This week The Foredeck brings you a report about how this plucky publisher solved a newsstand distribution problem plaguing many local magazine publishers.
By Felixe Chartae, August 21, 2014
It seemed like a “no brainer” for Outside the Groove Media to purchase the assets of a failing local publisher. “Rocky Mountain Triathlete magazine featured many of the same sporting activities that we covered in our national magazines,” Said Peter Westleigh, CEO of Outside the Groove, “And we bumped up against them repeatedly in sales calls, industry events, even promotional activities. We were were sure we could fold their editorial and sales teams of all three titles into our office.”
But nothing could prepare Westleigh or his circulation team for the onslaught they were about to face shortly after the first issues of their new acquisitions hit the stands.
“It was almost as if the entire state had contracted TMB,” said Wendy Ashburnham, the Audience Development Director for Outside The Groove.
As reported earlier, TMB, or Temporary Magazine Blindness is a disease that the CDC in Atlanta, GA has described as “The unusual condition when magazine advertisers, sales representatives or publishers and employees of magazine publishers walk up to a newsstand and fail to see their magazine on display for sale on the newsstand even though the magazine is, in fact, on the said newsstand.”
Ashburnham, a long time veteran of magazine circulation, admitted to having little interaction with the newsstand world prior to the acquisition of these three titles. “We have a distributor who talks to the wholesalers and frankly, I could never figure out what language they were speaking. So I got a consultant and told him to handle it and not bug us too much.”
That seemed to work well for the publisher. “Occasionally,” continued Ashburnham, “Peter would call me about not seeing our national titles in his King Sooper, but I could usually get that fixed. Usually I just dropped off a copy or two on my way home.”
“Once we put those locals on sale, Holy Hannah, Katie bar the door!” said CEO Westleigh.
Westleigh and Ashburnham reported that their office was inundated with calls from outraged advertisers who claimed they never saw one single issue of Rocky Mountain Life, Triathlete or Outdoors magazines. These were followed up with panicked emails from sales representatives who claimed the same thing and began to offer “make goods” to the irritated advertisers.
Whenever Westleigh went out to the newsstand, he too could never find any of his new titles.
“It was certainly a worrisome transition,” said Wendy Ashburnham.
The troubled circulator called in her consultant, Laki Patrika to see if he had any ideas.
“I never know what to do in these situations,” admitted Patrika. “Mostly because there are so many possibilities. Sometimes, the advertisers and sales reps are spot on. The magazine is not there.”
“But,” continued the consultant, “Usually it’s because it’s the end of the sales cycle and what hasn’t sold was returned and the new issue isn’t in yet. Or sometimes, the magazine is not authorized for that store, or sometimes it’s authorized for the chain, but not that sized rack in that store. Or sometimes the magazine went on sale late, or early. Or it’s a merchandising problem and we have no real control over that. Or sometimes the magazine was in that store, but nothing sold and eventually it was removed from the distribution,” he said.
“And this is weird,” Patrika continued with his monologue, “Sometimes they just don’t see it, even though it’s right there on the front lip.”
Patrika did not know about the CDC’s “TMB” diagnosis.
“Huh,” said Patrika when this correspondent informed him, “That explains it.”
The solution that Ashburnham and Patrika came up with is both ingenious, probably not helpful to the local wholesalers, but has seemed to solve the problem of irate advertisers.
Outside the Groove hired their own merchandisers to follow the local wholesaler merchandisers on the days that the three new magazines go on sale. As soon as the merchandisers put up the magazine, the Outside the Groove merchandisers move the magazines to the front of the rack, then superglue the magazine to the base of the rack so the copies can not be removed. This insures that the copies stay front and center for the life of the on-sale period.
“Of course it kind of stinks on the sales side,” said Patrika, “And then there’s the clean up at the end of the sales cycle.”
This was solved by using a box cutter to slice the magazines out of the rack and get them into the returns bin.
“But the level of complaints from advertisers and sales staff has declined to almost zero,” said Ashburnham, “And that means we can deal with other issues.”
At this point, our interview was interrupted when CEO Westleigh walked in and asked, “Hey Wendy, how come this month’s issue of Rock mag isn’t in my King Sooper.”
“Like that,” said Ashburnham.