What in Publishing Takes 21 Days?
I’ve heard back from people in the U.S. and overseas in response to my request for ideas to improve newsstand distribution channels for magazines.
From the Netherlands, Theo Eijspaart expressed his incredulity:
“What (do) you mean by the 21 days period from plant to shelves? I'm professionally involved with the consumer magazine industry in The Netherlands, Europe. I realize that my country is relatively tiny compared to the US and that therefore distribution will be considerably easier, but I mean, 21 days? That's more like a concept to shelves period! Could you explain what is meant by this time frame?”
For Theo, and others who might not “get” the 21 day cycle, that’s the time from when your magazine leaves the bindery until it is displayed on the retailer shelf; and as I mentioned in my blog, rather than getting shorter over the past two or three decades, that timeframe has become less of a worst-case scenario and more of an “if all goes well” one.
Most publishers try to squeeze every drop of time they can out of a schedule so as to have the latest news and the most time for advertisers to make it into the publication. For greater freshness, they cover date their publications for one or two months after their on sale month. They time their publications to come off bindery in time for the pool ship deadlines or truck pickups. And they begrudge every day of those 21. Where does the time go?
Some of it is just spent in the realities of transportation: pickup, trucking, stopping off at the regional breakup agencies to have the product sorted by destination, put back on the truck, and sent off again. A good bit of the rest of the time takes place at the wholesaler warehouses, where the product is received and goes on the tieline for bundling and invoicing, then is loaded on the trucks to the retail stores according to the wholesaler’s schedule.
For simplicity, publishers still target that Tuesday on-sale date, but that is not a fixed date everywhere. Some wholesalers distribute to the stores Tuesday, some Thursday, some both or throughout the week. The time that is officially allocated to the time at the wholesaler is 7-10 days—that is, from wholesaler receiving to on sale. But in some agencies that could be as much as two weeks. Why?
Remember how big some of these agencies have gotten post-consolidation. They are covering, in some cases, huge geographic areas; and they are handling thousands of magazines. And dates and times are not always what they appear to be. For example, say a wholesaler’s cut off—that is, the date and time by which they must receive your delivery in order to make the upcoming tieline—is noon on Friday. A publisher might be aware that missing the cutoff means missing that cycle of distribution entirely—a late delivery could mean the publication goes on sale a week or more past its scheduled on sale date. So the publisher works with printers and shippers to get the publication in under the wire, and manages to confirm an 11 a.m. Friday drop off to the wholesale agency. Later it is discovered that the publication arrived late—and missed its on sale. Why? Because if a wholesaler is unable to accept and log in a delivery, it is not received, which makes it late—even if it is sitting on a dock somewhere at the agency.
Our new mega-wholesaler conglomerations are investing in the future. I’ve been to some agencies recently with some amazing technology—robots, new kinds of scanning technology and other futuristic innovations. I’m optimistic that as the agencies get these in place and continue to upgrade, we’ll be able to start shaving some time off those 21 days.
With the Internet making it possible to publish and distribute instantly, print needs every day it can win.
Linda Ruth, as president of PSCS Consulting (www.PSCSConsulting.com), offers communication companies worldwide the keys to magazine launches, search engine optimization and audience development online and at retail. She is a pioneer in the fields of Online Audience Optimization (OAO) and gamification for content publishers. Her books, "Internet Marketing for Magazine Publishers" ; "How to Market your Newsstand Magazine"; and "Secrets of SEO for Publishers" can be found on Amazon. Find her online at Google Plus, Magazine Dojo, LinkedIn, and Twitter @Linda_Ruth.