Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Glimmer of Growth Amidst the Newsstand's Gloom

Despite continuing declines in North American newsstand sales the past few years, one category has experienced steady, impressive growth: bookazines.

Unit sales of the special issues in the U.S. and Canada grew at nearly an 11% annual rate from 2008 to 2012, with annual revenue up 80%, according to data presented recently by MagNet, an industry consortium.

During the same period, total unit sales of magazines decreased about 10% annually. The trend of rising bookazine sales and decreasing overall sales is continuing this year.

"If print is dead and newsstand is dead, why is it that consumers will plunk down and make an impulsive purchase to spend 10 or 12 bucks to buy a high-quality publication at the newsstand?"asked Gil Brechtel, MagNet's president, at the Magazine Innovation Center's recent Act 4 Experience conference. (Brechtel's presentation begins at about the 30-minute mark of this video.)

Bookazines, also known as book-a-zines, mooks, SIPs, one-shots, or special issues, are non-subscription publications sold via the newsstand system. They are usually published by subscription magazines, but some are published under such non-magazine brands as Philadelphia Cream Cheese, USA Today, and the American Bible Society. Brechtel's definition of "book-a-zine" includes only titles having a cover price of at least $9.99, which is probably the vast majority of special issues.

"During 2012 there were 900 bookazines released," Brechtel said. "Some did very well. Some didn't do so well." They generated $352 million in retail sales, a 20% increase over 2011. Typical subject matter included tributes to dead celebrities, in-depth looks at a single topic, and recipe books -- lots of recipe books. The top seller was a National Geographic title that brought in almost $3 million.

"Why are people buying $10 bookazines full of information they can get free on the web?" he asked. "A lot of these are coffeetable books."

The formula for bookazine success, according to Brechtel, is strong brands, high-quality cover and paper stock, and appealing content. Bookazines have the advantage of avoiding a major cause of declining retail sales -- low-ball subscription offers.

"Publishers are trying to chase ratebase so much they're basically giving magazines for free or for a very low price," Brechtel said. "If you buy Cosmopolitan 12 issues for $5 a year why in heck would you spend $3.95 for one issue?"

Bookazines accounted for more than 10% of total newsstand sales last year, and that share seems to be growing rapidly. At a couple of stores I visited recently, it was hard to find actual weekly or monthly magazines amidst all the special issues.

At Target recently: An issue of TIME surrounded by bookazines.
One advantage of the special issues is that they don't go "stale" quickly and can remain on sale for up to three months, versus a month or less for regular issues.

But that's not relevant to all locations: As some stores shrink the amount of space for magazines (though it's the most profitable category for supermarkets), there's increased pressure to turn inventory over quickly, even for successful, high-priced titles.

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BoSacks said...


Yes, everything you say is true.

Special editions are going like gangbusters. I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade but how long till our industry screws this up like we did the newsstand?

How long do you give us till we reach a new point of saturation, and there are too many SIP’S like there are too many magazines? In less than five years I forecast that we will kill this golden goose too. Greed is not, and never has been a good business plan.


Jim T said...

I've seen these at the checkout and even picked a couple that drew my interest. The problem occurred when I saw the price, I put them back in the rack.