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.

Kate and Prince William Vs. The Hackers

This was just too good to pass up. Either the magazine merchandiser at this Barnes & Noble has the wickedest sense of humor or: they’re really amazingly lucky.

As seen today, may I present the award for the “Funniest Merchandising Juxtaposition of the Day to:  Blue Water Production’s “The Royals” comic book vs. 2600:The Hacker Quarterly.

Who will sell more? Kate and her Prince or the hackers of 2600 Mag?

Rachael Ray Gets It – And Then Gets Lost

As a guy, I don’t think I’m supposed to like Rachael Ray. I think I’m supposed to be annoyed with her energy, her perkiness, her upbeat style. At least, that’s what the snarky gossip blogs say.

Truth be told, I’ve admired her since I first saw her on what I think was a Travel Channel special where she toured the streets of Boston, ate food from Fenway Park, and visited with my hero, Luis Tiant in his restaurant.

So it was no surprise to me when it was announced in 2005 that she was teaming up to launch a magazine based on her popular TV series. It was thrilling to learn that it was a circulation and advertising hit. She had the right demographic, the timing was right, and while I’m in the wrong demographic, I had to admit that the magazine was well done.

Two years ago, The Food Network Magazine was launched and it stole Rachel’s thunder. That happens. But what happened next is encouraging.

This month, the May issue of “Every Day With Rachael Ray” is being relaunched.  According to Folio Magazine and AdWeek, the magazine has been completely rethought. There are now four distinct sections to the magazine, added offerings on the web site, more informal graphics that look like handwriting, and more attention to detail in the food shots.

Our industry needs magazines like these. Ones that are based on name celebrities. But, these are celebrities who are approachable and likable. Moreover, we need magazines that aren’t afraid to take a long hard look at themselves, understand why their circulation and advertising revenue is declining, and then make adjustments so they can remain viable.

I have to say that as a member of the single copy side of the industry,  I was thrilled to find over the weekend that the relaunch effort spilled onto the newsstand with a special display and $1.00 off promotion in a local supermarket. The dump display looked well designed and I absolutely loved the new cover of the May issue (see below):

Winning!

But, then, in typical fashion for our industry, a second look revealed that the display was located in – yep – a dead aisle.

Or maybe not so much...

To be fair, there wasn’t a crate of strawberries or cookies in front of the display. And, the display was very visible from main aisle. So let’s hope that there were a lot of these dumps located in stores around the country and that readers respond enthusiastically to the new redesign of this title.