Missing From the MBR Conference: Newsstand Strategies for Small, Niche Publishers
I recently returned from the MBR 2017 Conference (Magazines & Books at Retail, formerly Periodical & Book Association of America, PBAA), and the mood of the meeting was upbeat. There was a strong attendance of approximately 200 individuals, and the focus was to grow the print category within the brick and mortar marketplace.
There were publisher representatives from all the U.S. and Canadian national distributors. Retailers from across the U.S. and Canada attended including H.E.B., Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Dollar General, Harris Teeter, Paradies-Lagardere, and OTG, to name a few. Major wholesalers in attendance included Hudson News Distributors, TNG U.S., TNG Canada, Media Solutions, One Source, Metro News Canada, Liberty News, and National Distribution Alliance. And there were major publishers including Active Interest Media, Bauer Media, Condé Nast, Kiplinger’s, Ogden, Trusted Media, Topix, Penny Press, and Rodale.
Missing were the niche publishers that represented the original membership of PBAA when it was initially formed. Why? In my opinion, the excellent presentations were lacking the content to help a small, niche publisher understand the newsstand maze and how they can take advantage of the newsstand opportunities. Retailers presented their brands, their plans for growth, and opportunities. Experts in retail development and analysis gave us insights into leveraging profits. But one thing was missing: how does a small publisher succeed in today’s competitive environment?
Niche Publishers Pushed Out of Pricey Checkout Displays
Back in the day when there were wholesalers in the U.S. and Canada, a VP from Time Inc. said at the 1993 Atlantic Coast Independent Distributors Association (ACIDA) Meeting in Orlando, FL to a mixed crowd of publishers (many single copy only), wholesalers, and national distributors, “If you can’t buy a position at the checkout, get out of the business, we don’t need you taking space from us.” (sic.)
Most of us were in shock. Many of us laughed him off. But looking at this meeting where the total audience was less than one fourth of the attendees at the 1993 Orlando conference, unfortunately what the Time Inc. exec predicted is becoming the future.
I’ve already voiced my concerns about the homogenization of the checkout, and the reduction of the size of the mainline, and how this limited opportunity will hurt sales and creativity in the magazine environment. It is almost like a reverse socialism of the 1960s where if you lived in Yugoslavia, your automobile choices were limited to the Yugo, and the Yugo.
Looking around the room, which had a noticeable absence of single copy publishers that used to attend this conference, you could understand why. The information was not for the small publisher, whose big concerns are meeting payroll and printer demands. They could not relate to Michael Sansolo’s (an excellent presenter) session on Coca Cola’s Research Council supermarket study and what the next eight will bring, the results of a checkout study by Time Inc., nor advice from the editorial director for Men’s Health.
How the MBR Can Help Small Publishers
The needs for the smaller publisher are simple:
- Give me the tools to find a printer that will lower my costs so I can be profitable on the newsstand.
- How do I design a cover for the mainline that will help me reach newsstand browsers?
- What are the real options for distribution that do not require a huge investment in promotional dollars just to have a display?
- Help me to understand the intricacies of budgeting for the future and what the role of the national distributor, wholesaler, and retailer (even consultants) are.
Some of you may scoff and think I’m being too simplistic and if an aspiring publisher/editor does not know this, they should listen to the paraphrased comments of the 1992 ACIDA Time Inc. speaker, “don’t bother getting to the business and take space away from us”.
At one time when the old MPA attempted to attract single copy publishers at their single copy conference, they held small publisher meetings at the beginning of the event. Topics from starting up a title, to developing direct to retail business, and how to work with wholesalers were covered. I, along with other niche publishers and representatives, made presentations at these meetings and saw how it helped new publishers, many who are still publishing to this day.
These are publishers where sales efficiency is important because when you add in the cost of unsold copies, coupled with production and shipping costs, there is little money for major promotions that may not be in the targeted retail account.
I’ve seen great product die because either the publisher jumped too quickly into mass distribution and lost money because the printing bill exceeded revenues; or they were stubborn and refused to make minor modifications in design, package, or size that severely hurt potential.
I’ve worked with smart single copy only publishers that knew how to bring a magazine to market and develop a package that was cost efficient and met the needs of a targeted audience.
I spoke about my concerns to Jerry Lynch, president of MBR at the meeting this week on how we could include more topics to draw the smaller publisher to the next MBR meeting. He listened and agreed to follow up with the board.
There are a lot of us that believe print is not dead, and it isn’t. As Tom Griffith from Willard Bishop said at the MBR meeting, magazines excel at delivering profits to the retailer’s bottom line. Now that’s a presentation I enjoyed listening to!
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