When magazine wholesaler TNG asked major publishers to pony up to rescue their newsstand distribution, the overriding response was “get lost.”
To some, it might seem counterintuitive – magazine publishers have relied on the newsstand for decades, and if TNG could use publisher investments to fix the broken newsstand model, they should be all in, right?
The problem – and the reason publishers aren’t jumping on board a bailout, as Baird Davis explains in a hugely information post in BoSack’s latest email — is massively complex.
First off, in the wake of dropping single copies sales, publishers have been drastically reducing their dependency on the newsstand via other circulation strategies.
“Publishers, in adapting to a changed business environment, have developed varying circ strategies that have enabled them to be less dependent on single copy circ, while allowing them to economically meet overall circ level requirements,” Davis explains. “In doing so they are also protecting themselves against the possible collapse of the current distribution system and setting themselves up for the possibility of developing a more limited alternative distribution system that would primarily serve bookstores and airports.”
This idea of an “alternative distribution system” means less reliance on the newsstand –which naturally is not sitting well with TNG. But the second reason publishers want no part of the TNG “offer” is because they see little tangible benefit being offered in return.
“There’s no doubt that TNG is experiencing financial operating difficulties, albeit some of their own making. Therefore, there is legitimacy to the request they recently made to major publishers. But in doing so they made a fundamental mistake,” Davis explains. “They neglected the quid pro quo – they offered nothing substantial in return. By not offering any specific improvement plans they inadvertently failed to acknowledge any of their own culpability and to some degree jeopardized their industry credibility.”
Rather than a partnership aimed at truly fixing the newsstand, this seems more like a tax levied on the very groups that are suffering the most from this mess.
It’s not that TNG is totally tone deaf; they have acknowledge, according to Davis “the need, and the urgency, to ‘simplify’ the process. They talk of ‘collapsing’ the system, in a manner similar to what transpired in the book distribution business. They know that in order to return to profitability they must improve operating efficiency, eliminate duplication of effort and get better control of their costs.”
TNG must do what they can on their own to reduce costs, eliminate redundancy and make the entire process more efficient. That’s their job, not the publishers. (And echoes the challenges publishers are facing with the USPS at the moment, too.)
“But what still seems to elude them is the absolute necessity of working cooperatively with the other channel participants, particularly publishers, when initiating change,” Davis states.
For their part, publishers aren’t stupid. They know they have to work in partnership with wholesalers and distributors to recreate a newsstand model that works in the current retail landscape. (Hint: think less mass, more niche). But as Davis rightly explains, “They have lots of ideas about what’s wrong, but they lack comprehensive system operational expertise.”
What’s next? TNG asked, and was answered with a resounding “no.” It’s time to refine the ask, to have some empathy for the publishers and come up with a solution that benefits both sides. Like Davis, we want the newsstand to survive. But we aren’t rooting for Band-Aids on the outdated, inefficient and wildly complex system that exists now.
It’s time for new thinking on how to move forward with a newsstand distribution model that makes sense. Because publishers are producing some amazing titles with huge public uptake, and they deserve a place to be seen.