How to Not Sell Magazines
I love magazines. I always have, really. Part of what draws me to them is that I find something weirdly romantic about the Sisyphean effort of producing a magazine — there’s so much work that goes into the writing, editing, layout, graphic design . . . all for a publication that’s meant to be ephemeral, that will be rendered obsolete by next month’s issue.
But I kind of wish that magazines as a whole weren’t proving to be so ephemeral. Seems to me like magazines, especially fiction magazines, have been doing a long slow fade from the cultural landscape for quite a while. (Although Kristine Kathryn Rusch says that trend seems to have reversed, I can’t really tell whether she means there are more actual magazines in print, or whether on-line publications are taking their place.)
A poster at Threat Quality Press who used to work at Borders talks about some of the many way in which magazines are marketed in bookstores that just seem kind of, uhhh, not right:
I mean, in the first place, we threw out between 30 and 50% of all the magazines that we got in the store. They just got trashed at the end of the month. And I couldn’t draw down inventory for the life of me — I spent half a year trying to get the Borders Ministry of Inventory to stop sending us three copies of Fire Apparatus every month (Fire Apparatus is a trade magazine for people that want to buy fire trucks or fire-hoses). No one ever bought these magazines. [If] you’re shipping three copies of your magazine directly to the trash every month, that can’t be an effective business model.
But even more frustrating is the fact that, while all of the books are neatly laid out in their own sections by genre, all the magazines are shoved away in their own little ghetto, as if someone had taken the old-fashioned newsstands and just plunked them down inside bookstores and expected them to thrive. What happens if you try to break magazines out of the magazine section and put them where someone might actually look at them — ?
Now, when I was at the bookstore, we used to get four copies of Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine every month, and we usually only sold one (if you sell one copy of a title, you will get four the next month). After an enormous amount of effort, I managed to convince one of the many sub-managers to whom I reported to let me move F&SF magazine from it’s usual place in a corner of the magazine section (next to the Paris Review and a magazine about quilting) to a special display that I made near the actual science fiction books.
Lo and behold, we sold all of F&SF that month. Naturally, we were sent six the next month, but I was told I had to move the magazines back, for reasons never made wholly clear to me. Managers know that magazines belong in the magazine section, but they all have different and unsatisfying reasons for why this should be the case.