Getting Your Magazine on Newsstands
by Scott Cullins
There are many benefits to selling your magazine on newsstands. Publishers, however, should not expect to profit on newsstand sales—these sales basically generate revenue roughly equal to your production and distribution cost. Newsstand sales can increase your circulation, which justifies your advertising rates and helps demonstrate to advertisers the strength of your brand. In addition, newsstand sales should ultimately result in more subscriptions, larger distribution, more revenues and justification for increasing advertising rates.
So, it's a no-brainer. If your publication is a consumer title targeted at a decent portion of the general public, getting on national and/or regional newsstands is a must. But where do you start?
My first recommendation to clients is to secure a UPC (Universal Product Code). With one UPC you will be able to generate bar codes, for many products, that compatible with retail booksellers' and newsstands' bar code scanning systems. Software is available to generate your own bar code graphics, but I always found it easier to contact a bar code service. Simply give them your UPC and product info, and they will email you a postscript (.eps) graphic to use on your publication cover.
So you have your UPC...what next. There are three primary distribution channels, in my opinion, to consider: national, regional and specialized distribution chains.
If your title has national appeal and national advertising, you need to get on national newsstands. National bookseller chains, like Barnes & Noble, use distributors like Source Interlink (formerly International Periodical Distributors) and Ingram Periodicals. These distributors will charge a small marketing fee (e.g., $250) to review your publication and determine its sellability. Assuming it's a professionally produced publication, with relevant content, they will assign you an account rep, add the magazine to their catalog, and shop it around to their retail bookseller clients to get orders. After several weeks your account rep should be able to give you an idea of sales orders. Don't expect too much. A few thousand orders for a new title is not bad.
The second distribution channel is regional distributors. Even magazines with national appeal should consider this channel, Regional distributors like The News Group can get your magazine on newsstands for regional supermarket chains, smaller bookseller chains and independent book stores/newsstands. These distributors have regional offices covering regions comprised of states, multiple states and/or portions of larger states. They typically do not charge any fees to market your magazine the their retail clients.
Specialized retailers like Walmart, are the third distribution channel. These are large chains have in-house departments that handle distribution directly with the publisher.
With all distributors, you will pay a fee that includes a sales commission plus shipping and handling, and national distributors will provide you with sales data from individual retail sellers.
If all this seems like a lot of work, you can hire a consultant to set up and manage your distribution. Regardless, I recommend you learn all you can about distribution so that you are capable of jumping in and assuming control if necessary.
Scott Cullins has been in the publishing business for more than 18 years. He is the founder and principal of Canyon Media, a company that provides magazine design, production and launch consulting for startups, publishers and corporate clients. Email Scott now.
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