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The Wall of Shame… or How Can We Cure the Ills of the Single Copy Sales

August 14, 2008


I have received more phone calls this week asking about the reasons single copy sales are down by 6.4% and subscription sales are up, thus keeping the level of circulation figures the same as the last six months. Well, I have decided to visit the newsstands one more time, and this time not to buy any magazines, but rather to collect the subscription cards (one of the major ills of our industry today) found inside the magazines on the newsstands maybe I can get my answers.
What I found, and this by the way, came as no surprise to me, is that what we used to call the “dandruff of the industry” has exploded to an extremely shameless effort of forcing the newsstand buyer not to purchase a magazine on the newsstands. My first pick was the newsweeklies. Newsweek has a hefty price for its current double issue of $5.95. I picked up the magazine and a card screaming at me, “you stupid Samir, you are going to pay almost six dollars for a magazine instead of sending four more dollars and getting the entire year for ten dollars!” I put the magazine back. The rest of the magazines were no different. I moved to the women’s magazine section, the same can be said about them, buy a year of Cosmopolitan and we will send you a year of Marie Claire, for less than two dollars, yes less than two dollars. The men’s magazines are no different. Buy GQ and we will send you Details, or buy Details for a mere $7.97 a year. The sports category offers no surprises either, a year of Sporting News start at 29 cents an issue (compare that to the $3.99 cover price), and so is the music category with Rolling Stone being sold at 33 cents an issue.
Take a look at the above wall of shame and ask yourself why newsstands are not selling as they used to in the “good old days.” Do you remember when Cosmo used to cost more to subscribe than to buy on the newsstands? Do you remember when Family Circle and Woman’s Day were only sold on the newsstands? Do you still see the success of the single copy driven Woman’s World? Try to ask yourself what can we do with a “numbers” driven model that worked for years, but is no longer working today? Our magazine industry is at a crossroads and unless we make the right choices we are doing to end in the graveyard of history. Magazines must and should start charging the realistic cover prices and subscription prices. For what it’s worth, here are few simple ideas for us to make the right choices:

1. Magazine subscriptions should not be less than 20 – 30% of the cover price. In fact we should sell magazine subscriptions as a service to the reader, delivering the magazine home, saving on gas and effort to go to the newsstands, etc. Think about any retail mail order business…sometimes you pay for shipping and handling a heftier price compared to the product itself.
2. Magazine cover prices should be slashed down. If you truly want your magazine to reach that single copy market why not selling at a fair price that does not scare the readers. Why should I pay $5.95 for a 72-page issue of Newsweek and $3.99 for a 400-page issue of GQ? It just makes no sense. Newsweek, Time and the rest of the newsweeklies should carry a cover price of no more $1.99 if they want the magazines to move on the newsstands. That will make them more competitive in terms of their subscription prices.
3. Stop chasing the numbers of customers and concentrate on customers who count. The first step in doing such is stop the rate base gimmick. You can’t anymore chase a rate base number and try to meet that number. Today’s customers are different and reaching those who count is much more important than counting them.
4. Go back to the business of selling content and not giving content away. If you value your content, you need to start making your customers pay for it.
So, next time you want to know why the newsstands sales are down, please do not blame the internet or the television or technology. Our problems are from within, and as long as we keep on burying our head in the sand our industry is not going to thrive and be alive.

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4 comments

  1. Thank you Mr. Magazine.

    Thank you for finally putting into words what I, as a niche publisher have been thinking about for a long time.

    My magazine sells for $4.95. It’s wide format, 100 pages and has a perfect binding…and is printed at a 200 line screen on 60lb paper. While it has its faults, it does not look like crap. It looks like a coffee table magazine. I just plunked down more $$$ to pay for 8 point card stock.

    Subscriptions are $26 – this is for 5 issues…but you get a bonus of a buyers guide and we send out 5 free gifts with each subscription (including a 3 hour dvd, patch, calendar and a fridge magnet)

    I can’t speak for big magazines..but I will tell you that the only way I can compete in today’s media saturated world is by doing EXACTLY what you’ve advocated in your blog.

    You made my freakin’ day, Mr. Magazine.


  2. [...] The Wall of Shame… or How Can We Cure the Ills of the Single Copy Sales « Mr. Magazine "I have decided to visit the newsstands one more time, and this time not to buy any magazines, but rather to collect the subscription cards (one of the major ills of our industry today) found inside the magazines on the newsstands….What I found, and this by the way, came as no surprise to me, is that what we used to call the “dandruff of the industry” has exploded to an extremely shameless effort of forcing the newsstand buyer not to purchase a magazine on the newsstands." "Dandruff of the industry" — I like that. [...]


  3. Very interesting. Here are some informations about the way it works In France :
    – the OJD (that’s how we call the ABC) doesn’t count subscription with a discount higher than 55% of the cover price.
    – newsweeklies sales is still pretty strong in newstands, it represents 20% of their circulation. L’Express even increased its cover price from 3 to 3,5 euros (5 USD). But L’Express is a 200 pages magazines with a weekly lifestyle supplement and a job classified supplement.
    – newstand sales for practical magazines (health, women, finance), fell 25% in two years. It seems the newstand is a better place for entertainment or news.

    May I had, that we publisher should sell an audience and not a ratebase. The circulation is a means to get an audience.

    The subscription is not an adjustable variable to garantee a circulation but a freedom for the newsroom to cover important subjects that wouldn’t sell well because they are not (yet) popular or (wrongly) considered unimportant.


  4. I wonder how many publishers are making money on newsstand copy sales. Is the high cover price to justify all the unsold copies that have to trashed?



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