The Celebrity Effect on the Ailing Newsstand

newsstandphotoToday’s a-hah moment comes courtesy of John Harrington, an industry veteran and voice behind The New Single Copy. 

“Clearly, newsstand and retail isn’t going to sell at the kind of levels it did even five or six years ago, but the success in that period was because of a boom in the celebrity category,” Harrington told Folio:’s Michael Rondon.

“And now, that category is probably the most impacted by the rise of technology and social media. But with the success of book-a-zines, it’s clear that that same information can be packaged in different ways that can still sell a lot of units. Few magazines have altered their editorial strategy to take advantage of that.”

This is a clear insight into the magazine disruption we’ve seen over the past several years that goes much deeper than simply “the recession,” which is the most often cited scapegoat.

What’s broken now, Harrington insists, is the mechanics of the distribution channel.

“The mechanics of the distribution channel are definitely broken, as well, but there’s an opportunity since there are only two traditional wholesalers [Hudson News and TNG] and one large direct distributor [Ingram Content Group], and all of them are financially secure with big backing companies or private backers,” Harrington explains.

“The financial models of wholesalers and publishers still don’t line up though. Publishers can still afford a certain level of inefficiency there because of their advertising base, while wholesalers are paid only for the copies that sell and are having to handle more and more copies to sell fewer. It’s incompatible,” he continues.

What’s the solution? Harrington has a few ideas – like compensating wholesalers to handle publishers’ requests and make it worth their while, or paying fees for distribution alone rather than sales. But he warns that while it’s a challenge to change the entire system, the newsstand remains critical to publishing success.

“It’s a smaller part of the business now, but all major publishers will tell you they can’t do without the newsstand, especially for launches. If you look at the few successful launches recently, they started with large distribution and success of sale at retail. It’s the only place people can sample new magazines,” he notes.

As we all watched the newsstand implode last summer, there was lots of industry talk about how to fix the system. It’s good to see people like Harrington keeping that conversation going.