Things Placed In Front of The Magazine Rack: Part 2 of…. (And One More Thing)

If I were a more fair minded person, I’d stop picking on this particular retailer. But this week, I was presented with a trifecta of bad. Perhaps even St. Thomas Aquinas would have had trouble holding back.

Hope you weren't counting on selling anything out of that tower.
Chocolate and magazines surely go together. But is this the best way?
Seriously? A buyer spent corporate money for green colored beach balls? And "they" write snarky editorials about the newsstand business?

I can be fair though. It’s my understanding that certain union rules keep the local wholesaler’s merchandiser from setting up the store. For those of us in the business who would then counter with, “Well, why doesn’t the route manager go in and work with the store merchandiser and manager”? Good question. My guess is that that has happened. Probably a few times.

In keeping with this week’s calendar, there’s only so much even St. Jude can do.

In other news:

I was hopeful last week that we were going to evade the latest round of ABC Audit reports with minimal breathless reporting on the certain demise of newsstand industry. Clearly, I had been spending too much time on the port side of the foredeck admiring the waves.

Audience Development Magazine published a column from former Ziff Davis VP of Circulation, Baird Davis that suggests that “the newsstand is nearing endangered species status”!

Still? Aren’t we dead yet?

Of course, this was picked up and distributed by Bo Sacks.

Davis does point out many disturbing trends in the latest round of ABC numbers. And it is helpful to have that staring at you in black and white. But for those of us who work on the front lines, it’s nothing new. We already knew, and the people we report to already know, and the people we work with in all avenues and all channels of the marketplace are aware.

Which doesn’t mean he shouldn’t or can’t report on what he reports on. It’s just that there’s little here that is new or helpful.

Like many people who have reported on it, Davis suggests that the recent purchase of Comag, the formerly joint national distribution venture of Hearst and Conde Nast by national magazine wholesaler, The News Group could be a positive thing. He and others have suggested that it may bridge the divides in our business and lead to better channel cooperation. Maybe between News Group and Comag. But I have yet to hear a serious explanation of how this will solve our industry problems.

Publisher’s consultant Linda Ruth, also an Audience Development Magazine columnist makes a more interesting and perhaps correct assertion that “on one level we have a massive paradigm shift here, on another it’s business as usual.”

The article wraps up with a call to our industry leaders, especially the largest publishers such as Conde Nast, Hearst, Time/Warner and others, to work together to solve the “dangerously viral” condition of the newsstand industry.

OK. How?

I must confess that I often make this clarion call myself. While I am alone in my office. With the dog out of earshot. And then I come to a “Full Stop”.

How do we get the major circulation directors of the major publishers into a room to decide the fate of a  multi billion dollar industry? Moreover, do they have the right to determine the fate for all of the participants in that industry? Can I be assured that the end result will be fair to the smaller, frequently still profitable players in the business?

“Full Stop”

On the other hand, please remove your chocolate bunny dump bin from Aisle 3. Thank you. Oh, and take those green beach balls with you too.

More Fun on the Mainline: So What is The Best Gift?

This one was completely irresistible:

So what is the best possible high end gift you can give this season? And if you're an aficionado of "High Times" are you really going to be concerned with the time?

Frankly, those are some pretty good covers. And as I’ve pointed out in the past,   the merchandiser at this Barnes & Noble is either a very clever merchandising genius, or the recipient of some remarkable serendipity.

I’ll choose genius.

Ideally you always want to display magazines by the appropriate category. But sometimes I think you also need to have a little fun.

Have you seen a display recently that brought you to a full stop and made you turn around? Send me a picture and I’ll post it for you here.

Now back to work!

#magazineswithalettermissing

Twitter hashtags are a great way to figure out what’s hot, trending, and if you’re in a small tributary of the magazine publishing business, connect with people with like minded interests.

About a week or more ago, someone in the book industry started a hashtag #bookswithalettermissing. I picked it up late and after hours (which is a good thing because otherwise I could have been diverted for days), but had enormous fun looking through the great ideas and got to make up some of my own and contribute them to the fun. It’s still going on if you want to check it out.

This past week, #magazineswithalettermissing showed up in the feed and what the heck, let’s abandon all pretense, shall we? How can you resist? What’s great about this hashtag is the simple fact that 28 of your 140 characters are used up with the hashtag. Further evidence that while small, the mag biz is chock full of very clever, funny, creative people.

Rather than copy everything down and miss making the appropriate attributions, below are four screen caps of some the tweets. Go ahead, add some of your own:

The weather’s been wonderful for August, the world hasn’t imploded since the latest ABC numbers release and there’s tomatos in the garden waiting to be picked. Happy Friday everyone. Keep flying.

The View From The Newsstand (Doesn’t Entirely Stink)

Sometime next week, the Audit Bureau of Circulation will release the results from the first half of the year. The news from the newsstand side of the world will not be good. Sales are expected to be down for these industry leading titles. Possibly in double digits. On top of that, my colleagues at MagNet, the wholesaler owned repository of industry sales have already hinted at some preliminary numbers that suggests retail sales dollars could be off by as much as 8% or more.

No doubt the follow-up to this news will be a plethora of blog postings, earnest op-ed pieces, and journalistic dissections that will discuss in detail about how troubled the magazine business is in general and how deeply in peril the newsstand distribution is in particular. A good BoSacks vs. Mr. Magazine point/counterpoint may be just what the doctor orders to rinse away the summer doldrums.

I’d be a fool to dispute any of the numbers. So I won’t. While it’s true that statistics can be bent in any particular way you want to tell almost any story you want, there is no way to dispute that for many magazines, newsstand sales are down. Furthermore there doesn’t seem to be any quick turnaround in the immediate future.

The reasons for the downturn are staring us in the face:

  • It’s the economy, stupid. Store visits are down, unemployment is high. People are bypassing the magazine rack in favor of the Ramen Noodle display.
  • It’s the economy stupid, part 2: So long as we heavily discount subscriptions, single copy sales will be for someone who wants that magazine NOW. Not in six to eight weeks. If your pockets are feeling a little light, you’ll wait. Or you’ll just never get the magazine
  • File this one under, “Tell me something I don’t know, Sherlock. We have a dysfunctional industry.” Each link in the chain: Publisher, National Distributor, Wholesaler, Retailer, has a completely different set of metrics for measuring success and profitability. What works for the publisher, may not work for the wholesaler, or retailer, and vice versa.
  • You can also file this one in the same folder: “Tell me something I don’t know, Sherlock. We have a dysfunctional industry, Part 2”. On top of differing definitions of success and failure, we also have four participants in this industry who don’t seem to like or trust each other very much (Which really makes for a fascinating work environments).
  • Yes, we’d be foolish to deny that the web, tablets and e-readers are contributing to some of these sales declines.
  • Likewise, we’d be foolish to blame the downturn on just the digital side of the aisle.

I’ve maintained for a long time that we need to do a better job of marketing and merchandising our products, and tooting our own horns. If we were better at these simple tasks, the reports that get written about us would be very different. 

With that in mind, may I present to you some interesting features from the field?

Two Specials from Cooks Illustrated: 30 Minute Suppers and Cooking for Two
Us Magazine's Katy Perry Special. Wenner's other specials have performed quite well this year.
It's not all specials out there. The end of the NFL strike means it's safe for the sports annual publishers to release their pro football books. First to market is first to win the POS sales race. Usually.
The end of summer means that bridal magazines release their "Fall" issues. Here's The Knot's Fall 2011 Gown Guide. The Knot is entering it's second year on an expanded production schedule.
When was the last time you saw this many comics in a mainstream store? B&N has expanded the category.

If you work in our end of the magazine business, or in the magazine business in general and wish you could ignore everything you will read in the coming weeks, don’t. Read the articles and try to understand what they are saying and where they are coming from. Put yourselves in their shoes. If you disagree with their conclusions,  dispute their conclusions and where you can, and where it makes sense offer up a different conclusion and an alternative solution.

Politely would be nice. But if you’re of a different mind, have at it.

This is a mature and troubled business.  The future is not set in stone. We don’t have to go over the edge and into the abyss.