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Traditional American Newsstands Are Dying … So What?

March 14, 2014

husni20143 A Mr. Magazine™ Opinion

Another traditional newsstand shuts down in America. This time it’s One Stop News in Washington D.C. For 25 years it served as a haven for print editions, plopped supremely in its location just blocks from the White House.

For years now, we’ve been hearing how changing American habits, namely the encroachment of everything digital and society’s embracing of it, has slowly been choking the life out of all the traditional newsstands across the country. And maybe, to certain extents that claim holds a merit of validity.

However, it is more to the point to say that changing societal trends and factors that we hadn’t counted on years earlier play a bigger role in the traditional newsstand’s demise.

When I first came to the United States in 1978, newsstands, almost without exception, shared the retail space with tobacco shops. Whether it was in downtown Denton, TX, Columbia, MO or Memphis, TN. Those stores sold any number of tobacco products along with their print offerings. From cigars to cigarettes; tobacco and print at the newsstands went hand in hand. Most of the magazines at those traditional newsstands were sex magazines, or as they were known at that time men’s sophisticate titles.

Of course, in today’s world and with what we know about the dangers of smoking and tobacco products, most people refrain from what was freely enjoyed decades ago. And that’s a good thing.

Sex sold on the newsstands too in days gone by, and it sold a lot. Those newsstands were in fact the only place that offered, displayed and sold tens of different sex titles. In the last twenty years alone new launches for sex magazines declined from a high of 110 titles a year to a mere four titles. Quite a drop when you consider the content at most traditional newsstands across the country relied on sex and tobacco for a large part of their consistent revenue.

Small Mom & Pop newsstands have felt that decline for years and rightly so. And with non sex magazines being sold in other venues, department and grocery stores everywhere; the combination doesn’t make for much of a future for the traditional corner newsstands.

So to blame American audiences for turning to digital as the only reason newsstands are shutting down is not only a misinformed outlook; it’s also completely untrue.

The real question today is not whether digital is killing the traditional newsstands, but rather is there a need for a traditional newsstand?

With sex reigning king and queen (and free of charge) on the web and all tobacco products, with no exceptions, being a danger to your life, the real surprise is not that yet another newsstand is shutting down, but rather why are those newsstands still in business today?

The only hope in this slow demise of yet another American institution is that digital natives and immigrants alike will continue to know the true joy of standing in front of an array of printed material at supermarkets and grocery stores with that wide-eyed feeling of excited expectancy as they discover something they never knew they were looking for until then. Of course, this adventure now has to be sans-sex and sans-tobacco! Who can say that this is a bad thing? No one indeed!

The traditional newsstand is dead. Long live the new newsstand.

So stop crying, wake-up, and smell the roses. There are much better places to browse and to buy magazines at the nation’s state-wide retail stores. Go buy a magazine, relax, grab a glass of wine or iced tea and let the reading begin. Enjoy the weekend. It is much better with a magazine or two in your hands. All the best.

© Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni, 2014
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5 comments

  1. […] the whole article Traditional American Newsstands Are Dying … So What? on the website Mr. […]


  2. Yes, but sex and tobacco have been replaced by LOTTERY TICKETS. So, many of those outlets are still alive on that basis….but magazines still aren’t capturing the imagination.


  3. Why do you isolate sex magazines as if they are a different product class than other magazines? More like tobacco than the rest of the magazine category. Sex magazines declined at newsstand because of the internet. How is that different than Sports Illustrated declining because of 24/7 sports cable networks and, of course, also the internet? My point is that the decline of sex magazines is not an exogenous event to the publishing industry, like tobacco falling out of favor, it is simply one slice of the overall shrinking pie. If the problem were that people no longer wanted sex content in any format, then your reasoning might make sense, but I see no evidence of that.


  4. I must say your flippant “so what” response to another newsstand closing took me by surprise. I think of you as the defender of print magazines and to read “so stop your crying…there are much better places to browse and buy” I decided I must respond.

    You wonder “how those newsstands are still in business today?” since you say that the largest reason they exist is due to “tobacco and sex titles”. My husband and I have owned a newsstand for nearly 20 years of it’s 40 years in business. Of course we carry tobacco and adult titles but they are not the focus of our business (nor were they for the two other independent newsstands in downtown Halifax). We employ 7 dedicated staff. We are all about service and selection, carrying over 5000 magazines and are a print site for Newspaper Direct carrying over 2000 same day print on demand newspapers. We have over 1000 names in our reservation system. When a customers magazine arrives, we call them and put it aside until they are able to make it in.

    We are a traditional newsstand that is part of the community. We are a busy mum’s “oasis”, we are one of the favourite places of several young adults with intellectual disabilities, we are Mr Finch’s “buffet of print”, we have been a lawyer’s saving grace each week when he picks up the TLS (Times Literary Supplement), we are “the thrill of the hunt” for Karen from Ontario, the magazines “enlighten” Robert and another customer “wants to take your store with me wherever I go”. For Lewis Lapham, we are “the best magazine store I have ever seen or hope to see”. We are a destination, an institution and a part of the culture in this city of Halifax.

    I can tell you one thing, none of our grocery or dept stores, the new newsstand as you refer to, will carry the breadth of titles the traditional newsstand can. As it is our focus, we actively search out specialty/niche titles such as Fool from Sweden, Jeanne D’Arc Living from Denmark, Gather Journal from NYC, Pure Green from Ontario, Kinfolk from Portland. They are the titles that have breathed fresh air into our industry with their handcrafted quality, printed on beautiful paper, with their content curated for their readers.

    The joy of discovery will be limited at your new newsstands. You won’t find these or many of the fine North American titles or the imported magazines on the grocery store magazine racks. Magazines will not be their focus, only another product they allot space for and then only remain there as long as the category manager decides it is profitable enough.

    All retailers are struggling in this new business environment. I do not blame digital magazines for the decrease in business at my store but I do say we are in the middle of a cultural shift due to the internet and we are all learning to adapt. People have often asked me who my competition is and I have always responded that it is peoples time. As technology has steadily crept into peoples lives there is even less time available.

    I can assure you that many of the traditional newsstands that have closed in recent years have been missed by their customers and have been a loss to their neighbourhoods and cities. Thank goodness there are alternative places for people to pick up their magazines. That being said, there are not “much better places to browse and buy” than the traditional newsstand.

    Kind regards,

    Michele


    • Thank you Michele for your very good and thoughtful response. I wish we have tens of “Micheles” the business will be A-OK. With all my best, Samir



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