Our Love-Hate Relationship With Newsstand Channels

British statesman John Morley hypothesized “Literature is the most seductive, the most deceiving, the most dangerous of professions”.  For magazine publishers, there is an analogy with our love-hate relationship with newsstand channels. The one-size-fits-all distribution channel favors the largest of publishers and can hold a dangerous allure for all of us with a more limited audience, needs, budgets and  as a result, expectations.

There is no doubt that newsstand is a valuable tool for reinforcing a publication’s brand.

Those micro billboards at checkouts on the mainline and elsewhere create a larger than reality impression when slotted next to “O”, People and other national heavyweights. But the commerce of newsstand is far less rewarding when a fully loaded P & L is used as a measuring stick. Savvy retailers (and yes I have worked for one) scrutinize their sales ( and more importantly margin) by square foot and hence that dictates product presence in the store, on shelf, off shelf — everywhere.

The large piece of real-estate known as the mainline and every inch of checkout does not escape the scrutiny ( especially the latter when consumables deliver good margin and often multiple purchases—you’d buy two packs of gum but not two of the same magazine.) Hence in an effort to increase the per foot revenue yield the slotting fees have inched up.

Increasingly, retailers have publishers foot the bill for new display fixtures as well.

Furthermore, with the consolidation of larger players there is less flexibility. Field marketing managers –regional folks responsible for customized offerings based on geography- have disappeared, and decisions are made in some remote corporate merchandising department where “the numbers don’t lie.”

We design our covers to scream service (“40 Places to find Cheap Eats,100 of the State’s Best Docs”) and buy me, buy me on newsstands when the most common and lucrative model is a strong subscription base. Gone are the days of “the franchise issue with huge demands and phone calls about when and where we are on sale.” It has been replaced with “Where can I find it online?”

The elixir and headiness of newsstand’s allure should not cloud a good business decision.  We watch our draws, look closely at appropriate channels and work only the ones that sell. Otherwise as Morley said, it gets dangerous.



More about John: John Palumbo has spent more than 30 years in the marketing/communications field. He has advertising agency, retail advertising and sales promotion, and media management experience. A native Rhode Islander, Palumbo graduated URI with a BA in journalism. He currently owns the regional publishing company (president and publisher) Rhode Island Monthly Communications, Inc., a preeminent multi-platform provider of lifestyle information in Rhode Island and nearby Southern New England.  Palumbo has received numerous professional awards including Bellringer Awards from the New England Society of Public Relations Professionals, the Rhode Island Advertising Club “Person of the Year”, and in 2010, he received an honorary doctorate of public service from Rhode Island College in recognition of his numerous community accomplishments and volunteerism. 


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