Inside Time Inc.’s Plan to Save the Newsstand
Time Inc. Retail president Drew Wintemberg on embracing new realities on one of the industry's longest-standing distribution channels.
If print is dying, the newsstand has become something of a retail hospice.
Regular Folio: readers are well aware of the quarterly MagNet reports heralding further gloom for the industry's most troubled distribution channel — with some observers going as far as to blame publishers themselves for hastening the declines — but Drew Wintemberg, recently appointed president of Time Inc. Retail after 15 years as EVP of sales and logistics, believes it doesn't need to be that way.
Heading up retail sales and marketing for Time Inc.'s titles — as well as for clients like Meredith, Rodale, and National Geographic — Wintemberg is now responsible for a portfolio that accounts for more than one-quarter of the North American newsstand business. He's also got big shoes to fill; Wintemberg replaces outgoing president Rich Jacobsen, who spent more than three decades at the helm.
Folio: sat down with Wintemberg to discuss the various challenges ahead, what consumers and retailers need from publishers, and why he still believes in the power of print at retail.
Folio: Heading into the new year, what do you see as some of your biggest immediate challenges?
Drew Wintemberg: I really see three major challenges. One, obviously, is changing shopper behavior and the influence of online shopping. The second challenge is that, with the exception of bookazines, coloring books, and a few recent title launches, the core category continues to decline. From my perspective, it doesn’t seem that many publishers are investing to bring the consumers back to retail. Certainly not to the degree we are [at Time Inc.].
At times we see ourselves as competing with one another, but our real competition is from other categories. Whether you’re talking about beverage, candy, snacks, we’re competing with other categories for space. It's clear that print is not dead, but if we don’t demonstrate a commitment to innovation and new products, it makes it tough for the retailer to not question whether we’re really in this for the long haul.
The third challenge is alignment within the supply chain. For a publisher, the best thing we can do is remain focused on driving consumption. That’s really our focus at Time Inc.
Folio: What are some things you're doing there, from an innovation standpoint?
Wintemberg: We’re looking at things like increasing the number of “tent pole” issues we have. For Entertainment Weekly, a tent pole issue would be something around TV. For People, it’s an issue around the Oscars. Those normally perform very well.
Then, it’s considering how we continue to jump on breaking news as we have always done. With the Brad and Angelina split, for People, we already had an issue on newsstands and we went to press on a Thursday, because that was a breaking story. Or something like the Cubs winning the World Series. We’re asking ourselves how we can capitalize on breaking news both from an editorial perspective and from a speed to market perspective.
Folio: What about when it comes to research?
Wintemberg: We are big believers in understanding the shopper’s path to purchase. We’re using Catalina marketing, all types of different couponing, and we’re looking at new ways to increase consumption — for example, whether there’s a way to create a continuity play at retail, where the consumer gets a discount for buying a certain number of issues over the course of a year or six months.
We have to understand where we think the consumer might be, from a behavior perspective, two to four years from now. We’re evaluating a lot of what others are doing outside the magazine space to connect with shoppers at various retailers, and looking to test those concepts for our category and for our clients.
Folio: When consumers can go online and order entire subscriptions, often times, for the cover price of one or two issues, is there a concern that those deep discounts are cutting into newsstand sales?
Wintemberg: There is some of that, but from our perspective, they’re two different consumers. Most of the consumers for our titles are buying based on that particular issue’s topic. If you’re going to be a subscriber, you want everything that the magazine has to offer every issue. We’re focused on finding a way to continue to drive consumers back to the store.
Folio: Is that topical focus to consumer behavior what’s behind the massive success of SIPs on the newsstand, like celebrity commemorative issues, for instance?
Wintemberg: Yes, it’s about that particular topic focus, and it’s not just the celebrity death issues. We did one, for example, on Alexander Hamilton. If you want to read about Hamilton, other than reading his biography, you’d have to wade through a lot of stuff on the internet. We capture all of that for you in a bookazine format, the quality of which is very much seen as a coffee table book.
Folio: One particular cause for concern in reports like MagNet’s, for example, is the steep decline in sell-through efficiency. Are you apprehensive to pull back on distribution?
Wintemberg: There’s always been a theory in the industry that if you cut draw you cut sale. The other thing you have is, frankly, you’re balancing the economics between subscription and retail. You have to separate them into two buckets, looking at checkout titles and non-checkout titles. If you look at checkout titles, you need to put so many magazines to cover the space that you have at checkout, which contributes to that reduced efficiency.
Folio: What are some things you're doing on the retailer side? Are retailers still sold on print magazines?
Wintemberg: Retailers love magazines. They need to see us, as an industry, investing in some way in our own products to convince them that we believe in it as much as they do. One thing we’re looking at is if we can take on an in-store research product — going out to the retailers and finding out what shoppers are looking for in terms of the book and magazine set in their stores. Retailers are interested in us and in seeing the investments we’re willing to make in this category.
Folio: Can you expand on that a little bit— what are you hearing from retailers in terms of what they want from the industry?
Wintemberg: They would love to see more publishers doing things like couponing or joint-purchase promotions. We’ve done a number of those. They also just want to see new innovations in terms of our offerings. The Magnolia Journal, for example, has been one of the biggest successes in recent memory for Meredith, and to me it demonstrates, again, that print’s not dead. If you give the consumer what they want, they will buy it.