A Response to Baird Davis' Protecting the Newsstand (Part 2)

By John Harrington on May 16, 2018

I could quibble over a long list of essentially minor points in Baird Davis' "Modest Plan", but the fact is the underlying message - something must be done about the newsstand - is undeniable.

Two questions hang over the future:

Can and will publishers make aggressive steps to create a manageable distribution channel? And; If yes to that, can the apparently inexorable decline in sales be halted so that a manageable channel can survive?

As I have said on many occasions, there is little history that indicates publishers are willing to embark on a cooperative effort to revamp the channel, but perhaps staring into the abyss may rattle their long-demonstrated reluctance.

As for sales, magazine retail dollar volume was $5 billion in 2007 and is likely to be little more than $1 billion by the end of 2018. For years, everyone was asked the question, "Where is the bottom?" For years, the response has been, "Who knows?" Which translates as zero, and which leads to the question, "Why would anyone commit to an effort to restructure, if the market will, like the old soldier, just fade away?

Clearly, if publishers are going to recreate the channel, they must also commit to improving the sales environment. It's a two-part project.   

I will once again express my skepticism about the likelihood of publishers undertaking the challenge. However, if such an ambitious task were to be initiated, I offer my modest suggestions about what elements it might have to contain.

Baird's suggestion of establishing a newsstand public utility is right on. Players on each side - publishers and wholesalers - would have to put some ego aside, but when the alternative is the abyss, that shouldn't be too difficult. Perhaps publishers, at least some of the largest, might be able to partner in some fashion with the two remaining wholesalers [1]. If such a utility could be established, it might operate on a modification of the a so-called "pay-for-service" model that was part of the industry discussion back ten or fifteen years ago, and it would be available to all publishers willing to pay for the offered services. 

Regarding the issue of inspiring public consumption of magazines at retail, virtually nothing has been done since....... well frankly, I don't know when. Yet, publishers have, for the most part been able to maintain their subscription levels through a variety of methods. Granted, those methods are not also profitable all by themselves. However, they have allowed publishers to maintain circulation levels that support rate bases. Maybe retail sales promotions should be viewed through a similar prism (A few years ago, not long after I retired The New Single Copy, I made my own "modest proposal". Couldn't publishers use their list of subscribers' emails to urge their readers to visit newsstands and discover other publications they might enjoy). I don't recall that anyone jumped on my idea, but today, with the ever-expanding reach of social media, and with publishers eagerly attempting to exploit it, aren't there at least some opportunities out there?      

The point is, there are benefits that newsstand provides for the magazine publishing model that will be sorely missed if the current sales trends continues and the channel is allowed to "fade away". And, developing a better more productive and efficient magazine retail distribution channel is possible, but it must be supported by a marketing program that will make its development worth undertaking. 

If it's not done soon, what was once an American icon, the newsstand, will like the legendary old soldier just fade away. 

[1] Baird refers to four publishers - Meredith, Hearst, American Media, and Bauer - but I think Conde Nast should be included as well. As for wholesalers, of course there are only two, TNG and Hudson, and they have already demonstrated by their partnerships in CMG and Genera Solutions that they amenable to cooperative undertakings.

By John Harrington| May 16, 2018
Categories:  Industry News

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John Harrington

John Harrington

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