Editor’s Note: Permanent music video for this series. See if you can guess the significance…
Here we go again. There’s been a lot of interest in the Chicago Cubs this year for obvious reasons. So much so that two publishers actually put out Chicago Cubs book-a-zines in the weeks leading up to the World Series.
It is not surprising that within hours of the Cubs winning their first World Series in 108 years, every brick and mortar store in Chicago and the collar counties put out giant racks of blue Cubs shirts, hats and every other sort of tchotchke and gizmo you can imagine.
And of course, a few other publishers got in on the game and put out their world series specials.
However at this particular retailer not only has the mainline rack been cut down in size and shunted from the retailers’ dead zone to the retailers’ even deader zone, but unsold Cubs merchandise got stuck in front of the mainline.
Our industry continues to launch a lot of new product. Most of what I’ve seen these days is better written, produced on better paper and offers better value even though the cover price is higher. Unfortunately, much of it is also niche and doesn’t come close to replacing the sales we’ve lost from general interest mass merchandise titles.
As a result, we can expect to continue to see smaller racks, and obscured racks.
There are admittedly many advantages to the way the newsstand sales business is organized these days. For example, if I have a decent wi-fi signal I can quickly find out exactly where my magazine is selling. And where it isn’t. With a few mouse clicks, I can download sales history, competitive sales history, class of trade data, top performing stores and more. With a few more mouse clicks I can send off a note to a distributor or retailer and make a presentation about why my ranking should be changed or a certain issue is being promoted.
On the other hand, there are few compelling reasons outside of curiosity or a desire to travel, for me to get into a car or board an airplane and jet off to Louisville, KY (Once the home of a decent sized wholesaler) to see what the displays in that town look like.
So I was pretty thrilled a few weeks ago to get in my car and drive for a few hours to meet with a regional publishing client face to face. In fact I was so happy to get out of my oddly shaped office that the day before the appointment I did something I hadn’t done for years outside of my own home base: I set up a retail check-up route, left hours before the appointment and spent the morning checking stores.
The trip had some nostalgia to it because this town was once home to one of my favorite wholesalers. To be fair, the wholesalers who now manage the retailers in this town do a good job. Most displays were perfectly fine.
And then there was this:
And a few others I didn’t capture very well on camera. To be fair, most displays were perfectly fine. But the ones above are memorable and they occur far too frequently for comfort in an industry that is constantly under assault.
A few weeks ago, fellow consultant John Morthanos put up a post on Publishing Executive where he argued for expanding the title mix at checkout. He posited, correctly I think, that the checkout was dominated by seven publishers. Most of these titles had experienced significant circulation declines so wouldn’t it make sense to experiment? Try out new titles, new categories? Shouldn’t we make the checkout more, well, democratic and meritorious (my interpretation)? He went so far as to suggest, to the apparent horror of some of our colleagues, that one checkout in each store should be designated for these up and coming titles.
John is on to something. Without diving deep into the data, it’s probably fair to say that the crash of newsstand sales over the past seven years has come mostly from the checkout. The celebrity weeklies are the biggest culprits. The uptick we see in the sales of book a zines, adult coloring books, and niche titles like The Backwoodsman and so many regional city books, guns and survivalist titles can’t make up for the hundreds of thousands of lost units in weekly celebrity and women’s service magazines if these trending titles are relegated to the back row of a twelve-foot mainline.
There are opportunities opening up in some chains. Over the past few years, most Kroger owned banners have either re-racked their stores or opened them up to a program called “Pay to Stay”. For the record, that title, “Pay to Stay” is not nearly as ominous as it sounds. “Pay to Stay” or PTS for short, is a one-year checkout program where the retailer does not install new racks, but does ask all the titles on the rack to pay for a relogo program – or give up their space. Open pockets are then offered to other titles – often titles that are growing and ranked highly on the mainline.
The cost for this program is significantly less than a new rack program. In the last cycle, I was able to move a client who had a national publication and multiple regional titles into many markets where in the past we were relegated to the mainline and could only dream of putting the titles onto the checkout.
The program is managed by TNG’s RS2 division. It is interesting to note that the program is billed in quarterly increments and publishers can opt out if they give notice one quarter in advance. This was a huge plus in gaining the participation of my client. And no, they didn’t opt out.
Since then I have come across more programs like this. You don’t always get in. You don’t always get what you want. But it’s a small step in the right direction.
I am seeing more and more requests from retailers for publishers to be more active in promoting their titles on the newsstand and partnering with the retailers to promote their magazines in their stores. A recent letter from the Costco buying team comes to mind.
For my part, I have always encouraged the publishers I work with to announce the on-sale dates of their titles, feature their cover images and stories and promote the availability of the magazine in national and local retailers in their social media feeds and e-blasts. Why wouldn’t you try to make a sale?
Of course, we can and should do more. No matter how wonderful home delivery, drone delivery and and driverless cars may be and become, people are social animals. We need to interact. We like to get out of our homes from time to time. Anyone who works from a home office can tell you about that.
In the meantime, a recent tour of some local retailers over the July 4th weekend showed that we still have a long way to go.
While Whole Foods, has and always will get props from me for their unlogo’d checkouts, last weekend they popped a bunch of mobile carts in front of their checkouts. On the one hand, you can’t blame a retailer for wanting to boost impulse sales over a busy holiday weekend. But to me, it’s a chilling reminder of how tenuous our hold on the checkout is. It also makes you wonder why our industry didn’t approach them with an idea for the busy holiday weekend.
The local Jewel Supermarket was selling t-shirts at their checkouts.
As bricks and mortar retailers come under increasing pressure from on-line retailers and changing customer patterns, our industry would be wise to continue to reinvent how we do business. John happens to be right. We need to experiment more.
But we also need to make sure that there are fewer things in front of the magazine rack.
There are now so many ways for a magazine to brand itself. There is, of course, the print edition. Even for the most digitally savvy publication, everything usually starts there. But there’s also the web edition, the mobile edition, the digital replica. Then there are the social media feeds, events, videos and newsletters. So which comes first?
I don’t think I know anymore. But one thing that has not changed is the magazine cover. Think of it as the front door to a magazine brand. Sure, it means very little for the reader who drops into the website (In fact, on many magazine websites, you have to work hard to even find a mention of the magazine). Subscribers, be they print or digital, have already ponied up money for the magazine so they’re going to get that issue no matter what.
So why, even in this day and age, is the cover so important?
Because it is the front door of the magazine. It says to potential readers who you are, what you are about. What’s in between the covers. Most importantly, if your reader picked up the magazine at the newsstand, they paid full cover for that one issue.
Sure, you could have subscribed to Entertainment Weekly for one year for $5.00. But if you went to the newsstand and picked up the June 17 issue with the TV show Mr. Robot on the cover you paid full price, $4.99, for that one issue. So that means you must have really liked Mr. Robot and Entertainment Weekly. Right?
As far as I am concerned, there is little more unsettling in the world of cover design when a well known magazine blows a flat note and puts out an unattractive cover. What were you thinking? Why did you do that? Sometimes it’s groupthink. Sometimes it’s an experiment that just went wrong. Sometimes it’s just that there was nothing else to work with.
Last year, the Foredeck introduced the “Most Egregious Cover of The Year” of the year. The response from readers was pretty interesting. Now that we’re halfway through this year I thought I’d share with you what I think (You’re entitled to your own opinion of course) are the covers that that have made me wrinkle up my nose and wonder what went wrong.
For your consideration:
5. Outside Magazine, May 2016
The only real issue here is the simple fact that you have to stop and squint to read part of the cover line. What they were trying to tie together was the National Parks 100th anniversary and their list of 100 things to do in the national parks. Most likely this looked way better on a computer screen than it did printed on paper and placed on a newsstand.
Fortunately for Outside, they publish twelve times a year and from my perspective they usually hit triples and home runs.
4. DuJour Magazine, Summer 2016
Let’s leave aside the potential political debates about this issue. They are immaterial for the purposes of this particular post. Sometimes black and white covers can work well. Heck, the Foredeck has listed some in times past. But there’s just something creepy and foreboding about this particular one. Even if Donald Trump weren’t running for president, the image of him lurking in the background is just….off.
3. W Magazine, June 2016
File under “An Unlikely Mess.” Who doesn’t love English model-actress Cara Delevingne? But why dress her up as an emoji? Let’s hope her new movie does better.
2. Vogue Magazine, May 2016
Taylor Swift and Vogue have a long history together. I made their February 2012 cover featuring Taylor Swift as my #1 cover from the Foredeck that year. Usually Swift on the cover is instant attraction on the newsstand. It’s not that one of the most popular and powerful singers in the world can’t go out and change up her look. But in this photo, otherworldly looks unrecognizable. I’m not opposed to red backgrounds. In fact I love primary colors in the background. But this one….
1. Chicago Magazine, January 2016
To me Chicago Magazine is the epitome of a successful city book. I look for the latest edition of Chicago Magazine every month when I’m out at retail. Usually their covers are reliably good. It’s as if they take to heart every single CRMA presentation ever given and then make it better. “Top Doctors” editorial is generally a top newsstand seller for most city publications. Most “Top Doc” covers feature some sort of generic doctor on the cover so it’s understandable that Chicago tried to do something creative. But this? Should we call Spiderman and let him know that Doc Ock has invaded the Second City?
The good news is that for every flop of a cover, there is usually a redeemer or two. Chicago Magazine has published several very good covers since January 2016 and for the record, may I show you what I think is one of the very best covers of 2016, Chicago Magazine’s July 2016 cover. Featuring a puppy.
Just remember. The cover is the front door. You want curb appeal. You want people to spend full freight on that copy. You want them to love it so much that they’ll turn around and subscribe. And subscribe to the newsletter. And pay for a ticket to your event. And buy your “Buyer’s Guide.” And subscribe to your YouTube feed.
Last week, I offered up what I personally thought were the ten best magazine covers produced in 2015. The response has been mostly positive and rather enlightening. And to answer one correspondents question:
“There’s no way I could possibly see all of the magazines on the newsstand. But the person who works the receiving dock at a magazine wholesaler probably has seen most of them.”
In the end, the selections are personal.
So why offer a list of Runner Ups? Why offer what is often considered by some to be a participation trophy?
The answer is simple. My desktop folder of 2015 covers is pretty large by my standards. More than 80 different covers were considered. Thirty eight made it into the initial list for the top ten.
Therefore, for your consideration, I’d like to offer these five for you to look at, think about, and ask yourself, “Should they have made it into the top ten?”
This September, Fur-Fish-Game Magazine celebrated it’s 90th consecutive year of publishing. This monthly magazine has always featured an illustrated cover and often the images are striking. This issue perfectly captures the wilderness and the audience that the magazine services.
The soul of the original cast of the Sci-Fi TV show “Star Trek” was found in Leonard Nimoy’ s portrayal of the logic oriented alien, Mr. Spock. This shot perfectly captures how Nimoy played this part. Not for laughs, not too stiff. But approachable, intelligent, someone to model yourself after. Someone human.
To be completely honest, I have to confess that I have never actually seen a copy of this magazine. Their distribution is tiny and it’s a long ride to the nearest store that may or may not have a copy.
And I really don’t like magazines that use issue numbers rather than cover dates (stale magazines are stale magazines).
But what a fun name! What an interesting logo. And I’m a sucker for food magazines. And I am going to go looking for a copy.
Teen Vogue’s August cover got a decent amount of attention for featuring three black models.
Leaving aside the fact that mainstream magazines need to acknowledge the presence and contribution of persons of color to the fashion world, it’s simply a great cover. Cover lines, poses, color. This is a great cover. And a great message.
Frankly, I really don’t have anything against the Kardashian clan. They figured out a way to access fame and turn their small, tidy fortune into a big sprawling fortune of fame, fashion and reality television. Well played Kris Jenner.
Likewise, while I’m a fan of social justice, I’m not the type who opposes able bodied actors portraying persons with disabilities.
But my issue with this particular part of the shoot was that it was supposedly exploring her image as an “object of vast media scrutiny.”
Sorry Kylie. Before you were 18, you were the subject of your family’s control. Now, as an adult, you are volunteering for the scrutiny. Your fame and fortune does not disable you. You’re only a poseable plaything if you allow that to happen to yourself.
What magazine covers did you see in 2015 that you think deserves mention? Anything out there that you found particularly egregious?
If you want to see what magazine covers made the cut in previous years, click on this link.
The “Top Ten” covers of 2015 can be found by clicking on this link.
Editor’s Note: Periodically, our lucky correspondent, Felix Chartae brings us news from the present, news from the future and news about our favorite publisher, Outside the Groove Media of Eagle, CO.
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 orOutdoors 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.”
A few weeks back the family and I traveled east to New England to attend a family function. It was incredibly fun seeing friends and relatives and visting the old ‘hood’ where I grew up. On Friday night, we stopped at a local Walgreens (that used to be an indy drugstore) to pick up a few things we left at home and of course, I wandered over to the magazine rack. This is what I saw:
Did the merchandiser just give up in the middle of the job and walk away?
As you can see from the DVD speed table in front of the rack, there’s already a decent amount of merchandise a customer has to traverse to get to the rack. So it’s unfortunate that for whatever reason, the totes where left out.
The following week, I was finally able to spend some time checking out the new Fresh Thyme Supermarket that recently opened in town. It’s very exciting to see a new company take off and even more exciting when they decide to open on of their first stores in your own town. Even better, they carry magazines!
So it was a little disappointing to see that the retailer had decided to jam up their sales potential by hanging coupon circulars on the checkout rack. You can almost see the buyer sitting in her office scanning the POS reports and saying “Hmmm, magazines aren’t performing so well. Maybe we should…..”
Further up the street, our local Walgreens was caught up in the Source bankruptcy. For a few weeks the rack was incredibly stale. Then it was empty, and then these signs and just a little fresh product popped up:
Yesterday the pre-weekend deliveries finally started to catch up and about half of the rack was filled with fresh new product:
But the other half of the rack is still filled with Skinny Pop (which is tasty). It’s on sale for $2.99 a bag.
In a conference call the other day a client pointed out that it is sometimes difficult for the sales people she works with to grasp the intricacies that the technical people in her company have to work with. It’s easy to say that the e-blast should be laid out just so and these fifteen links should be live and line up just there and it should all be done and ready to shoot into the ether in the next twenty-four hours.
The reality, of course, is quite different. In spite of all of the advertising about how quick and easy all the technology is, it’s not that easy.
I should have taken that moment to point out how difficult it is to re-negotiate service contracts, realign print orders, create new routes, hire new merchandisers and service new retailers. The last two pictures illustrate that point very well. It’s hard, but it can be done. And I should add that it’s being done pretty well.
On the other hand, the first two pictures illustrate some of the issues our industry continues to deal with: effective merchandising and the teaching of our retail partners.
We have to do a better job of merchandising. And we have to do a better job of educating our retailers on why the don’t want to put things in front of, on or in place of, the magazine rack.
This rack is located in a store in Northern California and despite its small size, if it looks this bare now, perhaps it sold a decent amount of product when it was serviced.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve found it easy to be caught up in the moment. After all we’re busy with all of this. The bigger retailers are signing up with the remaining wholesalers at a fast pace. Service seems to be getting restored quickly to the major chains. It looks like over 70% of Source’s retailer base is now signed with a new wholesaler. I’ve seen some excellent work from my national distributors when it comes to figuring out how to get the distributions and copies transferred accurately. But let’s not kid ourselves. Accounts were not serviced. For several weeks. If you don’t refresh your product, it gets stale. The formula is very simple:
No fresh product=No sales=no revenue
Selling magazines is not like selling a eight-pack of brand name bath tissue. It’s more like selling fresh endive. People have to see it, want it, justify that want, then pick it up. You need toilet paper. You may need fresh vegetables, but you have to want endive. Leave it on the rack too long, it’s not going to be pretty. The people in our industry have performed some great work over the past few weeks under some very difficult circumstances. Anyone who has witnessed this should be impressed. But let’s not forget why our colleagues have had to work so hard in the first place.
And let’s get some fresh magazines onto that sad little rack.