Captain Obvious and the Magazine Industry News

Joe Berger’s got a good rant going. He goes on at length about the need to up the bar on news coverage of the magazine industry in a recent blog post.

“News reports about newsstand sales fascinate me,” he writes. “They tend to follow the 21st-century digital reporting trend of reviewing someone else’s work and then writing about it.”

He’s referring, in this case, to recent reporting by Folio and others on newsstand sales figures. His main beef is that no one talked to actual publishers as they reported on the sales figures, to get a feel for what they are trying, what’s working, what’s not.

Instead, Berger notes, there’s much speculation and any number of reasons for the sluggish brick and mortar sales.

We get what he’s saying; we always like hear what’s really going on, hearing from publishers who are bucking the trends, being innovative with their business models, and finding new ways to sell in what is undoubtedly a new environment. But to be fair, Folio’s Tony Silber has quite a lot to say recently about what’s really going on beyond the numbers.

Later in the piece, Berger gets to the meat of the matter: newsstand sales are down (for any number of reasons) and publishers have to get a grip on that.

“One of the most important retailers to the newsstand industry, Barnes and Noble continues to generate a significant amount of sales for the business (they are a top 5 retailer for every single title I work with) and maintain the most extensive list of titles in the business. However they continue to close stores even as they experiment with new store formats,” he writes.

“Meanwhile, Amazon not only competes with books and discounted subscriptions online, but they currently have four bricks and mortar stores and plans to open another six. Do you think they’re interested in playing in the current existing distribution structure?”

No, clearly not.

“The fact that newsstand sales are down and still declining is not “fake news” to be angry about. Newsstand sales are down. This [is] a challenging business. But I would assert that we are doing ourselves a disservice by doing nothing but repeating the obvious. There’s a lot more going on here,” he continues.

He’s right, of course. There’s plenty going on. Publishing is an audience-first venture now and requires a much broader understanding of how a customer ultimately ends up buying a title off the rack or subscribing online.

On the other hand, the data is important in and of itself, and the reporting we’ve seen (and covered) is useful for many purposes. Would deeper reporting be helpful? Absolutely. And maybe Berger can provide some; he’s got the connections and the industry access to talk to the folks we all want to hear from.