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Newsstand Best Practices

Here are some tips publishers can use to get the most out of selling on the newsstand and avoid premature returns.

Date Your Issues Carefully

Particularly relevant for magazines that do not publish frequently, paying close attention to the wording of your issue dates will avoid stale-dating. Retailers pay close attention to the dates you publish on your cover and they may return magazines early to ensure they don't miss a final return date. In the case of a quarterly magazine, if your magazine comes out in April but will stay on the newsstand until July, it's a good idea to call the issue Summer, not Spring—if it's the middle of June and retailers see Spring 2013 on the cover, they may send the magazine back because they don't want to miss the final return date. Sales may also improve if your Summer issue comes out as early as March or April, because consumers may think, "Wow! This must be brand new." A good rule of thumb for quarterlies is to date a magazine one season ahead. For a monthly or bi-monthly publication, one to three months ahead is sufficient.

Stick to a Regular Publishing Schedule

Many retailers have each title's frequency set in their computers. Some smaller titles that publish four issues per year neglect the importance of putting out a new magazine every three months. If your title goes on the stands as a quarterly, it's unlikely that it will stay on the shelf for more than three months.

Even more harmful than a lapse in publishing frequency is when publishers put issues out too close together, which sometimes happens near year-end to meet granting requirements. Try to give your magazine a full shelf life. Readers are more likely to know your frequency than are retail employees. If readers buy an issue, they may assume that they won't find the next one for three months (for quarterly magazines). However, if you publish three issues in a row at two-month intervals, loyal readers could easily miss an issue. If you know a certain issue is often late or depends on funding to come through each year, make sure the issue before that one doesn't come out too many months in advance.

Publish a Display-Until Date On Your Cover

Tell retailers when to return your title. The best trick for newsstand success is to print "Display Until Month, Day, Year" right on your cover. This also helps you to maintain a regular publishing schedule. Some retailers just do big returns when they feel like it or if they think your title has been there for a long time. Giving them a display-until date lets them know not to take it off the shelves too early.

It's a good idea to put the display-until date on the cover in close proximity to the price, issue and bar code. The best place for the display-until date is above or below the bar code, because retailers look to it and the issue name for an idea of when the issue should be returned.

Time It Right

As with stale-dating, don't forget to consider times for shipping, invoicing, etc. Plan on getting your March issue done well before March, for example. When you consider the time it takes for printing, shipping to your distributor, re-shipping to stores and shelving, there may be weeks involved. Generally, for monthly and bimonthly magazines, it's good to hit the newsstands at least a week before the start of the month to keep your title fresh and on the stands for a maximum amount of time.

Use Your Cover As a Marketing Tool

Here are some tips to help you think about your cover and how it helps maximize sales.

  1. Add a tagline that briefly describes the soul of the magazine
  2. Connect the main cover line to the image
  3. Use benefit oriented cover lines, sell your editorial to readers
  4. Play up the coverlines, put them in a prime location
  5. Use the skybar at the top of the cover to promote features by using short, punchy teasers that will grab the consumers attention
  6. Caption the image or model
  7. Be generous. Use words like "Bonus," "Plus," and "Special"
  8. Be useful. Use words like "How-To" etc.
  9. Use numbers to quantify value (100 Best Hotels, Top 10 Restaurants)
  10. Look to the future—include long-term benefits
  11. Use big, bold type and typographic techniques
  12. Blow your own horn. Did you get an award? Say so on your cover
  13. Deal with the big story, if there is one
  14. Be clear. Use subheads when necessary
  15. Reuse the buzz words that work
  16. Make it distinctly different from the last cover
  17. Add a second photo  
  18. Add a surprise
  19. Use quality stock on your cover
  20. Avoid clutter on the cover, help consumers focus on your main message
  21. Use bright colours to make cover visually appealing 
  22. Don't forget to add your barcode and price

Newsstand Glossary

Consult this handy guide to learn common distribution terms.

AAM is an acronym for the Alliance for Audited Media (previously ABC), a US-based circulation audit service with offices in Toronto. Circulation audits are used to verify circulation claims to advertisers.

Allotment refers to the total number of copies of a single issue scheduled for shipping to a wholesaler or distribution service (e.g. Magazines Canada). Not to be confused with draw (see below).

Authorizationrefers to your title being approved by a specific retailer for sale within some or all of its locations.

Circulation refers to your total net paid subscriptions AND single copy sales and/or requests.

Direct Distribution refers to the system of parcel-shipping specific numbers of magazine copies to individual stores. This is an attractive alternative to the wholesaler mass-market system, and it can offer retailers larger discounts off the cover price. Magazines Canada is both a direct and mass-market distributor. Depending on your account, your title may be distributed by either or both of these systems.

Draw refers to the number of copies of each issue of your title that is distributed to specific retailers and/or wholesalers. Draw is generally determined by sales history of your title or similar titles in that market, and is a flexible number that will generally increase with improved sales.

Fulfilment refers to the publisher's duty in creating and maintaining an active subscriber list (including producing all the necessary stats and reports for auditing and marketing). Fulfilment can be achieved in-house with the help of speciality software, or through an outside fulfilment house (e.g. INDAS).

Full-Cover Display refers to the most sought after position within a retail mainline display rack—at the front where the entire cover of the magazine is visible.

Mainline is the display rack in retail outlets containing an assortment of titles and generally not positioned at the front of the store. Mainline display is considered to be of secondary value to checkout display.

On-Sale Date refers to the date that an issue of your title is scheduled to hit the shelves in retail outlets.

Off-Sale Date refers to the date that an issue of your title is scheduled to be removed from the shelves (to avoid stale-dating).

Per-Pocket Fees refers to the extra fee paid to retailers to gain checkout display space, on a per-issue basis.

Point-of-Sale refers to publisher, wholesaler or retailer in-store marketing activity.

Prematures is the term applied to copies returned by the retailer before the off-sale date.

Returns refers to single copies that are distributed to retailers but not sold. Unsold copies are returned to the distributor and are generally destroyed once processed for credit. Return figures appear on your regular statement from the distributor.

Sell-Through refers to the percentage of newsstand copies that were actually sold and did not come back as returns. Sometimes called efficiency. The average sell-through rate for Canadian magazines is between 35-38%. Current Magazines Canada distribution sell-through is around 50%.

Withholds are shipped single copies that never reach the newsstand racks. Withholds occur when retailers believe they are being shipped too many copies of a given title. They adversely affect sell-through rates.

Source: Years of industry experience and Folio magazine

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