Are Bookazines Cannibalizing the Newsstand?

Bookazines continue to boom in the newsstand. And while many in the industry see this as a good thing—publishers are  after all getting a good price for these special edition magazines—one pundit sees potential devastation in the idea.

“I hate to throw cold water on this party, but [bookazines] could actually be having a negative effect on overall newsstand performance,” writes Baird David in Folio:.  “Perhaps, even more importantly, it now appears that the book-a-zine cover pricing experience may have translated into an over exuberance for increasing the cover price of regular frequency publications.”

Davis cites what he calls seven underlying newsstand “truths” to back up his assertion, starting with the idea that newsstand sales are a zero-sum game.

“There’s a popular belief (or is it a hope?) that sales of new products or sales increases from existing titles are all incremental at the newsstand,” Davis explains.

“But the reality is the mature newsstand market is a zero-sum game – sales increases, both in units and revenue, for one title will result in comparable sales decreases for other titles. This phenomenon is especially acute within category,” he continues.

His second issue with the bookazine phenomenon is the high cover price, often $10-15 for a single copy. This, he argues, is sparking an industry-wide over-exuberance in pricing of regular single issues that in turn will cannibalize categories and even the entire market.

“The problem the last several years, is the sales of major weekly publications are declining at a faster rate than other audited publications. As we’ve shown, the proliferation of book-a-zines may have contributed to this sales decline. Now, there’s the very real prospect of further sales erosion due to the aggressive cover pricing of six major weekly publications,” Davis writes.

Do the numbers support his assertions? Admittedly, Davis notes there is “limited sales data that is available supports the cannibalization effect of book-a-zines.”

He gives some interesting stats on the market in general in relation to the top six celebrity titles, but the bookazine tie-in is not readily apparent.

Davis calls for industry cooperation among the “big boys,” something that many in our industry support to sort out the radically changing newsstand model. Industry cooperation makes sense, but we can’t expect individual publishers to stop doing something they find profitable—i.e. publishing bookazines—just because it may or may not have a bad impact on single copy sales at some vague point in the future.

Meanwhile consumers seem to really like those high priced pieces, so we don’t see them going away any time soon.