A magazine publisher’s solution to staying relevant at newsstands: print more breaking news

Magazines are not longer
Magazines are not longer
Image: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Newsstands are like any other retailer—they stock what sells. And more and more, that has not been magazines.

As magazine sales shrink, publishers including Time Inc.—which owns brands like Time, Fortune, Entertainment Weekly, and People—find themselves competing not just against each other, but against the other items vying for your attention at newsstands.

“Whether you’re talking about beverage, candy, snacks, we’re competing with other categories for space,” Drew Wintemberg, president of Time’s retail division, told the trade magazine Folio. “It’s clear that print is not dead, but if we don’t demonstrate a commitment to innovation and new products, it makes it tough for the retailer to not question whether we’re really in this for the long haul.”

Time has researched heavily to understand who buys magazines from newsstands and why, Wintemberg said.  He said that retail customers are different from subscribers, who are generally loyal to specific titles. Newsstand shoppers, on the other hand, are drawn to topics and individual issues.

To reach this cohort, Time wants to add more “tentpole” issues to its calendar. These are issues like People’s Oscars spotlight, or an Entertainment Weekly issue that’s centered on TV, which have broad appeal.

It’s also looking into how to better leverage breaking news in print. “With the Brad and Angelina split, for People, we already had an issue on newsstands and we went to press on a Thursday, because that was a breaking story,” said Wintemberg, referring to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s celebrity divorce.”We’re asking ourselves how we can capitalize on breaking news both from an editorial perspective and from a speed to market perspective.”

The media company is also betting on special-issue publications, which have helped boost newsstand sales overall, like one-off titles devoted to a topic like the death of a celebrity or a major sporting event, such as when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.

They’re called “bookazines,” because they straddle the line between a magazine and coffee-table book; they’re usually made of thicker paper, too. Time has published these for major events and is looking to release more.

So, how do you keep customers coming back beyond the one topic that interests them? Time is considering some kind of loyalty play that would reward shoppers with a discount for buying a certain number of issues in a given time period. Loyalty programs like these are pretty common in retail, but rare in the magazine world.

“We have to understand where we think the consumer might be, from a behavior perspective, two to four years from now,” said Wintemberg. “We’re evaluating a lot of what others are doing outside the magazine space to connect with shoppers at various retailers, and looking to test those concepts for our category and for our clients.”