Is our DNA Keeping the Newsstand Industry From Making a Sale?

A longtime friend and colleague has often said that “ Single copy sales is a very simple, practical, complicated, business.”

He’s right. The goal is simple. Sell stuff.

No sale here

It’s the selling of the stuff (magazines), however, that is often complicated. Product has to be shipped at just the right time. The content has to look appealing. It has to be displayed just so. It has to get to just the right mix of stores in just the right quantities so that all the links in the chain can make some money from the sale (A lot of people dip into that $4.99 cover price before the publisher takes the final cut).

All along the way, one simple blooper, one simple slip up can mean the difference between front shelf displays or a missed on-sale date. Between a small profit, break even, or a loss.

Some things are unavoidable. Adults who conduct business prepare for mishaps and deal with them. You know what you have to do when the printer mis-ships sub copies to a wholesaler. You’re going to have to sticker new UPC codes onto the cover and it will cost you. If the road to the break up agent gets washed out in a tornado, you’re going to have a delayed shipment. If the union at the grocery chain goes on strike, you may have trouble getting your product in the door. If your editorial and art team once again decided not to include you in the cover reviews and produced a stinker for what is supposed to be the biggest issue of the year…Well, that happens.

We handle that all the time.

What’s strange is the strange, the absurb, the unusal roadblocks that we now place in front of ourselves on a daily basis. How did this come about?

Here’s some examples from my daily notes. All every day occurrences that make this publisher’s representative and his colleagues (many of these were shared with me by my colleagues) wonder if we really, truly, honestly want to sell stuff anymore.

  • Require new retail authorizations to buy a “Promotion” or pay extra RDA (Retail Display Allowance) in order to gain authorization to the chain.
  • Have wholesalers deny access to any more than 10% of the newly authorized chain account (even though the market is much bigger) because….well, “because”.
  • Lose a chain authorization that you paid up front promotional monies for after one year because you were denied access to the proposed distribution by your servicing wholesalers issue after issue after issue because your sales did not meet the threshold….well, “because.”
  • Have your national distributor send out “distribution assignments” without your pre-approval or knowledge.
  • Have the national distribution assignment that did not meet your approval include competitive titles and/or goals that do not meet your publishers goals, objectives or competitive titles.
  • Have a cover review meeting with your publisher, editor and art team. At the close of the meeting have the art director note that “This was a waste a time.” and “In a year we’re going to be all digital anyway so who cares what the newsstand cover looks like.”
  • Have your circulation department spend hours re-keying sales data from industry information suppliers, wholesalers and national distributors because each link in the chain provides data in a different format and none of them match how you review and interpret the data.
  • Sit in a meeting and listen to an editor berate the “middle men” who suck all the profit from magazines. “We’d be better off dealing with Amazon and Apple,” he proclaims, “That’s where all the kids go anyway.” He neglects to connect the dots. Apple and Amazon are “middle men.” They sell other people’s stuff for a cut.
  • Pay tens of thousands of dollars in promotional monies in order to achieve circulation targets and have those targets washed away almost immediately in “scale back” allotments that do not take into account actual sales in promoted accounts.
  • Have your distribution managed by individuals who are not familiar with your title, it’s regional strengths, it’s seasonality, or the editorial content of your magazine.

IPDA released an encouraging report this week from Kable Media’s Jim Roberts detailing the interesting and innovative things some of their clients are doing in order to maintain and grow their single copy sales.

Right now, I am in the middle of a pretty extensive relaunch effort with a multi decades old publisher. The publisher has partnered up with some web based entrepreneurs who like the melding of print and digital and they are excited about their prospects on the newsstand. People still want to do this. This is good.

Doug Stephans, the president of consulting firm Retail Prophet, asked in his blog post last week, “Is the companys DNA killing your brand?” In his post, Stephans examines the numerous missteps that Avon cosmetics has made since the later part of the 20th century and their inability to adapt to new retail challenges and the 21st century’s trends in social media and retail marketing.

This is a piece of our DNA

Is our own industry’s DNA is hurting our ability to sell our product? Have we mutated into something that hurts our ability to grow? Four links in a distribution chain with differing methods of measuring sales and financial success. Perhaps our industry DNA is so mutated after all the changes in the past two decades that we’ve lost sight of our one simple goal:

Sell magazines.

Editor’s Note: This post sat in my edit que for about six days. Since it’s first draft, others in our industry have also written about our struggles to get out of our own way. 

I’d encourage you to read John Harrington’s  excellent history of how the newsstand business consolidated in the 1990’s via BoSacks.com.

For additional perspective from another industry consultant, check out Linda Ruth’s additional thoughts on magazine display by clicking on the link above.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we can improve our industry.

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2 Replies to “Is our DNA Keeping the Newsstand Industry From Making a Sale?”

  1. How in the world does that retailer sell any magazines? A Pizza magazine on the top shelf and below it is Sports Illustrated, a Knit-n-Style and a BHG title all together? Why don’t they just put them all in alphabetical order like some Borders stores did? And my god, was it hard to convince them that alpha order was crazy. After all, the books are in alpha order by author. We used to joke that the books should be shelved by color. People would come in and ask for ‘that new book with the blue cover’.
    Regarding selling magazines….how many times did you or your colleagues buy a promo at Borders to get the title into all stores? 😉 It was pretty much the only way some titles were gonna get in all stores because there were such different demographics through out the country. Huntin’ -n- Fishin’ ain’t gonna sell on Park Ave. 😉
    When you sit in a meeting with an editor and they bad-mouth the ‘middle men’, do you remind them that Apple and Amazon are the middle men? I hope so!
    Keep on truckin’!

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