What Newsstand Professionals & Rodney Dangerfield Have in Common
A few weeks ago I was one of 45 other newsstand professionals who broke bread at the 30th Anniversary of the Hudson Retail Group, the largest operator of concessions in the U.S. and Canada.
It was an enjoyable night, and with the limited number of uplifting functions in publishing, it was important to all of us in attendance. It amazed me as I looked at this group of newsstand directors, vice presidents, and consultants how much knowledge of retail planning and distribution was sitting in the room. As I looked at my compatriots, many that I’ve known or worked with for many years, I was also struck by the lack of respect, the “Rodney Dangerfield Effect,” that many of us and those associated to newsstand have experienced and continue to experience.
Yes, I’m suggesting that publishers, art directors, retail managers, and retail merchandisers should listen to us.
I Get No Respect, the Magazine Was in the Wrong Category on the Rack
One of the wonderful things about newsstand is that it is almost 99% demographically sound. It does not use overlays to identify demographics by zip code. If a title is new, the newsstand professionals (wholesaler, national distributor, consultant, newsstand director) use “comparative” titles to develop a distribution plan.
For example, copies of Blair & Ketchum’s Country Journal are targeted in the “Home & Garden/Country Category” in stores across the U.S. and Canada. The October issue had a picture of a dog running across a field and a few merchandisers (in the publisher’s backyard of course) put the title in the “Pets Category” based on the cover image. As you could imagine, all hell broke loose.
I Get No Respect, I Have to Work the Magazine Department
Magazine merchandising in many chains is the entry level, no-one-wants job (except for cleaning toilets!). It’s a lot of work. Every week you might get three deliveries of four to five cartons with 50 pounds of magazines each that you have to scan and place on the rack while removing the old issue, scanning it, and placing it in another carton for returns. It’s hard labor. In the summer it can be very uncomfortable and hot. Customers don’t respect you or the rack, often hiding dirty tissues or empty coffee cups or candy wrappers between magazines, and you can’t wait until you get a promotion or get another job somewhere else.
When I manage direct programs to major sporting goods chains or vitamin stores, the success of the program is dependent on the store’s magazine merchandiser. If those merchandisers were bad, the programs failed. And for that reason, many potentially successful direct-to-retail programs have bombed.
One of the reasons newsstand programs like Fry’s Electronics managed by TNG, or Whole Foods managed by One Source, work so well is the in-store merchandiser reports to the servicing wholesaler.
Here I’d like to give a shout out to the merchandiser that services the Barnes & Noble store in Westport, CT. This guy takes pride in his work. You don’t find titles “scategorized” on the rack, and he follows plan-o-grams that the home office sends out. I’ve looked at sales results, and consumers are buying magazines in this store!
I Get No Respect, the Issue Wasn’t on the Rack
The editor-In-chief of a history magazine once demanded my immediate termination because when he went to three local bookstores in the area, he could not find a copy of his magazine on the rack. He said he scoured the history section of each mainline and could not find a copy of the magazine, and since it just went on sale, I was to blame.
We did a fact-finding mission to each store with his art director and my supervisor. Within minutes of this complaint, we found that his title was there, on each rack, in each store. The problem was the cover was truly a piece of collectible art: black background with white doughboys marching to war, and a greyish logo. On the rack it looked like a shadow of the magazine it was next to, and it was the worst selling newsstand issue in three years. Normally that’s not a problem, but since newsstand represented over 60% of the title’s revenue, it was a big problem. However, the title did win an art director’s award, but that doesn’t pay the bills!
I Get No Respect, Why We Haven’t Gotten Paid Yet?
One of the more frustrating and unique elements of single copy is the length of time an issue takes to close. It is safe to assume that it will take up to 360 days after the off-sale date to have final checks sent to the publisher.
The newsstand system, to offset the length of time to accommodate returns processing, offers advances paid based on estimated net sales. That provides cash flow for publishers to cover printing expenses and salaries. But unlike candy or tires or sheets, payment terms and settlement is long and drawn out.
If a title is less than a monthly frequency, the time between payments is long, and the deductions made for freight, Canadian Exchange and promotions (if any) reduce the amount of the check, begging the question many finance departments ask, “Why are we doing this?”
I Get No Respect, Why Has the Distribution Fallen Over 55,700 Copies in One Year for a Leading Women’s Title?
The answer is simple: The title’s low-cost subscription (less than $0.66 a copy) had a bonus of a one-year subscription to another title for only $2.00 more! That’s 24 front end titles a year for less than $0.42 cents a copy.
I Get No Respect, Why Did You Budget a High Sell Through for This Issue?
Budgets are done a year in advance for the most part. But even with quarterly re-forecasting, to make adjustments for changes in the retail environment or even the weather, if a cover is bad, sales will be bad. When budgeting sales for the May 2018 issue in September 2017, your plans do not involve a lousy cover or the change in fortune of a cover personality, while the magazine is being printed.
There was a wedding magazine that featured a comedian on the cover of the magazine and his recent elaborate wedding. A week before the on-sale date, while the trucks were delivering copies to the wholesalers for delivery, it was announced that this comedian was getting divorced. Bad publicity for the cover personality can sour the sale of any magazine category.
Reaching the consumer takes a coordinated effort between editorial, art, consumer marketing (subscription), advertising, newsstand, and finance. I’m sure each one of us has our “I Get No Respect” moments, whether it’s the comments from single copy or an entry level media buyer who won’t make a buy because your magazine isn’t “hot” … Just focus on the strengths and build your title’s awareness and sales.
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