The Five Most Egregious Magazine Covers of 2016 (S0 Far)

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.

Swing and a miss.


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.

Don’t look over your shoulder Melania….


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.

W Magazine June 16
Not so sure I ❤ this…


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….

Vogue May 16
…not so much.

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?


Chicago Mag Jan 16
Paging Dr. Octavius!

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.

ChiMag Jul 16
Who doesn’t love 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.

More puppies. Less octopuses.




A BoSacks Reader Speaks Out

Precision Media Group leader Bob Sacks was an early adopter and claims to have America’s “Oldest e-Newsletter”. Five days a week you can open up your email and find three interesting and timely articles Bob has selected that cover a variety of trends and topics of interest to the magazine media business. Bob often includes his own insight and wit to many of the articles. On a regular basis he collects and then publishes the thoughts and responses from his readers.

Two weeks ago, I posted “Maybe We Should Rephrase The Question”, asking if perhaps it was time to stop lamenting the decline of the newsstand and instead see what was working and how we could replicate that on a grander scale. The post appeared in the newsletter and along with a huge lift in visitors to this blog, one of Bob’s readers responded to the post with a series of suggestions on lifting newsstand sales.

I’ve reposted the questions below along with my own answers. The questions are good and I hope they spark a discussion about what works, doesn’t work, and could work on the modern newsstand:

Question: What if there were five times as many places one could buy a magazine (not every magazine, but a magazine)?

At a national level something like that has happened – although not to the level you  propose nor in terms of the quantity of retailers with mainline magazine racks.

There are many places now where the “newsstand” is a select group of titles that reflect what the retailer carries. Home Depot, Orschelns Farm & Home and Toys R Us are just three examples.

Twenty-five years ago, many chains in these categories did not carry magazines.


Question: What if we made the newsstand inconvenient?  Like only one in a community instead of every line at the grocery?

You must be thinking that scarcity would drive up demand?

In some communities newsstands are scarce. But perhaps not in the way you are imagining.

The local wholesaler no longer exists and neither do the bookstores or newsstands that the company owned. Locally owned stores or regional chains (Think Arbor Drugs in Michigan or an IGA Supermarket) that used to carry a large assortment of magazines have been sold and merged into a national chain and the only place to get a magazine is at the Wal-Mart or Walgreens. Both now have smaller mainlines and checkouts.

The question isn’t so much scarcity of magazines so much as the dip in demand for newsstand copies of magazines and the changing habits of the shopper.

Question: What if newsstands were a drive-through?   

Interesting! There is (or used to be) a “drive through” convenience store chain in northern Ohio. I do recall them on some “dealer guides” (remember those?) back in the day.

A more modern variation on that could be the “Pick Up” locations that the grocery chain Peapod has developed. But you’d have to have a committed program with the retailer. This means that someone in the current chain of delivery would have to think the idea is worth pursuing.

Frankly, it would be great (and simple) to include single copies of magazines in home deliveries of goods. My concern would be how to get the public to buy in and make it a habbit.


Question: What if magazines were sold in pairs of titles rather than one at a time at retail?

Clearly this question was asked by someone who has never seen an adult magazine “pack”.

Tongue now out of cheek: That is happening on some levels. Hearst sold a “pack” of their Fall Fashion titles this year in a gift box. Fantastic idea!

Local city publishers will often polybag a “Home” or “Fashion” supplement with their main title.

The real issue is always cost. Doing this isn’t cheap. ROI is not guaranteed. Think of the challenge if it were a case of “co-publishing” and two different publishers were involved.

And staffing. Having enough people around to make it happen is usually a challenge.


Question: How can we enhance the value of the single copy?

By charging a more realistic price for a subscription?

Question: What if single copies were sold and distributed monthly to people who meet for social reasons already?   

A great idea! Let’s staff up!

In the audited circulation world, that can often be looked at as “verified” or some sort of club membership subscription – not single copy. Or it could also be some sort of paid bulk circulation. Again, the issue is finding the right group, selling them on the title, getting them to agree to a price that will pay for itself, and making the effort worth the while.

As an example, a sports book I once worked with had the great idea of selling the magazine as an added value to local sports clubs. Great idea. But hours of labor to find, locate and then sell the program to one local club would at best yield a hundred or more in a bulk delivery at a severe discount. It’s often a question of resources. Time, Inc. or Hearst may have the resources, a small circ title doesn’t.


Question: What if a fresh People magazine went home with every customer at a hair salon?

Joe Ripp is a little busy right now. And, see above for AAM circulation rules.

Question: What if a fresh copy of Real Simple went home with everyone who spent $50 at Home Depot the first week of every month?

See above. But I imagine that if an RS competitor is reading this….

Your timing is perfect! At a client meeting last week, we pitched this idea for a different title in a totally different retail environment. It is still on the tickle list so we’ll see where it goes when we meet with the buyer.

Question: What if newsstands become emporiums that sold what was advertised in the magazine(s) associated with the emporium?

If I’m reading this question correctly, you’re suggesting that a publisher try to compete with Wal-Mart in both physical and e-commerce?

If I’m not (reading this correctly), in reality one of the “pros” that we use when we pitch a magazine to a retailer for authorization is that the people who read the magazine will be in their stores looking at their wares and that the products advertised in the magazine are already in the store.

A more advanced variation on this theme can, and should be: Some level of cooperation between the publisher, manufacturer and retailer to bring potential readers into the store and purchase both the magazine and the ware. To varying degrees of success, publishers have attempted this. However, the idea is far more simple than the execution and it again, often comes down to a question of staffing and ROI.

Does Bob’s reader have some good ideas? Can we make some of this happen on the newsstand and will it lift sales?

If you’re not a subscriber to the BoSacks newsletter, click on this link and sign up. It’s well worth your time.


Maybe We Should Rephrase The Question



The next round of AAM and BPA reports are due out soon. Come on, you know where I’m going with this opening paragraph. The numbers will be released. Then the writers for Folio and Media Bistro and all the others will jump in and recite the numbers and, no doubt, newsstand will not look good. Someone will publish something that gives us all a stern warning.

Someone will ask, “Where’s the bottom for newsstand? ”

People will get defensive.

An industry thought leader will write, “How can they maintain these losses? Surely no one is going to the newsstand anymore!”

So I am thinking, maybe we should rephrase the question. Because, frankly, at this point, who knows?

So let’s not ask, “Where is the bottom?” and instead ask:

“What is working?”

This is not working.

“Why is it working?”

Dominicks Racks
Clearly that didn’t work.

“How do we replicate that?”

“How do we engage our publications’ audience and encourage them to buy a single copy?”

We know single copy sales are a declining industry. But even within that decline, there are sparks of light. Why is that? Was it luck? Deliberate?

There are publishers who are innovating and seeking out new markets. Some are in non-traditional markets, others within the tried and true. Who are they and what are they doing? Is it niche specific? Title specific?

Can we turn this around?

I think it’s highly unlikely that we will see some sort of massive turnaround. As a business, we shouldn’t be looking for or hoping for the next TV GuideCosmopolitan, or People. Instead we should be looking for the next Backwoodsman or grow an emerging category like adult coloring books.

Keep in mind, our industry has adapted to and accepted many changes that some traditionalists thought would never change. So the next challenge is to adapt to the new realities we face (and share) at retail, the same ones that other marketers are facing, and see how we can continue to attract an audience.

So my question to you is:

What’s working out there? How did you do it and can you do it again?



The Top Ten Magazine Covers of 2015: The Completely Biased, Highly Subjective, Unscientific List

Well, that’s (almost) over. Depending on what list you look at, either we had a giant bumper crop of magazine start-ups, or we held our own. Print subscriptions are getting sold for next to nothing, digital subs are going nowhere, and newsstand circ is somewhere in the neighborhood of Hades.

If anyone can find a 24 foot mainline in their neighborhood supermarket, let me know.

But the actual magazines. They looked great. Lest we forget while we drool over the digital gee-gaws and debate pricing policy, in the end, it’s all about the written word, the way the written word is laid out, the way the pictures help tell the story.

How do we attract our readers? With great covers.

Other “Top Ten” lists demonstrate the best sellers or look at the top titles from the top companies. Here on the Titanic, with the deck now listing bow down at 40 degrees, the rules are the same as they were in the past two years: What grabbed my attention as I walked by? What made me stop, back up, take another look and pick it up.

For complete transparency: in a few cases some of these selections were brought to my attention via an internet based article or news release. In those cases, I went out in search of a copy (I’d highly recommend using MagNet’s “MagFinder” app) after seeing the great cover in pixels. The future of bricks and mortar retail will be in how we use digital to encourage people to leave their homes.

Please stay tuned because in the next post  I’m giving you four “Runner’s Up” and for the first time ever on the Titanic, a brand new award: “The Year’s Most Egregious Cover”. Is it going to be clickbait? Oh, you bet.

The Ten Best Covers For 2015

#1: Time Magazine May 5, 2015

Here’s a great case where black and white and white and limited cover lines tell the story. How stark. How immediate. How recognizable. The point is quickly made and simple to understand.

Time May 11 2015
Is this Ferguson in 2015? Or 1968?


#2: Hi-Fructose Magazine Spring 2015

Timing is everything. About the time the movie Big Eyes about the artist Margaret Keane arrived, Hi-Fructose Magazine put a perfect demonstration of a perfect illustrated cover onto the rack. Again, all of the cover lines rules are broken, but in this case, they are not necessary.

The illustration says it all.

#3: Paleo Magazine June/July 2015

Food magazines continue to thrive on the newsstand. Take a look at any sized mainline and what you will see is both regular frequency and book-a-zines taking up more and more space. I have to admit that I didn’t know much about the “paleo” diet movement. After stopping, backing up, picking up, and then buying the June/July 2015 issue, I learned something new. And come on, that salmon looks really good.

Seriously, that looks really delicious!

#4: Hour Detroit Magazine August 2015

All city magazines have “Food” issues and “Best Restaurant” issues and “Best New Chef” awards. They sell well, everyone likes them, and they’re a great way to show the world something unique about your community. But doing a good food cover is not easy. Hour Detroit accomplished that feat this year. Who knew vegetables could look so good?

None of those vegetables came from my garden.

#5: Wonderland Magazine March 2015

While I don’t think I match the target demographics of this UK lifestyle import, I look for every issue at my local Barnes & Noble, follow them on Instagram and just find their editorial and their social media very intriguing. For the second year in a row, Wonderland gets placed in the top 10 covers. This year they break the rules about black and white covers. Successfully.

Wonderland Feb-Mar 15
Kristen Stewart was featured in the March issue.

#6: Tie – Ebony Magazine November 2015 & New York Magazine July 27, 2015

How many covers did the Cosby Show snag back in the 1980’s? How many young men and women wished their dads had the wit and wisdom of Clifford Huxtable? The sheer immensity of the rape allegations against Bill Cosby and the betrayal the black community felt because of them is clearly, poignantly and brilliantly on display in both of these covers.

A sad story, powerfully told.

#7: Tie – The New Yorker  January 19, 2015 & Bloomburg Business Week April 6, 2015

It takes a moment to remember that before this Fall’s terrible terrorist attacks in Paris, there was another attack in Paris on the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine. This illustration says everything with just a simple twist on the iconic Eiffel Tower. No cover lines are necessary. On the other hand, Business Week’s cover says everything with the image. But the headline, “The IRS Sucks” will fool you unless you read the tag line and realize that they’re talking about the people who work for the embattled tax collection agency.

Copy of Entertainment Weekly
Two eloquent covers, one with words.

#8: Redbook Magazine September 2015

While “authentic” is an overused and abused buzzword in the world of marketing, Redbook went with it anyway with their powerful Fall cover that featured “Real Women” (Not actresses or models). Did it work? You bet.

Real women, real fashion.

#9: Dazed & Confused September 2015

I have to admit that this difficult to find UK import was one I didn’t find on the racks. I follow them on social media and this issue made me click through to see the cover. I think it’s a perfect example of how the alternative fashion ‘zine world completely obliterates all of the rules about successful newsstand covers, and is still successful. If I’d seen this on the racks? I would have stopped and picked up a copy.

Dazed September Covers
Click on this!


#10: Canoe & Kayak  June 2015

This activity magazine from the publisher formerly known as Source Interlink hits all the right high notes with their traditional but engaging cover. Beautiful blue serene waters? Check. Great cover lines focusing on the “Best” and even “26 Best”? Check. Does anyone know the science behind the trend of three separate topics in the skyline? I see it everywhere and I actually like it.

Canoe Kayak June 15
Admit it, you want to be there.

And there you have it. A completely subjective list of the best covers of the year. In the comments below, feel free to chime in with your selections for the best things you saw out on the newsstand.

Next up! The runners up for best cover and the first annual “Most Egregious Cover of The Year.”





There’s An Alien On The Roof

The conversation below is an amalgamation of about twenty different conversations I’ve had since 9:35 AM Wednesday, December 9th. If you don’t quite get the context, I’ll fill you in. Later.

We denizens of the newsstand world have apparently decided to mess with things. Again. Will this outcome be good? Well, for some former employees, no. For some publishers who may not see payment for product sold for a long time, no. For some publishers and their employees who may miss an issue on the newsstand and thus miss their advance payments and final payments on an issue (or two, or three), no.

But in the long run, the end result may be good. It is certainly a game changer. We should have seen this coming down the road. It could be good. We’ll see. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, try and find some humor in a phantasmagorical mess up of slightly less than epic proportions.

A Recently Overheard Conversation

Publisher: “So what does this letter from my national distributor mean?”

Consultant: “It means that they’re going out of business. Right now.

Publisher: “WTF? Now? That’s crazy! Why?”

Consultant: “Probably because one of the big wholesalers won’t carry their product anymore.”

Publisher: “WTF? That’s crazy! Why?”

Consultant: “The wholesaler objects to the distributor being a part of a company that is now competing with them for retailers.”

Publisher: “That’s crazy too! Is that legal?”

Consultant: “Who knows anymore. Maybe in some context. Maybe not in another.”

Publisher: “Well this January issue is a pretty big deal. Now how are we going to get it out?”

Consultant: “We have to find you a new distributor.”

Publisher: “We’re supposed to ship next week.”

Consultant: “I know. This will be a lot of fun.”

Publisher: “What a mess!”

An awkward silence ensues.

Publisher: “Well this is great. Did I also tell you that my printer screwed up my subscription insert for this issue?

Consultant: “No, that’s terrible.”

Awkward silence.

Publisher: “And, the server went down and tanked of my digital. My tech guy’s in the backups but this could take some time. This is the worst timing ever.”

Consultant: “That’s even worse.”

Another awkward silence. There is a loud humming noise on the cell phone connection. 

Consultant: “So what are you going to do with alien spaceship that just landed on your roof?”

Publisher: “They can wait. I’m busy.”

Good luck with that.

Is There A Light At The End of The Tunnel (Or Is It Just An Oncoming Train)?

The musical accompanyment for this post is brought to you by Martha’s Vineyard, Carly Simon, and progress. Slow progress, but progress nonetheless.


For the past few weeks my Facebook feed has been offering me a $5.00 for a one year subscription to a Time, Inc. magazine. This is a pretty good deal. My annual sub to EW Magazine runs over $20.00. A single copy of that magazine at the airport is $4.99. Time Magazine itself? You will pay $5.99. You want their number one magazine, People? A copy from the newsstand would cost you $6.99.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 9.46.07 AM.png

So if a major national publisher is heavily invested in selling low priced introductory subscriptions, that must mean that they have given up on that antiquated newsstand distribution system. Right?

Clearly, I can’t speak for Time, Inc. But they obviously want to ramp up their circulation numbers and they’re not doing it through the newsstand. For what it’s worth, some of the publishers that I work with are less than enthralled with the system that we operate within.

But why don’t you wander down with me into the engine room of this old steamship and see why I think there are actually a few signs that the system may be transforming. Into something good? Maybe? Into something worse than it is right now? That’s possible. The free market we operate in is run by people and even well intentioned people can mess things up.

Let’s just say that I am modestly optimistic.

What’s been happening since the start of the fourth quarter is that we are experiencing some changes that we’ve known were coming for fifteen or more years. If there is an upside to these changes, it’s that no one is panicking or acting like the world is about to end. Frankly the people who are grumbling about these transitions usually grumble anyway.

Here’s what’s happening and why I consider them mostly positive:

1. We’re moving to POS (Pay On Scan) based reporting. At the beginning of October, TNG (The wholesaler formerly known as The News Group) announced that they were moving to this system with the retailers they service who are already on Scan Based Trading (SBT).

SBT does not necessarily pick up issue codes and there is the issue of shrink. But as an industry we’re acknowledging, finally, that retailers base their sales data on what went through the cash register. They no longer care about sealed boxes of returns. They don’t pay their bills with premature returns. That’s not how the major national chains that account for most sales work.  SBT is how they operate.  Feel free to grouse but it’s how they want to do business and if we want to reach our ultimate customer, a reader, who is in their store,  who will pay full cover price for our content, we have to treat the retailer like a customer.  So let’s quit the bitching and do business the way they do business.

Why are we finally moving to this form of reporting? Because a national wholesaler, not a publisher or a national distributor, took the bull by the horns and said, “We’re doing this!”

2. We’re getting rid of an antiquated RDA system. That will, in the long term, save money for wholesalers and national distributors, make a little more money for retailers, force publishers to re-think cash flow for a quarter or two. In the end, things should be just fine once we re-arrange how we think about RDA.

2a. In my opinion.

2b. Until some circulation person at one of the big six sits down at a conference room table, takes a big sip of his/her afternoon latte and says, “Hey, I have this great idea! Let’s offer retailers a quarterly 10% cash bonus…….”

3. Most of the mainstream wholesalers in the system right now seem financially stable.

As to the negatives like declining sales and lost space:

Are we losing space? Yes. We have lost some space. But you can’t shed the amount of circulation we’ve shed over the past five years and not expect to lose retail space. Can we get it back? Most likely not. Will sales go up? Maybe. Maybe they will go down more.

It will depend on what actions publishers take and if they can actually impact people’s reading and leisure habits. Maybe we can. Why not try?

Why do I feel optimistic? For one, we’ve seen wholesalers take some proactive measures and in the end, that may be good. I also see some publishers doing things that suggest that they are also re-thinking the newsstand.

Here are some examples:

1. Hearst Magazines repeated their fashion box in September and got it into retail. Even better, they created a buzz about it through the press and in social media.

Hearst created a “mag mobile” and drove it around NYC selling the magazines. Did they sell a lot of copies? Who knows? They haven’t said and frankly I don’t know if I care that much. What they did do was generate publicity for their magazines, their brand.  And they may have indirectly impacted sales positively.

Of great interest to me (and it should be to everyone in this business), is that they did it without the benefit of their national distributor or their local wholesaler.

As I point out to my clients, “Why would print all these magazines and just hope that someone walks by the newsstand in the back of a national chain and decides they want it. Let people know it’s there and give them a reason to go and find you!”

2. One of the Dollar store chains sells both books, and “book-a-zine” type publications. They sell a lot of them. Like hundreds of thousands of multiple releases. This is off the grid and I admittedly don’t know much about this system. But hopefully publishers that participate are using it to generate subs, create awareness of their full priced brands and inspire visits to their web and mobile sites.

3. Many regional magazines have a small amount of “direct to retail” business. Sometimes it’s something that could be handled within the wholesale/national distribution system, but often it’s local restaurants, bars, salons, etc. This has been around for a long time and I continue to be pleasantly surprised that it has not gone away.

4. Of equal interest to me are the specialty publishers who have developed their own newsstand systems outside of the national distributor/wholesaler system. This was reported by my “blogging colleague” D. Eadward Tree this past week but here are some of the examples I gave to him.

For example: Kinfolk Magazine, can be found in B&N (my guess via Ingram), but also in Anthropologie. I don’t know if that’s direct or through a book distributor, but you don’t see that every day

Anthology Magazine: This is a distribution that appears to be a series of indie bookstores and many, many craft stores and art studios.

Cereal Magazine: Admittedly, as an international priced at $25 a copy, you wouldn’t expect to find many here but like Kinfolk, one that has some business at B&N, but also local indie shops and bookstores.

UpperCase Magazine: A Canadian indie that follows the same path.

The Great Discontent:  A $20.00 indie that can be found in B&N and Urban Outfitters. They have also built up a network of many non-traditional stores.

5. Retailers taking independent action: On Black Friday, B&N’s newsstand department is discounting all magazines at 30%. They’re going to advertise this through e-blasts and special signage in the stores. This is a one day sale. The publishers are expected to cover that 30%. So while some publishers may be grouse, from my perspective, it seems to me that if you want to move product, you have to periodically discount it. Why not do that if more people than usual are in the store. And how many do you really sell in one day in one chain?

If I were a publisher, I would  let followers know that the magazine is available in the store on that day at 30% off. Maybe you’ll get a new gift sub. Maybe someone who only follows on social media and gets stuff for free will finally go and pay for something. Maybe a long time reader that was wavering, buys one more copy.

In other words, someone (in this case B&N) is doing something. That’s good.

6. Through much of this year, and last, Kroger banners were involved in intensive re-racking or PTS (Pay To Stay re-logo) programs which changed around their front end. To their credit, they were flexible and were often looking for magazines that were not previously involved in front end merchandising. PTS programs are often  less expensive due to their duration and TNG’s front end managers operate the program on a quarterly basis so the upfront monies involved are not too steep. For one of my clients it was a great opportunity to test their front end salability for a national and regional spin off.

So the question remains: Is this ship sinking? Are we all going to drown? I honestly don’t know. But I do know that this year, I see more evidence of people taking action, instead of reacting. The critics who think this is a business stuck in 1978 don’t know anything about how we do business in 2015.

(Revised) Some Final Thoughts on the Anderson News Anti-Trust Suit and the Way Forward

Note: I turned to a tech savvy friend once and asked, “Is it me, or is this program wacked?” He looked up from his tablet and said without missing a beat, “It’s you.”

 I accidentally set the timer wrong for the release of the post below.  If you are a subscriber or followed the link from Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, you may have seen it this morning. It needed additional editing before release and I now present it to you as it was supposed to go out into the ether. In case you are wondering, I actually did score higher on my English SAT than this morning’s release may have suggested.

One aspect of the newsstand distribution industry that continues to fascinate me is how little each link in the distribution chain seems to know about the other. This lack of understanding is often compounded by the tension and historic mistrust each participant in the channel seems to have for each other. Add to that the apparent lack of interest the leading publishers seem to have in attempting to rescue, reinvent, or repair the broken distribution model and you have a perfect recipe for the continued downward sales trend we keep experiencing.

Lunch, and a few extra points....
Lunch, and a few extra points….

Industry consultant Baird Davis once described the Anderson News Company (A major wholesaler servicing upwards of 40% of the national market in the last decade) as having “a strange naivety about both the magazine and retail industries…they serve.” I experienced this once while on a call at Anco headquarters in Knoxville. One of their managers took me aside and castigated a client I represented for turning down their inquiry into getting an increased discount.

“Why aren’t they sharing some of their ad revenue with us?” he demanded. “They have millions. Look at everything we have to do to distribute their magazine.”

I pointed out that the publisher was a high dollar cover price title with a discount that was already 5 points above the industry average. On top of that they paid the industry standard RDA and had spent over $100,000 in retail promotions that year either directly with retailers serviced by their company, or in programs directly administered by their company.

That wasn’t good enough apparently because we continued to argue about this for some time.

The discussion ended. We didn’t pay the additional discount. They chose not to expand the title (which at the time was experiencing double-digit growth). Several of his colleagues decided to invite themselves to join us for lunch. I paid.

Despite that experience, I genuinely liked almost all of the people I worked with at Anco and thought that for the most part, they did a pretty good job for most of my client titles. But I was also struck by how little they seemed to understand how magazines got produced and why publishers even started new titles. Was this inspired by the necessity to work so closely with their retail customers? Or was it caused by the inherent distrust that publishers had for wholesalers and vice versa? Does each link in the distribution chain really need to understand how each part fits into the whole?

To be fair, publishers often fail to understand the nature of the wholesaling and retailing business. Sometimes the rules that make the system work mean little tot them. Publishers amusingly sometimes see me as more of a representative of the wholesaling and national distributing industry and often talk about how they feel we (the people who work in the industry) speak an unintelligible language. And are mostly corrupt.

I bring all of this up because from the time Anderson News went out of business until late July of this year, the former wholesaler had been engaged in an anti-trust lawsuit against surviving wholesalers TNG and Hudson News. Also included in the suit were all four major national distributors and many of the larger publishing houses like Hearst, AMI and Conde Nast.

In a fascinating twist, the presiding federal judge, Paul Crotty, intimated that some of the actions that Anderson News had taken just prior to shutting down may have violated the rules of anti-trust.

The judge was reported as saying, “If there were ever an antitrust case of the pot calling the kettle black, this is it.”

The upside of the dismissal of this case is that finally, the publishers, wholesalers and national distributors who were involved in the suit can now focus their attention and resources on the business of selling magazines at retail.

The questions I have asked myself since the suit was dismissed this summer are, “Is it just a little too late?” and “Do they really care?”

In 2009 there were four major magazine wholesalers in the US, several specialty distributors beyond Ingram and Media Solutions, and more than twenty regional magazine wholesalers. Since then, the number of national wholesalers is down to two. Only Ingram and Media Solutions service the larger bookstore chains and each one has exclusive arrangements. There are now fewer than 20 regional wholesalers.

One telling change we see since the closure of Anco and the spectacular flop of Source Interlink in 2014 is that national distributors are increasingly reluctant to offer anything in the way of direct advice to publishers when it comes interactions with wholesalers. TNG or Hudson decide want adjustments to per copy distribution fees? Your national distributor may speak to you in very neutral tones and suggest that you make the decision on your own. How are other publishers responding? They can’t say.

Is it a stretch to wonder if the recent expenditure of multiple millions in lawyers fees has made them a bit gun-shy? With only two large wholesalers covering upwards of 90% of the business can they really serve their traditional purpose as the publishers banker? Are they advocates for the publishers? Can the remaining two wholesalers really interact effectively with multiple publishers and national distributors?

This could be a great time to come up with a way to revamp a declining industry, reignite how people look for and shop for magazines. Change the way magazines are merchandised, the way publishers and wholesalers are compensated.

In the meantime many smaller, start-up and niche publications are selling their magazines at retail. Look at the “Stockists” page on Kinfolk Magazine and you’ll notice that they are distributing their magazine without the benefit of a national distributor or a traditional mass market wholesaler. They use Ingram for some of their bookstore business and the rest they do themselves. Moreover, they can be found in less traditional chains such as Anthropologie.

Kinfolk flie solo
Kinfolk flies solo

Startup The Great Discontent followed suit and their stockists page is similarly filled with a few national chains, independent bookstores, and stores that probably don’t carry many magazines at all. Browse the shelves of your local bookstore some day, look at all of the high-priced startup indie fashion and lifestyle magazines and you’ll notice that many of them seem to be following this “do it yourself” attitude when it comes to their circulation.

To celebrate the release of their September fashion magazines, major publisher Hearst Magazine painted a delivery truck hot pink and sent it out into New York city to sell copies of all of their September fashion magazines. It is interesting to note that the truck was not owned by New York City wholesaler Hudson News and it appears that Hudson was not consulted about the promotion.

Does this portend a sea change in how magazines are distributed? Perhaps. We need new blood and new ideas on how to market our publications. But we also need relatively easy access to the retail market. How we approach squaring that circle may determine what the future of single copy sales will look like.