The Fate of the Newsstand Isn’t the Same as the Fate of Print
More bad news, true, but also old news.
Newsstand sales in 2015 declined by nearly 16 percent, according to a new report from MagNet. Sell-through declined to just over a quarter of total draw, an astonishingly low number. There was a time when a sell-through percentage in the mid-to-high 30s was average—considered ho-hum. Every retail class of trade—convenience stores, drug stores, club stores, bookstores, supermarkets and more—saw a decline in sales.
The newsstand is the weakest part of the print-magazine industry, having long since collapsed as an economically robust distribution channel for most of the players in the supply chain—wholesalers, retailers, distributors and many (most?) magazines. And before you argue that magazines generate a higher profit for retailers than other products, remember that the national network of wholesalers that existed back in the day disintegrated for a reason—and that anyway, consumers themselves have changed.
It used to be that you could go into any transportation hub and find a massive newsstand. It was fun to find and compare entire categories—multiple magazines from different publishers on any topic are you could imagine: computers, gardening, history, kites, cars, whatever. It was fun to find obscure titles for obscure interests. It was fun to find international versions of well-known magazines, and brands endemic to other countries but not available widely in the United States.
Those days are gone. Transportation hubs have truncated newsstands, with a fraction of the offerings they once had. Physical world bookstores are pretty much gone. Drug stores only have a handful of celebrity magazines. Same with supermarkets and convenience stories.
These pursuits have moved online, in large part. There used to be hundreds of magazine wholesalers. Now there are two.
But again, the decline of the newsstand doesn’t equate to a decline of print magazines. Newsstand sales have always fundamentally been an impulse buy. Single copies cost way more than a subscription, and these days, with a mobile phone and social media, you can easily access (yesterday) everything you see on the newsstand today.
Subscriptions are a different story. And magazine brands remain things that people want—not just to access great journalism, but also help define who they are. A magazine on a coffee table says more to friends and guests than a laptop open to, say, BuzzFeed, ever could. That will be true well into the foreseeable future.
As a business, print magazines complete the 360-degree access to buyers that advertisers need. Print magazines are best at producing an important part of the buying cycle—brand development and awareness. Magazine brands really are cherished, but they're not cherished like quaint old 1930s brands, long gone but evocative of a time and place. They're cherished because they produce world-class content in multiple media forms, better for the most part than the digital-only media brands.
This isn’t old school, it’s just true.