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Q: Is newsstand distribution a good way to increase our magazine publishing circulation?

Answer: Newsstand distribution is very expensive and you should never consider it without a good business rationale. For example, if your advertising revenues would increase significantly because of the extra copies you sell in retail stores, or if you can generate large numbers of new subscriptions through retail distribution, then you should definitely give it a try. But make sure you have a solid business reason for trying it, and quit if the results don't measure up.

Major League Competition - Take a hard look at the magazines in your local Tower Records or bookstore. Notice that most magazines with newsstand distribution are fat (at least 100 pages per issue), glossy, professionally designed, and consumer friendly. Be prepared to match these standards if you want to play ball in this league.

Getting Distributed is Easy - If your publication meets the standards we just described, then the distributors will want to talk to you: they are constantly looking for more magazines to carry. They will ask you a few questions: first, you must be able to list a 'competitive set' of titles like yours. They don't care if you're better than People Magazine, they just want to know that you are like People magazine and might be expected to thrive in the same outlets that carry People. Next, they'll want to know the demographics of your readers (in order to place the magazines in appropriate neighborhoods). And finally, they'll want copies of your magazine to show to retailers (who will decide whether or not it fits in their stores).

You can talk directly to the major national distribution companies, which are: Comag and Disticor and Kable Periodicals and Ingram Periodicals

You can read about newsstand distribution in the trade magazine, Circulation Management, which also has a list of distributors.

Staying on Newsstands is Tough - Distributors will bump you off their list if your magazine cannot consistently achieve sales levels of 25% or more. Distributors will also bail if you consistently fail to meet deadlines, but the main reason they reject magazines is slow sales.

Publishers also have to deal with the very slow payments coming back from retail channels; it can sometimes take six months or more to collect the cash from retail sales. Some publications cannot afford to wait so long between the time the printer wants to be paid and the time the retailers finally pay for sold copies.

More Information

I recommend my business how-to book for publishers, Starting and Running a Successful Newsletter or Magazine. It will help you understand the key circulation decisions like this one. My second book, Every Nonprofit's Guide to Publishing (co-authored with Lucia Hwang) covers editing, design, production, budgeting, and website strategies in greater detail. Look for both in your local library, well-stocked bookstores, or buy them right now from


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