No, There’s Not a Glut of Magazine Titles at Newsstand
Last week I attended the Periodical and Book Association of America conference (now MBR, Magazines and Books at Retail Association). This event brings together all facets of the single copy business, publishers, national distributors, retailers, and wholesalers for education, planning and developing best practices. Attendees come from all over the world. Post-conference I was fortunate to take three Russian attendees on a brief tour of how magazines are sold in America ... specifically in a suburb of New York City where the cost of real estate is high.
Our tour of supermarkets and pharmacies in Greenwich, CT helped me make a strong argument against an observation made by a publisher presenter at PBAA who said "There are too many magazines on sale today, forcing many titles to be prematured!" (premature: returning a copy before the off sale date.)
Lack of Title Diversity at Retail
But first, the difference between city and suburban magazine programs -- I explained to my tour companions that a high cost per square foot limits the number of SKUs for most products in retailers, and in particular magazines.
In the two drugstore chains we visited there was one "checkout fixture". The 16 titles on the fixture were the titles you find on most checkouts in America. People, US Weekly, O.K., Woman's World, The Star, and so on. The mainline in the stores, approximately six feet long, had roughly 90 titles, ranging from the top publishers to smaller sports and hairstyle titles. Each had a full facing display. The only partial displays were on the back tier where only the top third of the cover was visible.
We visited Stop and Shop, where there were only six checkouts, and ACME, which had four checkouts. Each checkout had magazines surrounding a soda display. Many of the titles were the same on each checkout. There was no mainline in either store. The overall footprint of these stores was small, and I pointed out to our guests that this is the cost of doing business in older urban areas where real estate is expensive.
Missed Opportunity to Target Specific Audiences
Having the same title mix on four or six racks is a disservice to consumers and retailers. In Greenwich for example, equestrian events (show jumping and polo) have a large following. There were no horse titles. Expensive and rare motor cars are another popular interest, but no DuPont Registry or Robb Report was on display.
Consumers looking for the specialty titles and others that are not on the checkout will go to large chain and independent bookstores, which in the case of this market are 7-10 miles away. There may be markets with large newsstands like City Newsstand in Chicago, Presse Commerce in Canada, or Hudson in New York City where full lines of magazines are carried, but this is more the exception rather than the rule.
After discussing space limitations with my Russian companions, we discussed the business model of Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million superstores to offer a full range of titles for all interests. Each chain offers hundreds of feet of mainline display space plus outposts for cross merchandising, overhead displays, and placement in cafes and at checkouts.
I also pointed out that supermarkets outside of the New York market will have mainline fixtures, some of which exceed 20 linear feet -- approximately 200 to 1,000 feet of display space. Authorized lists (titles that the chain has approved for sale) can be as high as 1,200 to 2,000 titles. Not all titles go into all stores. Order regulation, a process to identify historical sales and potential sales, weeds out poor sellers.
So Do We Have Too Many Magazines?
This brings me to the point that a presenter made at the PBAA meeting. Using data from MagNet he identified that there are over 8,600 bipads (titles) sold in North America (U.S. and Canada). He said there are so many titles that retailers are forced to premature copies to accommodate deliveries of other magazines. His point: the number of titles distributed in North America should be reduced by 2,000 to 3,000 titles.
I say this is a gross exaggeration. Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million are two chains that carry the most magazines for sale in the U.S. Barnes & Noble, which produces a ranking report of sales for the year, indicates that for the period of March, 2015 to March, 2016 they carried 5,064 individual titles (bipads). Of the 5,064, 3,600 were domestic titles, and many were specials requiring a unique bipad, (which is not necessarily the case for other retailers) and 1,464 are imported titles, mostly from the U.K.
MagNet's numbers are not wrong; they are inclusive of all magazine bipads that were sold in the U.S. and Canada. Some unique bipads are for specials or chain specific releases. In Canada the bipads are for French titles imported for Quebec Province, U.K. titles, and Canada's own publishing industry that does not have distribution to the U.S.
My rough estimate is there are 2,000 to 3,000 titles on the MagNet file that do not have distribution to mass market chains like Wal-Mart, Stop and Shop, or Kroger's. So the presenter's point could be considered moot since duplication of bipads and market interests already limits distribution.
It must be difficult for a media buyer or a consumer in NYC to comprehend the importance of supermarket magazine sales as they shop in D'Agostino's in Manhattan or a Stop and Shop in Greenwich CT that are checkout only, with the same 16 magazine titles. They must think that the industry has no new product, no growth potential, or nothing for special or mass interests.
Outside of major cities the majority of sales for many titles, apart from the bookstore class of trade, come from supermarket chains like H.E.B., Wegman's, Safeway, Harris Teeter, and Publix. They are successful magazine retailers but in my opinion could do better by opening up title mixes at the checkout to generate new sales and opportunities from new titles selling new trends like Busch's in Michigan or Whole Foods. Imagine if the Acme in Greenwich my Russian friends and I visited added a new title mix to one front end display fixture.
John Morthanos is a circulation consultant specializing in niche and
special interest publications. He was Vice President Specialty Sales at
Curtis Circulation Company, Vice President Single Copy Sales at Primedia
Special Interest Publications and Cowles Magazines, Circulation Director
at Viare Publishing, and Circulation Marketing Director at Ziff Davis