Master Manufacturer: Striving for Zero Returns on the Newsstand
In today’s electronic age, it’s becoming harder and harder to justify our magazine business model anymore. We can longer claim that we are a cheap source of dispensing information.
We cut down trees, transport them to be ground into pulp, use energy and water to create paper, transport the stock to printing plants, print with inks (which go through a similar process in a petroleum-based market), mail magazines in an increasingly more expensive “snail mail” system, and/or ship them in a series of delivery trucks to every newsstand in America.
These magazines have a self-imposed average expiration date of 30 days (with the month of “relevance” printed right there on the cover), and thereafter are destroyed. We then rate their success on how many we sell, which currently averages around only 30 percent to 35 percent.
This is a huge waste of resources. And it always bothers me that once the next issue comes out, the current one is perceived as worthless. In most cases, however, that editorial and advertising is still relevant and has value. With sold copies it’s called “pass-along” readership. Yet, unsold copies are deemed worthless and destroyed.
It’s different in China though. They have zero returns on newsstands. That’s right—zero returns. Almost every magazine placed on the newsstands in China has a 100-percent sell-through. So if they can do it, can we?
There are obvious differences between our two systems, one being China’s censorship of all media, but mainly, they do not have national distribution of any kind. Also, readers have a much smaller choice of publications than we do, but more importantly, they perceive magazines as a luxury item—not a cheap source of information.
Historically, many U.S. magazine publishers have thought they needed to keep the cover price as low as possible, believing that with every increase, they lost a proportional amount of subscribers.