How Publishers Are Filling the Newsstand Void
Nature and publishers abhor a vacuum because vacuums suck.
The steady drip-drip-drip decline in the traditional newsstand system and the meteoric fall of Apple’s Newsstand project have created a vacuum in publishers’ efforts to sell their magazines and to get them discovered by new readers. Just last month, Time Inc. shuttered newsstand-dependent “All You” and reported that retail sales of its magazines have dropped 12% in just a year.
Sure, publishers’ growing presence on the web and social media helps them increase awareness of their magazines. But those media are made for telling, not showing: Rarely do they lead to people seeing an actual magazine, whether print or digital.
If you look hard enough, though, you can find promising tactics to stifle that giant sucking sound and to find new magazine readers -- and buyers:
The direct approach: Anecdotal reports indicate that an increasing number of publishers -- especially in the growing regional genre -- are bypassing the traditional newsstand system and selling directly to retailers.
Joe Berger, a newsstand consultant and blogger, confirms that he’s seeing more publishers going direct to retail. For example, one of the big dollar-store chains is selling “hundreds of thousands” of magazine and bookazine copies not distributed via the newsstand system, he says.
His blog recently noted that the web sites of startup niche publications like Kinfolk and The Great Discontent have stockist pages featuring some stores like Anthropologie that aren’t even typical magazine retailers. (No, my New York friends, “stockist” is not Charlie the Tuna’s employer; it’s a retailer that stocks a particular product.)
One store owner who carries many direct-to-retail magazines told Dead Tree Edition, “I am grateful they exist as they do really well on our newsstand.”
Going old school: When it comes to developing alternative sales channels, “North America’s oldest continuously published periodical,” the 223-year-old Old Farmer’s Almanac (OFA), can teach the whippersnapper startups a few lessons.
The almanac is published -- ads and all -- in magazine, paperback book, hardcover book, and Kindle editions. That means it’s on sale in many bookstores, web sites, and other retail outlets that don’t even carry magazines. And the paperback is selling nearly 200 copies a day on Amazon alone, judging by its recent #524 book ranking on the big ecommerce site.
OFA’s web site makes it easy for retailers to order copies of the almanac and related products at wholesale, conveniently prepackaged in floor stands and counter displays. Non-profits can also download a mini-catalog of OFA products that they can sell as a nearly turnkey fundraiser.
Finding the right texture: Just when it looked like time to throw in the towel on the concept of mass-market digital magazines, whose subscriptions have plateaued at just a fraction of magazines’ total circulation levels, along comes a pleasant surprise.
“There has been a major increase in [digital] single copy sales over the past two years,” reports Thea Selby of Next Steps Marketing, who’s been tracking U.S. digital-magazine sales for several years. “National Geographic went from a tepid barely 1,000 copies sold per issue to over 30,000 in digital single copy sales from last year,” and Maxim’s single-copy surge was nearly as dramatic.
Texture, an all-you-can read app from the publishing consortium Next Issue Media, has caused nearly all that growth, she writes. Every time a Texture subscriber reads a particular magazine, the publisher gets a share of the revenue and counts it as a single-copy sale of that issue.
The revenue per sale may be small, but there are no printing costs and no unsold copies. Texture offers publishers a risk-free way to expose their titles to readers who have demonstrated a willingness to pay for magazines.
Freebies: Copies given away to select audiences are a critical component of many a magazine’s circulation strategy.
Events, a booming business for publishers, can be the perfect venue to showcase a publication. City magazines often place copies in the rooms of high-end hotels. Amazon is trying to get Kindle Fire owners interested in digital publications by offering them three free issues of leading consumer titles.
Time Inc. is taking free to a new level with its upcoming launch of a U.S. offshoot from Wallpaper*, its high-end international architecture-and-design title. Foregoing newsstand sales and direct-mail promotions, Time will make the quarterly “Bespoke U.S. Edition” available only to 250,000 affluent consumers it has selected to receive free copies in the mail.
Paint it black: Black Friday is one of the biggest shopping days of the year at Barnes and Noble -- except for magazine sales. This year, to lure more shoppers into the magazine section, B&N will be promoting a one-day-only 30% off sale on all periodicals.
Publishers will eat the discount, leaving them little margin on the copies sold that day. But they should get a bump in paid circulation and exposure to new readers who can’t resist a bargain.