts? Drop off a boxful to you’re new friend at the depot.
C) There may be more than one magazine wholesaler in your town. One of the big companies may handle all the national chains. The company that delivers to the local IGA supermarket, the regional drugstore chain and the convenience store where you get your coffee may be one of the few surviving “ID” wholesalers. Do they even get your magazine? You could be missing a vital chunk of your circulation.
Keep your eyes open and be realistic when considering your newsstand sales. You may actually discover that you were doing all the right things in the first place.
In the meantime, stay on top of the things you can control: Editorial quality and integrity, interesting advertisers, an attractive package, synergy between your electronic and print versions.
Your readers will find you.