News & Views

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The Wall of Shame... Or How We Can Cure the Ills of Single Copy Sales.

I have received more phone calls asking why 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.

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 of $5.95 for its current double issue. 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!” So, I put the magazine back. The rest of the magazines were no different.

I moved to the women’s magazine section, and the same could be said about them. If you buy a year of Cosmopolitan, we will send you a year of Marie Claire for less than two dollars. Yes, that’s less than two dollars. In the men’s magazine section, you can buy GQ and they will send you Details, or buy Details for a mere $7.97 a year. In sport magazines, you can buy a year of Sporting News starting at 29 cents an issue (compare that to the $3.99 cover price). The same is also true of 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 it used to cost more to subscribe to Cosmo than to buy it 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 going to end up in the graveyard of history. Magazines must and should start charging realistic cover prices and subscription prices. For what it’s worth, here are few simple ideas to help us 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 a heftier price for shipping and handling than what you pay for the product itself.

2. Magazine cover prices should be slashed down. If you truly want your magazine to reach the single copy market, why not sell it 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 than $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 to stop the rate base gimmick. You can’t continue to 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.

The next time you want to know why the newsstands sales are down. Please do not blame the internet, television or technology. Our problems are from within. As long as we keep on burying our head in the sand, our industry is not going to thrive and be alive.




August 14, 2008


© 2008 Samir Husni, Ph.D. - Mr. Magazine™