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Consolidation of newsstand distributors and the rapid decline in the number of independent bookstores have put added pressure on independent publishers. Markets are smaller and their accessibility is shrinking,leaving publishers searching for a way to get more from less on the newsstand.

When the IPA purchased BigTop Newsstand Services in July of 2000,it underlined the importance of maintaining newsstand presence for the independent press. Last year’s Future of Distribution for Independent Publishers conference explored different ways to increase sales once on the newsstand. At the next 2001 conference,scheduled for September 20-22 in San Francisco,independent publishers from around the country will be asking each other: how does a magazine make the most of its newsstand sales? In the meantime,there are steps every publisher can take to give their magazine the best shot at success on the newsstand. These are some basics that can put you in the right direction.

1. Set an Agenda: Before you do anything with your newsstand sales,you need to do a little self-evaluation. Ask what you want out of your newsstand sales. Though the rare magazine can rely on the newsstand as their primary revenue generator,most publishers need to assess what they want from their newsstand presence. If your magazine serves as the newsletter for an organization,your goal might be to increase your organization’s membership. Newsstand presence can be a way to attract subscribers or entice advertisers. To have successful newsstand presence you need to first define what will constitute success.


2. Content: Quality content is what matters most. Dr. Samir Husni,professor of Journalism at the University of Missouri,says,"Magazine publishers have got to think like book publishers. A bookbuyer will pay $25 for something that does not have glossy paper and no pictures because the content is saying something original and interesting." The "guts" are why people read a magazine. You can fool somebody into picking up your magazine,but if the content is poor,chances are you will lose them quickly. Content also needs to be well researched and edited. Keep readers focused on what they are reading,not on typos.

3. Cover Visuals: "We’re a visual society," says Dr. Husni,"your cover needs to scream at the reader." Magazines are impulse buys. You have two and a half seconds to sell your magazine. A cover should be striking and visible from at least three feet away,but it cannot stand on its own. The cover needs to tie-in to the magazine’s content rather obviously,otherwise you can lose your reader. You want to challenge the reader with your content; don’t challenge them to find your content.

4. Cover Mechanics: Like the cover picture,the masthead should be striking and readable at a three-foot distance. It should be in the upper left corner,so that no matter how it is stacked on the newsstand,it will not get buried. Use taglines to invite the reader inside the magazine. Have your taglines "give answers,not asking questions," says Dr. Husni. Instead of "What’s the Key to Improving Newsstand Sales?" try "9 Ways to Improve Your Newsstand Sales." Think of the taglines as sell-lines,use them to advertise your content.

5. Marketing: Know your audience. Ralph Davila,IPA’s Director of Publisher Services,offers,"Don’t try to be everything to everybody." Declare who you are and be consistent,or as Dr. Husni suggests,"Laser in on your audience and pin them down." There is tremendous competition on the newsstand,and to be successful you have to know where you fit. Conversely avoid cutting your piece of the market too thinly. A football title is a niche,but a title about high school football in Northern California is a niche within a niche.

6. Distribution: Use your distribution to get to the right venues. If you are looking for efficiency on the newsstand,you want to put your magazine where your readers are likely to buy it,not just where they shop. When the resources are available,any place you can reach a new audience is an ideal place. If you want to maximize your efficiency,however,you need to be strategic with your newsstand distribution. Avoid double distribution (controlled circulation and newsstand) – it can only hurt newsstand sales. By sending your magazine to a large portion of your audience for free,you eliminate them as a newsstand buyer. Remember that no one wants to buy a magazine that they can get for free.

7. Price: The pricing is not too consequential to the selling of your magazine. In fact,until a magazine reaches a cover price of $4.95,it really does not affect sales. What is key is that the price correlates to the quality of content. The reader needs to feel satisfied by the content in order for them to continue buying your magazine. Dr. Husni says,"You can fool someone once with the illusion of value but you will not fool them again."

8. Size: The size of your publication is not especially consequential either. Keep in mind that if your magazine leaves the newsstand you want to make sure readers are actually paying for it. Small magazines are easier to steal,and it is only the sold copies for which you get paid. In some cases,a retailer may charge you for shrinkage. Raph Davila says that for nationally distributed magazines,62 pages are the minimum. Magazines with a smaller distribution may average out with a lower page count. In the end you need to give people their money’s worth.

9. Production: It is essential to make your production schedule dates and to come out regularly. Make sure your numbers (UPC add-on code,issue number,price) are correct. Mistakes can cause a delay at the warehouse which will cost you time on the newsstand and money on the accounting side if your numbers on the invoice do not match up with numbers on the magazine. If your magazines have to be stickered,that is an additional cost. A wrong issue code on a well-known nationally distributed magazine cost the publisher over $100,000 just to put the correct issue code on the magazine. These are all easily avoided by keeping a good rapport with your printer,and can be handled with minimal expense.

These certainly are not quick-fix solutions. All magazines operate inside an ever-changing environment. Though you may not sustain your publication solely with newsstand sales,each of our tips will help you to shine on the mainline.

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