Things Placed In Front of The Magazine Rack: The (Post) Valentine’s Day Edition

According to an article that appeared in Business Insider this week, print magazines are dying because people in check out lanes are spending all of their time looking at their smart phones and not looking at all of the magazines, iced tea, pop, candy, cookies and wiffle bats in the check out racks.

I don’t think that any reasonable person who spends time living in the 21st century would argue that many people spend much of their spare time checking things out on their smart phones. And anyone who spends time considering the impact of mobile technology on single copy sales is aware that people waiting in a checkout line may prefer to look at their smart phones rather than at the merchandise they could pick up.

But while it’s nice to speculate that smart phone technology is distracting people from spending money in the checkout, if you’re going to make a grand generalization like that, you may want to back that up with something that is generally called a “study.”

If I were the publisher of a major checkout publication and worried that people weren’t looking at my carefully posed models or beautifully laid out food designs, I’d consider trying out some of the new virtual reality designs on my cover. Entice people with attractive offers and QR codes.

Of course, we can generalize that there may be other reasons that single copy sales were down this year.

Here’s one:

Dear Star and Enquirer, Happy Valentine's Day. Love, Bunny
Dear AMI, Happy Valentine’s Day. Love, Hallmark and the plush toy industry.

There’s bound to be a great backstory to this and as soon as I can get it, I will update here.

Note: Please keep sending your photos. It’s been enormous fun  seeing views from other parts of the country. Of course, if you come across an interesting and creative display that works, I would be more than happy to post and celebrate that. Innovative titles and merchandising are the lifeblood of our business. Pending another round of interesting “Things Placed in Front Of” photos, next week we’ll return to some scheduled discussions of “Disruptive Technology” and editing (Yes, this blog in particular).

Things Placed In Front of The Magazine Rack: The Wayback Machine Edition

Like many people, I’m a collector of non collectable collectables. Most of them land on my desk, in my desk, in my desk drawers, in desk drawers that rarely, if ever, get opened.

Earlier this week I found myself highly frustrated with the lack of work space in my office. The solution I came up with was to open up a few drawers to see if I could take some of the clutter from the top of my desk and put it inside my desk to deal with “later.” That was unfortunate.

It turned out that the drawers were already full of stuff that I had previously dumped into these drawers over the past few months. Out of sight, out of mind.

Cue the nursery school teachers singing “Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere…”

You can thank me for that ear-worm later.

To make a very long story slightly shorter: Here, in the middle of circulation audit season, right smack dab in the middle of “Is the promotion budget for 2013 the right size?” Just as the questions are starting to come in, “So how are we doing this year?” I suddenly decide to go on a “I gotta clean this up and make some space!” detour.

In the bottom of a drawer that will very soon be almost empty (Hey, paperless office! Sort of.), I came across a drugstore photo sleeve from 2004. In it were a series of pictures that I had taken at retail. I don’t recall having a film camera back then, but I must have because there were actual film negatives in the sleve with the pictures. But what was remarkable were a few pictures in the collection that could have been entries in last year’s popular “Things Placed In Front of The Magazine Rack” series.

Walking stick, Big Bird or a cool gift bag with your mag?
Walking stick, Big Bird or a cool gift bag with your mag?

If I were a Frenchman, right about now I would say,

“Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.”

But I’m not, and as I don’t feel like writing out any swear words, I will just say,


The only way we will ever slow the encroachment of our retail space (That we do actually pay for via RDA, enhanced discount, purchased check out positions and promotional incentives) is if we help our wholesalers and their merchandisers to more vigorously protect our space. The only way I see that ever happening is if our publishing community stops treating single copy sales as the third class citizen of the publishing community. Then maybe our retailers will catch on.

Will that happen?



Note: I’m going to keep the “Things Placed In Front of The Magazine Rack” series going. So please feel free to send me your photos from retail to joe.berger at 

Things Placed In Front of The Magazine Rack: The Thanksgiving Turkey Edition

It’s the weekend before Thanksgiving. One of the busiest weeks in the supermarket world. In the magazine business, it’s the run up to the very busy Christmas season. Customers are in and out of the stores picking up all of the goodies they need for their Thanksgiving meals. Store traffic is way up.

We’re hosting Thanksgiving this year and the cashier and I had a good laugh when I announced that I’d probably be seeing her at least six more times this week (I’ll most likely break that promise by a few extra visits).

On the one hand, I can understand why stores will place additional displays in the check lanes. They’re temporary, the manufacturer probably paid a lot for the displays, and it’s hard to say no to ready cash when you’re in such a thin margin business like the grocery business.

Of course, we publishers and our wholesalers also operate on a very thin margin and it costs a lot of up front money to be in the check out so…

Magazines, chocolates and pretzels all go together. Just not this way.

This does make it a little difficult to promote the expansion of check out pockets.

You certainly wouldn’t want to catch a cold while you’re bringing your new magazines home.
Higher end chocolates and an empty pocket FTW.

It’s easy to say this is  a long standing problem (It is), and there’s no easy solution (Certainly seems that way), but it also doesn’t say a lot for how the retailers view our line of product. How do we change that?

A Trip to the Newsstand May Help Your (Cover) Image

Two of my favorites: Life Specials vs. Civil War Quarterly.

I often wonder why some art and editorial departments seem so reluctant to talk with their circ teams and ask them what they think about cover images and logos before they send the files off to press. In an old blog post I saw awhile back (And I regret not hanging onto the link) the writer proposed that the single copy “experts” he had been researching, on the whole, really didn’t know what the heck they were talking about when it came to cover selection and images. It was all a crap shoot, he concluded. Fortunately he didn’t imply that we had poor body hygiene or fashion sense.

To a certain extant, that writer had it right. There often is the luck of the draw when it comes to the selection of cover images.

But look at the image above and ask yourself which logo and image stands out, and which does not.

Rocket science? I don’t mean to pick on any particular magazine.

For the record, I’ve often recommended to art and editorial departments that if you don’t want to talk to the person you hired to be your single copy sales expert for any reason under the sun. Be it that you just don’t like that person, you don’t want to be in the same room as them, you’re afraid you’re going to catch cooties, they’re too snarky and sarcastic, you think they’re full of prunes, whatever. Do this one thing:

Print out a high resolution scan of the cover. Go to your nearest newsstand, pop the cover onto the stand in a wide variety of positions.

And then honestly ask yourself if it works.

One half hour out of your work day seems like a small sacrifice.

And for the record, most of the single copy “sales experts” I know are really, really nice people. You should get to know yours.

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