With the state of the newsstand as it is, which is not good if you don't already know, it seems like some innovative thinking is sorely needed to improve it—at least from the perspective of those of us who aren't battling it out on the mainline and in the pockets.
Industry watchers keep saying the bottom hasn't been reached yet and no one seems to know when we'll reach it. Here's a stab at that: The bottom is zero. In the last seven years, the channel has lost more than 50 percent in sales and is continuing at such a rate that no one's even trying to put a positive spin on the numbers.
"Unfortunately, we see nothing on the horizon that provides hope that newsstand sales will have a significant turnaround in the foreseeable future," says MagNet, the newsstand data provider and joint venture between wholesalers, in its first quarter 2015 newsstand performance report.
In the meantime, newsstand business interests among publishers, wholesalers and national distributors are remarkably still not lining up, even as the channel continues its nose-dive.
MagNet points out that as publishers reduce their allocations, which is being driven by wholesalers asking for more subsidies, less copies are being sold. As publishers cut their draw, so go the sales. Efficiencies hit an all-time low of 27.9 percent in the first quarter.
In spite of all this, and in the specific context of trying to make physical newsstands work better, someone is finally doing something interesting.
MagNet—coinciding with one of its grimmest quarterly reports—recently released a consumer-facing, browser-based app that helps consumers identify where their favorite magazines are sold in stores across the U.S. and Canada.
It's called MagFinder and it's a compelling mix of new-world tech for old-world product. Almost e-commerce, but not quite. The opposite of a Zinio, Magzter or Next Issue newsstand, for example.
MagFinder is updated daily by MagNet's database of publisher and retailer data and it's GPS enabled. It's comparable to movie showtime and theater apps, except without the ability to purchase.
Search for a title and the app will return the closest retailers that should have it in stock. It also has a notification feature that lets you know when a title becomes available at a nearby store. Users can tweet and post to Facebook from within the app as well.
"We are filling this with all of the allocation information for every magazine that we collect in the United States and Canada for every store we collect, as well as showing the covers that we’re scanning on about 4,000 different magazines so that they can see what they’re looking for," MagNet SVP Joshua Gray says in this interview with Samir Husni.
The app, however novel as it is, is working against two major headwinds: Marketing and a shrinking retailer universe.
Apps are notoriously hard to find if you don't already know about them. MagNet makes the app available via its homepage, which is definitely not a destination for consumers, and a dedicated link to which the company is appealing to publishers to add to their websites.
As for retailers, there's a cohort of titles you can pretty much find at any major newsstand. But smaller enthusiast titles are harder to find—which presents a unique opportunity for the app to shine.
Except MagNet noted in its first quarter 2015 report that there were 8,000 fewer stores selling magazines than a year ago. Yes—8,000.
That disturbing figure puts the app's most valuable utility on the wrong side of the trendline. Consumers searching for magazines will gradually see fewer and fewer pins on their maps.
Meanwhile, according to MagNet's report, the smaller the chain and/or retailer, the higher the declines. "The loss in sales in smaller retailers and the declining sales of smaller titles have a large influence on the overall sales numbers," says MagNet.
MagFinder is a great idea, it just needs a major branding push, and if only the market would stop crumbling beneath it.