How to Look at Your 2014 Sales
So far I have spent 2015 deep in analyses of publishers' sales in 2014 and before. That probably puts me in company with every other audience development person in our business. There are many circles that might never be closed -- issues with zero sale in certain chains due to unrecorded sales; issues with 100% sale in other chains due to unrecorded returns. Issues that exist as a blank, with neither draw nor returns recorded in certain channels of sale.
Lacking lucky timing in lower-frequency publications, or distribution that did not include Source Interlink, such a consequence is almost inevitable. Months after the Source bankruptcy, warehouses were still packed ceiling-high with unreturned product -- returns that couldn't be processed or even counted, issues shipped but never distributed. The best we can do, at the moment, is take an educated guess, close the book on 2014, and move on.
Strangely, though, I've come out of these weeks of analysis with a sense of optimism. Following on five years of bankruptcies at the wholesaler and retailer level, and accompanied by plummeting sales, the magazine newsstand seems to have hit rock bottom in 2014. So, at least, we hope; and so most industry experts seem to believe. Since the first of the year of bankruptcies, I've spoken with national distributors, wholesalers, retailers, publishers, and consultants. Across the board, the messaging is remarkably consistent. Most assert that magazine distribution's shakeouts in the past year are leading us into a period of greater stability.
This is not a kneejerk response to what has been, in truth, an almost unimaginably bad year. To the contrary, it's been many years since I've heard industry participants speak with such confidence. While there is much progress still to be made, the remaining wholesalers appear to be on a financially sound footing. Publishers have begun to pay extra for situations that create higher costs, such as lower efficiencies and expensive locations. And, like war-battered combatants wanting to put their conflict behind them, publishers and wholesalers are uniting to rebuild.
Total newsstand sales took their biggest body blows in second and third quarter 2014, when the Source Interlink bankruptcy left a reported 30% of the magazine retailers in the country without service. By the end of the fourth quarter, most of those retailers were back in distribution.
So where does that leave us with 2015 sales?
It depends on what distributors you are working with. Curtis made the upheaval in 2014, if not invisible to publishers and their advertisers, at least somewhat more coherent, by finalizing sales based on previous year averages and paying publishers based on that. In many other cases, publishers are left with threads that might never get untangled.
It's a frustrating situation, but one that requires this -- closing the door on the past year and just moving on. And, if nothing else, that reality opens the door to new beginnings
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.