This is the ninth article in a series about surviving as an independent magazine publisher. If you want to start at the beginning, check out the Introduction to The Ball Bearing and the Beach Ball.

The Ball Bearing and the Beach Ball

Distribution can be as brutal as ad sales. But it doesn't have to be. Here are some thoughts on how to best work with and around "the system." First up: THE NEWSSTAND

For the first 4 issues, I did not put CW on the newsstand. I didn't feel the timing was correct. The bigger truth is that the magazine needed at least that many issues to get somewhat polished. And even after six years of being on the newsstand, I am still not convinced that we really should be there.

Some positives of being on the newsstand:

  1. exposure – folks get to see the magazine and frankly, even if they don't buy it and merely spend a few minutes glancing through it, it gets the message out

  1. exposure can definitely lead to people subscribing – which puts more money in your pocket

  1. your magazine gains legitimacy – you are riding next to the big guys. Sure, you might not be the size of Conde Nast, but there you are side by side.

  1. your advertisers LOVE to see the magazine on the rack. Enough said here

  1. yes, you can make a little bit of money on the newsstand – this can offset the huge investment. Profits from the newsstand? It is doable, but don't hold your breath. Opening the envelope that contains the bi-monthly check I get from my distributor is always an exciting experience. Most months, I am pleasantly surprised. But I have to keep reminding myself, revenues are one thing, profit something else entirely!

Now the negatives:

  1. if you are a ball bearing publisher, your magazine will be slotted next to other titles. Generally however, the bigger publishers can afford to rack their magazines in more prominent places. Yes, Virginia, you pay EXTRA to be on the front row. And believe me, if you want to blow your brains out on end aisle promotions, well, that's available too. You'll gain a ton of exposure, but it flies in the face of a ball bearing publisher's strategy.

  1. you are competing with thousands of other magazine titles, book titles and cups of double lattes. Face it, a book store has a million possibilities. To think that your magazine is going to get any type of real attention…well, keep dreaming.

  1. if you hit a 30% sell thru, you are doing super well. Yes, Virginia, the dirty little secret of the magazine publishing business is that in most cases 70% or more of most titles are sent to the great magazine dustbin in the sky. They just don't sell thru and they are recycled. This is a huge inefficiency and to be fair, distributors have worked for years to fix this problem. Up until now, nothing really has changed. The numbers are dismal. Most mags don't sell that much.

  1. the newsstand costs you... even if you don't think it does, it costs you. Let's break down what you get hit with:

    1. transportation costs – every mag has to be sent out to the stand and every mag that doesn't sell has to be sent back – you get dinged TWICE

    2. you pay something called a "Retail Display Allowance." This is kind of like a slotting fee in grocery stores. Basically it's money going to the retailer that you pay. You are paying for the privilege of putting your magazine out there.

    3. You pay when people steal your magazine on the newsstand. That's called shrinkage.

    4. You pay when distributors, shops or lord knows anyone else makes errors. The fact is we are all human and mistakes can be made. What ever the math error or miscalculation, you will pay. Sure, reversals and changes can be made, but in many cases this can take months.

The truth about the newsstand is that it can bring some exposure to your magazine but it is an extremely inefficient method. The amount of money it costs to print, transport and reship your mags relative to how many people actually buy and/or see the magazine makes you question the entire enterprise. I believe that a successful ball bearing publisher can live without the newsstand. But, in most cases, publishers want to be on the newsstand. You have to look at newsstand as a marketing expense – pure and simple.

My advice – if you have to be on the newsstand, make sure it is no more than 33 to 50% of your total circulation.

Michael Brooke is the publisher of Concrete Wave Magazine.