A Bounty of Book A Zines

We’ve seen numerous reports of the remarkable growth of the Book A Zine category since the beginning of this no longer new decade. Most of the reports marvel at the tremendous elasticity of the category, the unit sales growth and the wide variety of titles that publishers are pumping out.

But unless you really go and look at a magazine rack today, you wouldn’t really see and feel the impact of what this “new” category is doing to the rack.* Oh you can talk about it and read all about it, but until you really go and look and see, you might not understand it.

As our former Secretary of Defense and eloquent wordsmith Donald Rumsfeld once said:

When there were more wholesalers to visit, distributions to work and territories to see, I always made it a point to spend a few hours at retail. Unlike some of the traveling pooh-bahs of the time, my goal wasn’t to find an issue to use as a cudgel on the local rep. I really wanted to see and know the town. It was the only way I felt that I could know, understand and own what I was working on. The only way to know what I knew and know that I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

If you know what I mean. Because otherwise it was just a bunch of numbers.

We don’t have that today. When was the last time someone other than the local merchandiser was in the Martin’s on Route 20 in South Bend, IN?

The other day I spent some time getting acquainted with a new supermarket in the wake of my neighborhood store closing. While I still go out to retail, these days I’m usually just looking for one or two client titles. It was good to really stop, look, absorb, and spend time at the rack. It’s a great way to learn a store.

And look how these “zines” have taken over the rack:

Who said "General Interest" is dead?
Who said “General Interest” is dead?
Cooking, cowboys...and ice fishing? Well, it is January, this is the Midwest.
Cooking, cowboys…and ice fishing? Well, it is January, this is the Midwest.
Maybe there was nowhere else to drop the bridal mag?
Maybe there was nowhere else to drop the bridal mag?

While this part of the market is doing well, they can strain the distribution chain. If the store is part of chain that has “SBT” (Scan Based Trading), then the wholesaler owns that merchandise. These are annuals. Those are high cover prices and a long on sale. That’s a lot of inventory to own.

There are fewer turns on the rack unless the publisher is pumping out a bunch of ‘Zines. And while some publishers are (cough, cough) pumping out a ton of ‘zines, it’s not enough to replace the lost sales we see in the higher volume categories.

Lastly, not all magazine categories are naturals for these “Zines.” And, more importantly, there are some economic issues to be concerned with. Without some existing clout behind you, a brand that is well established and has a significant newsstand presence, these aren’t that cheap to produce nor are they that cheap to launch in the blind.

In the comments section of Dead Tree Edition’s post about Book A Zines, industry guru Bo Sacks wondered if we would get too greedy and kill the category. I’m inclined to think not. Unlike a regular frequency title, you don’t repeat a special edition if it doesn’t work. It’s just too costly. Unlike a monthly, you’re not going to leave it on life support because there’s no ad or subscriber revenue to prop it up.

Where will the category go? I don’t know. But it was nice to stop and look, really look at the rack.

*For the record, back in the day, we called them annuals or SIPS. There just weren’t as many of them, and they didn’t have good press.

Some Places Remembered

In the very first post of this blog I pointed out that one of the reasons I started it was to write about some of the great “characters” I met. During the years when I traveled frequently I met many people who left indelible memories with me. Most of these people were friendly, hard-working and interested in doing a good job. Some of them were complete characters. A few of these “characters” were very lucky to avoid incarceration.

Earlier this week I wrapped up rolling over all of my files to the new year. More than 90% of them are now completely digitized (They never get printed and filed). That meant it was time to clear out some old “analog” files, folders and binders. That also meant it was long past time for some of the old “wholesaler” files to make the final trip to the shredder.

But before that last trip, here’s a few “memories” to share:

  • The “old” Rep Room at CLCC’s (Chas. Levy Circulating Company) 1140 North Branch location was one of the loudest places I ever worked…
  • That is, until it moved to 1200 North Branch. Then it was one of the more unsettling places to work because I could never get used to the feel of the building trembling when the semis would back into the loading dock and bump the wall.
  • Whenever I drove to Southern Michigan News in Jackson, MI in the first quarter of the year, it always seemed to snow. I would always keep a count of how many cars were off the road and in the ditches on I-94. It was a big number.
  • Ron Lankerd, the GM of Western Michigan News in Grand Rapids wouldn’t let me park my foreign-made car close to the building. He is a GM man.
  • While working for a publisher early in my career, I was sent on a trip in early November that took me from the ARA agency in Spokane, WA to the wholesaler in Coeur D’Alene, ID, and finally on a circuit of all of the wholesalers in Montana (There were at least five at the time). When I arrived at the agency in Missoula, the manager looked up from his desk and said, “You’ll probably never get out of here if it starts snowing. Can you work a tie line?” It did start snowing and I did (barely) get out of there. I really didn’t want to work that tie line.
  • Ladies of a certain career choice used to walk the street next to Buckeye News in Toledo, OH.
  • The state of Iowa serves the best pie.
  • The state of Minnesota serves the next best pie.
  • I never found a decent Chinese restaurant in Mankato, MN. Hopefully things are better now.
  • The original location of Iowa Periodicals in Des Moines, IA (pre-consolidation) was next to the airport and you could hear the Iowa Air National Guard practice take off and landings.
  • While the wind chill made it -50F in Chicago last week, I worked at Badger Periodicals in Appleton, WI one week when the thermostat read -40F before the wind chill.
  • Ohio Periodicals in Cincinnati, OH had one of the smallest Rep Rooms I ever worked in. I believe Tom Doddy liked it that way. That is one of the numerous reasons I like Tom Doddy.
  • I often wondered if the pipes that ran next to the Rep Room (located in the basement) at Klein News in Cleveland, OH carried toxic waste.
  • There was a “warehouse cat” in the pre-Anco Lexington, KY warehouse.
  • One of the owners of M&M News in La Salle, IL brings his dog to work. Dogs, warehouses and magazines all go together better than you would think.
  • I used to time how long it took for the donuts I brought in to disappear from various break rooms. In Jackson, MI, they consistently were gone in about 5 minutes. At Ludington News in Detroit, they took about an hour. Steubenville, OH took most of the morning (it’s a small office). Lima, OH, about the same. Dubuque, IA seemed to prefer bagels.
  • Pat’s Donuts in Lima, OH are incredibly good.
  • The security guard at the Ludington News parking lot often seemed pretty angry about something and I always wondered what it was.
The former Ludington News building. Source: Google
The former Ludington News building. Source: Google
  • The rep room in Ludington News was surprisingly nice.
  • The reps in Ludington News were all pretty nice to work with.
  • Actually, everyone at Ludington News was good to work with.
  • The Scottsbluff National Monument in Scottsbluff, NE is very impressive.
  • I always seemed to have to go to Gopher News in Minneapolis in either the dead of winter or the height of mosquito season. Timing is everything.
  • The warehouse at Wholesale Distributing in Burlington, IA was a former WWII era Quonset hut. John Sandell, their owner, was one of the most interesting (in a good way) people I ever met.
  • For a few years, I would take a trip in early spring that would start at Norton News in Dubuque, IA and then run down the Mississippi River to the agencies in Burlington, IA and Quincy, IL. Then I’d either turn north and finish in Springfield, IL or south and wrap up the week in Johnston City, IL. We flatlanders often only look at Lake Michigan and forget about the river and the prairie. They are truly impressive.
  • Bob Pilkey, the general manager of Joliet News and later M&M News in La Salle, IL was one of the nicest people I ever met.
  • The warehouse for City News Agency in Canton, OH was a former horse barn. As late as the 1990’s, the office decor was strictly 1950’s.
The former City News warehouse. Source: Google
The former City News warehouse. Source: Google
  • The best MAPDA/PACIMWA convention I attended was in Tucson, AZ. But that was because I mostly wanted to sit on the balcony of my hotel room at stare at the mountains for the duration.
  • It was generally considered unwise to attempt to visit Louisville News during Kentucky Derby week.
  • It was generally considered unwise to attempt to complete any work at Louisville News after lunchtime at any other time during the year.
  • I recall particularly good bar food served in the bar across the street from Indiana Periodicals in Indianapolis.
  • The Pekin News Agency in Pekin, IL was located in a candy shop. The candy shop (which is also a newsstand) is still open today.  You can buy their delicious candy online. Like many retailers, they’re also on Facebook
  • I could never get a trip approved to the ARA agency in Hawaii.

None of these memories are intended to be maudlin. As I’ve said numerous times before, I’m not one of those believers that “things were better in the good old days.” Heck in the newsstand biz, the “good old days” were considered horrible.

But we should consider what worked in the past, and how the creative and hard-working people who came before solved the problems they encountered. There is a warehouse of knowledge there and maybe a key to solving today’s challenges can be found in how they were approached in the past.

And why not call up a good memory sometime, put a smile on your face, and then dig into your day?

In the comments below, please drop in some of your favorite memories. If you have something longer to share, or a photo or two, send them my way via email.

Things Placed In Front Of The Magazine Rack: Requiem For A Chain

When I arrived in Chicago in the early 1980’s, national chains A&P and Kroger had tried unsuccessfully to penetrate the supermarket arena and been rebuffed by local favorites Dominick’s and Jewel. It wasn’t until the 1990’s when retailers began to consolidate in earnest that these local chains were purchased by national brands.

Dominick’s was first acquired by Yucaipa, and then a few years later by Safeway.

What has happened since, is a business school lesson in why sometimes national brand retailers don’t know better than locals and why economies of scale and consolidation often don’t work as advertised.

The chain, as owned by a Chicago family had a Chicago heart and feel. It was a source of local pride. The chain, as owned by Safeway, was just another “banner”. At least at the corporate level.

There's nothing in front of this rack now.
There’s nothing in front of this rack now.

The buzz about Dominick’s since the Safeway acquisition has been pretty consistent over the years. People still liked the stores, but they just weren’t the “same” nor as “good” as the original owners. Is that fair or accurate? Probably not, but that attitude certainly laid the seeds for what happened last month.

Supermarkets have a way of becoming a part of the neighborhood they serve. Chicago Tribune’s John Kass wrote an eloquent column about this when notice was given about the chain’s closure.

This was certainly true of the one near us. There were two things, really, that made it that way. One was simple, it had been there well before Safeway bought the chain. The other was more personal: The employees. Many of them had worked there for twenty years or more. I knew the cashiers, the produce stockers and many of the stock employees by name or by sight. They are (I say “are” because the store will remain open for two more weeks) friendly, personable, hard-working, and polite. They have roots in the community and many of them live nearby. One cashier spoke about how she went to a seminar to learn how to write a resume. She had worked at the store for her entire career and never needed one.

The regional chain Roundy’s has acquired eleven of the stores for their Mariano’s “banner.” Mariano’s is the brainchild of former Dominick’s executive Rob Mariano. The stores are high-end, very popular, full of fresh produce and unique brands. Our neighborhood store was not one of the lucky eleven. There were 77 Dominick’s stores remaining at the time of closure.

In case you were wondering about magazines, the Mariano’s stores I have been in have beautiful fixtures. But the mainlines are small mainline racks and there is not a lot of checkout space.

Our neighborhood store was supposed to be closed on December 28th. But it has been given a reprieve until January 25th and restocked with what looks like left over stock from other stores. The employees are still there, but up in the air about whether or not the extension means some other company is looking to acquire their space and give them a chance at remaining employed.

In the meantime, for the first New Years in a long time, there is nothing in front of the mainline rack. Nothing blocking the checkout racks. There are no magazines, books, or newspapers in the store at all.

If Heinen’s or Roundy’s or some regional chain like Sunset or Garden Fresh acquires the store, what will happen to the 20 foot mainline and tower racks? What will happen to the new checkouts that were installed last year?

For the first time ever, no Plan-O-Gram snark....
For the first time ever, no Plan-O-Gram snark….

I have no answer to that question.

2013: The Year In Review

What happened in 2013? Surely you remember, weren’t you paying attention?.

And now it is a New Year. It’s 2014.  We all get a fresh start with new opportunities, a new beginning and new chances.

You know, turn the page.

As for the year that is past… Well, as that great philosopher Marge Simpson said, “…let us never speak of it again…”

Courtesy of Wikipedia
Courtesy of Wikipedia

Amen!