Magazines: Kick ’em when they’re down

A report at the end of August indicated that newsstand sales of magazines were down more than 12% in the first six months of 2009 compared to 2008.

I can only guess why that might be:

  • A sudden lack of spending money by the nearly 10 percent of people who are now unemployed;
  • A general feeling that, with so much news about magazines shutting down and facing financial ruin, they aren’t the attractive impulse buy they once were;
  • Have you seen the cover prices on magazines these days? With ad revenues down, many top-tier magazines now cost $7 or $8 at the newsstand.
  • I don’t have the foggiest idea what percentage of magazines are purchased at airports. It’s probably not that significant. But if air travel was down in the first half (it was) I suppose fewer people were buying magazines at airports.

With all that said, I’m not reading any more into this than it being one more bad metric for publishers in a year filled with bad metrics. I’m sure newsstand sales will rebound when the time is right.

But in the spirit of kicking them when they’re down, Wal-Mart has just announced that it’s implementing a new floor-plan that will put magazines in the back of the store, alongside music, video games and electronics.

At a level, it makes sense; consumer electronics aren’t near the back of the store because they don’t sell well. That department is usually one of the most crowded; it’s where all the wish-list shoppers loiter while the serious shoppers are boring us to tears in the throw-pillows and laundry-detergent aisles.

Further, the current newsstand location at Wal-Mart, wherever it is, can’t possibly be a great position, sandwiched in there somewhere between diet remedies and pet toys.

And finally, say what you will about the people who run Wal-Mart; they aren’t stupid when it comes to maximizing sales-per-square-foot. If they’ve done their research and they think magazines are going to sell better in the vicinity of music CDs and other entertainment goods, I can’t argue.

But I can say that, symbolically, for magazine publishers, it feels like just one more kick in the front of the pants.

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