Why Aren't Magazines Leveraging Retailers' Ecommerce Platforms?

The only thing certain in retail today is that the rate of change will accelerate.

It’s hardly news that traditional in-store magazine single-copy sales have been challenged in recent years. Yet during the early weeks of the pandemic, magazine sales increased by double digits, as traffic swelled and shoppers looked for trusted content brands for entertainment and DYI advice.

The takeaway: Consumers — including young consumers — still value print magazines. Print is very much alive. But it’s overdue for some transformative strategic initiatives on the retail front.

Magazines should be doubling down on efforts to update and upgrade their marketing and optimize their presence at retail — not just in supermarkets and the other familiar magazine outlets, but in formats that are increasing their retail share, like convenience stores.

Why? People can’t buy what they don’t see.

But I’d argue magazines have an opportunity to turn their currently narrowly focused retail channel into an expanded platform that enhances sales and profits for publishers, retailers and distributors.



How? Magazine brands should be making physical magazines available for online purchase through partnerships with key retailers. Print magazines should be marketed, sold and delivered to homes or picked up at stores — via retailers’ now-common “click-and-collect” programs — through the ecommerce channel, along with groceries and other products.

Why should magazine media seriously consider taking steps to establish a retail-based digital marketing platform for print products — particularly at a time when their advertising and events revenues have been severely impacted by the pandemic?

Well, publishers know that when faced with disruption of existing models, calculated innovation is the only well-reasoned response. They’re already responding to the current circumstances with innovations on many fronts, including social media, podcasts and ecommerce efforts.

Publishers ranging from special-interest AIM to Meredith, Hearst and Condé Nast are reporting that ecommerce tie-ins, including affiliate fees realized through links in “commerce content,” are becoming a significant revenue stream.

So is it unrealistic to think that, given the right online marketing, consumers buying products based on seeing them in trusted magazine content might also buy the magazines themselves through the same ecommerce channels — if given that opportunity?

More questions that seem worth considering:

For all of the challenges facing print, are publishers willing to forego the print advertising and circulation revenue streams? While they’ve taken some brands digital-only, and reduced print frequencies for others, print advertising and circulation revenues are still critical for most publishers.

If magazines are being printed, and are already carried in stores, why not try to build on that existing relationship to leverage ecommerce, retailers’ most rapidly growing channel?

Supermarkets’ online sales have soared by double and triple digits during the pandemic. Accelerated consumer adoption of online grocery services is expected to drive continued expansion going forward.

Further, the ecommerce channel can bypass the high cost of postal delivery, opening the possibility of improved per-copy revenues and profit margins.

Another potential publisher benefit: Advertisers have long viewed single-copy newsstand sales as top-quality circulation, because direct purchases made at substantial prices are strong indicators of magazines’ perceived value and “wantedness.”

Given that dynamic, wouldn’t building significant numbers of direct online sales of magazines serve to support advertising sales, as well as expand consumer-driven revenue?

With traditional in-store checkouts being reduced for cost and hygiene reasons, retailers are now pushing to develop effective strategies for driving impulse sales online — a particularly tricky proposition as consumers pull back on spending in tough times.

Given that magazines have always been key impulse items at physical checkouts, yielding high per-copy profit margins for retailers, why not work with retailers to employ magazines’ impulse power online, as well? After all, when budgets are pinched, magazines have been shown to be attractive as a guilt-free, even good-for-you, indulgence that comes at a modest price.

Developing the ecommerce channel would of course require some effort and investment. But there are always challenges associated with innovation — which we find ways to overcome if we assess the opportunity to be significant enough.

Making magazines compatible with retailers’ ecommerce sites would require technology adaptations and cooperation from retailers, as well as cooperation among the rest of the magazine category’s supply chain. Among other things, magazines would need a system for generating online listings and promotions that reflect true magazine inventories within stores, just as other products have. 

In this day and age, even small companies selling specialty items are participating in retailers’ online marketplaces.

So the bottom-line question is: Why would an industry as sophisticated as magazine media — an industry that has pushed to harness all kinds of other technology, including digital subscriptions, social media and streaming video — not leverage the juggernaut ecommerce channel to sell its own core products?




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