BoSacks Speaks Out: On Bezos, AMI and the American Newsstand

By Bob Sacks on February 22, 2019
BoSacks Speaks Out: Why is our industry always seeming to be at a crossroads of crisis when it comes to the newsstand part of our industry? 

When I got into the magazine game in the 1970s the newsstand was in some parts corrupt and yet reliable and profitable. Once you figured out the "system" you could do very well and never worry about its brittleness because it was a strong delivery business with a functioning national infrastructure. These days many knowledgeable professionals constantly talk about its fragility.

The newsstand is often misunderstood and is more complex than most realize. There are an unusually large set of varied businesses focused on the selling of magazines on the newsstand. There are thousands of people and hundreds of businesses dedicated to the shipping, driving, selling, stocking, coordinating, consulting and returning of magazines in the retail supply chain. Their salaries depend on the success of the newsstand. It is a complex process that thousands have devoted their careers to. In this mix not only are the newsstand organizations, the supply chain subgroups, but also actual magazines that live and die on the newsstand alone as their main source of revenue.

Last year a friend/publisher e-mailed me the following, "The newsstand system is becoming increasingly irrelevant to most magazine publishers. Big publishers now create covers more with the goal of getting clicks and social-media buzz than selling copies. I can't say that I disagree with them. The newsstand system is a shit show of incompetence and inefficiency."
This esteemed friend is wrong about most publishers and not so wrong about efficiency. The newsstand is not irrelevant to most publishers, in fact just the opposite. It is only the large publishers to which "The newsstand system is becoming increasingly irrelevant." In 2017 there were 7,176 titles and many, perhaps most, gain their revenue from retail sales.
Which brings us to Linda Ruth's article about AMI and the newsstand. Does AMI, now exposed to possible legal issues or at least an in-depth examination, put more stress on the now admittedly fragile newsstand?
What if? That is what I keep thinking. What If an implosion happens? What would be the real time effects on our printers, publishers and, as I said before, thousands of employees in the distribution side of the business? 
We need the newsstand to survive and thrive. Over the years there have been forecasts of its death and proposed plans to save it. Neither have happened. No modernization, little-to-no overhaul and, of course, no death.

Regardless of what happens to AMI I don't foresee the death of the newsstand as we know it. I don't believe the newsstand will ever evaporate, because there are still billions to be made in it. No businessman likes a vacuum, and someone will eventually reconstitute a distribution system. But the intervening space between implosion and reconstruction would obviously be devastating. 

Since the demise is unimaginable, I prefer to think the newsstand will continue along its way with a stumble or two every now and again.  

By Bob Sacks| February 22, 2019

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Bob Sacks

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