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Cures for the Industry and Other Things I've Learned from the PBAA Convention

by Samir Husni

A few weeks ago I came back from the very successful Periodical and Book Association of America's 21st Annual Convention in Philadelphia. It is amazing to see the effort this one organization puts into bringing magazine publishers and distributors together to discuss the issues that matter to our industry. Most of the discussions took place on one to one round tables thus providing real answers to real issues. Here are some of the highlights of this year’s convention that I have observed:

1. There is no time left to discuss the need to change. Even if we start today we are already late.

2. The industry must work as a whole to promote magazines to the retailers. Magazine companies must look beyond their individual titles and try to unite to promote the industry. As many in the audience told me, PBAA is the only organization that really can tackle those issues. The other leading magazine organizations do not care that much about newsstand distribution or promoting the magazine to the industry.

3. Unless a major shift takes place and the industry as a whole changes from an advertising driven model to a circulation driven model, attention to the newsstands from the major players will continue to be minimal.

4. There is a consensus that we cannot continue to do the same thing over and again and expect different results every time. That is how the Chinese define insanity.

5. Some wholesalers are moving, rather fast, into the direction of a fee-based distribution system rather than the traditional consignment system for new titles. There is serious debate whether that will hinder or help the magazine industry considering that almost half of the big sellers on the newsstands are less than 20 years old.

6. Reducing the number of copies placed on the newsstands by one wholesaler has not affected the total number of copies sold… however there is a major debate whether it is too soon to judge this “draw reduction program.”

7. The actions of the above wholesaler will reduce the amount of magazine units on the newsstands this year by 130 to 140 million units compared to last year. Yes you read that right, there will be 130 to 140 million fewer copies of magazines in 2007 than 2006 on the nation’s newsstands. This is the action of one wholesaler only.

8. There is a need to make the magazine category as a whole more profitable, more efficient and more attractive to the retailers.

9. New magazine publishers have to factor distribution costs into their business plans. These costs have never been a factor in the calculations of any business plan for a new magazine. The game has changed.

10. The big debate at what price a distributor can make money was challenged by a lot of the attendees who counter pointed that if a candy bar manufacture can make money on a 30 cent candy bar why can’t a magazine distributor make money on a $1.99 cover price?

11. Our problem is not in our medium; it is in the content that it carries. We need to be relevant to our audience and give the audience the relevant content via the relevant medium.

12. Digital editions of magazines are good and dandy, but they are more like a television channel than a magazine. The good ones are not competition to print; they just are a different medium.

13. The biggest absence from this convention was any representation, on the panels or in any of the discussions, of the biggest magazine industry organization (you know who), but to say I am surprised will be a big lie. If they are not willing to take a hard look at the real pulse of this industry, circulation and mainly single copy sales (think postal rate increases among many other factors hurting subscriptions) and do something real about it (not another wasted ad campaign) their presence and necessity to the majority of the magazines in this country will continue to be marginalized. (Point of clarification: none of the PBAA directors or officers critiqued or mentioned any other organization. I am talking about attendees representing magazine companies, distributors, wholesalers and retailers).

14. On a personal note, Bob Sacks and I survived our boxing match, and print is still alive, kicking and well.

For more info about the PBAA click here. Next year’s convention is going to be in Baltimore. If you care about newsstands and single copy sales plan on being there. I promise you it is worth every penny you will spend. A great return on the investment. Thank you Lisa and José for a great convention.


July 11, 2007


© 2008 Samir Husni, Ph.D. - Mr. Magazine™