A real phone call from about 2004.
Editor: “This is Chris.”
Caller: “Hi, uh, this is going to sound kind of weird. But I was digging in the dumpster at Barnes & Noble in my town, and I found about 20 copies of your magazine there – all with the covers ripped off.”
Caller: “I like your magazine, and I thought I’d let you know in case something fishy was going on. Like they were cheating you or something.”
Editor: “Nope. That’s perfectly normal.”
Caller: “That’s crazy.”
Editor: “Yup. When we send copies of our magazine to a bookstore or a newsstand, they sell what they can. Then they rip off the covers, mail those back to us and we credit their account for the unsold copies.”
Caller: “And then they throw away the rest?”
Editor: “Well, we wish they would recycle them, but yes.”
Caller: “And so if they threw away 20 copies, how many did they sell?”
Editor: “Well that’s the real crime. They sold maybe five or six copies. That’s typical for the industry. About 25 percent get sold, and the rest get thrown away or pulped.”
Caller: “That seems so wasteful.”
Editor: “Ha! That’s nothing. You should hear how we get new subscribers.”
22 thoughts on “Newsstand Crimes”
Just another reason I have dropped my subscription to PWW. My main reason is content. To damn many ads and they split up the articles. I much prefer Mortise & Tenon Magazine. So much more enjoyable to read.
I’m confused: you dropped your subscription because unsold copies were pulped? Or we you responding to the comment about how they got new subscribers?
Pulping is standard across the magazine industry; PW didn’t originate it ..
Liam, it’s simple. If they aren’t selling most of their copies then they must not be very popular. They are doing something wrong. Also, when they fired Megan and Brendan, I knew they were headed downhill. They just aren’t writing what I wish to read. Many others apparently feel the same way.
I can’t speak to the other things there – I only occasionally bought PW and wasn’t aware of any issues with it – but as far as magazine pulping goes that’s not really a reflection on that magazine.
The people who are going to buy it regularly are going to subscribe: retailers sell the occasional copy to browsers, but it’s really hard for them to accurately predict how many copies they’ll sell month by month.
Another part of it is the perception of demand: if people see there are only one or two copies of a magazine on the shelf, they will often decide it’s not a worthwhile magazine – otherwise there would be lots more copies. So putting extra copies on the shelf, even if they’ll get shredded, makes you more likely to sell at least some copies. Messed up, I know; but there you are…
When I worked at bookstores we regularly had to shred copies of extremely popular magazines, like Vogue and Time. It’s just really hard to predict demand in your market.
I’d like to know what happened to people who stopped subscribing given the approach to unsold copies…
But the magazine in the photo still has its cover…
Wow.That does seem incredibly wasteful.
I remember watching Nova on PBS as a kid (80’s) and learning that the Sunday edition of The NY Times requires the pulp of 250,000 trees. I was stunned to hear that and it stuck with me ever since.
Can attest: I worked at several bookstores and newsstands where stepping covers and recycling the rest was SOP. There weren’t many alternatives as I recall: we couldn’t give them away – that would be stealing from the publisher – and no one, publishers included, wanted to pay for shipping to return them or storage to retain them.
The same thing happened to paperback books, especially the monthly romance series like Harlequin. There were easily twenty new books a month in those series: if they didn’t sell they still had to get off the shelves so the next months’ titles could have shelf space.
There were always warnings about “thieves” selling paperbacks without covers at flea markets and such.
Fine Woodworking just recently stopped selling through news stands and stores entirely. It’s been a long time since I’ve bought that way. But I’m still a little sad.
Maybe I could return the cover each month from my PWW scrip for a refund. I made the mistake of re-upping in the month where Megan announced her abdication. That was the issue I missed.
That magazine is no longer a good value for me.
And now, back to my dumpster diving…
Unfortunately not. The covers didn’t go to the publisher: they went to the distributor who acted as intermediary between publishers and retailers.
The retailer buys X copies from the distributor. When the next issue arrives at the retailer, they strip the covers off the unsold copies and send them back to the distributor who gives the retailer a credit on unsold copies towards future orders.
So, do we get to hear the story about new subscribers tomorrow?
I’m sorry, but the punch line just didn’t penetrate the thin layer of moron that surrounds and protects me from life. I promise once you make it through it’s all Einstein.
A reason to switch to pdf versions rather than subscribe to paper editions of periodic magazines.
I threw out my entire collection of FWW when they started offering the CD option you could store electronically.
Yes I know it’s not the same but you get used to it, reduce clutter and allows for much less storage space.
This is not even considering the impact on the environment and I am not what you would call an environmentalist by any stretch, I just hate waste.
Haven’t bought a paper magazine in a decade. Love it. Recycling in America is a joke. China banned taking all our filthy recycling because it was polluting their lakes and rivers. People were washing the good stuff and letting all the garbage that cannot be recycled wash downstream. Americans do not know how to recycle and throw too many things into the recycle bin that do not belong in the recycling bin. Then the UN passed a resolution blocking us from selling our garbage to other Southeast Asian countries when we tried to hoist it off on those countries for the same reason. So the market for our garbage/recycling has dried up and now many cities just quietly take the recycling to the dump or store it in large warehouses waiting to find a buyer. Most Americans still do not know their feel good recycling was just polluting third world countries with unusable garbage. Plus virgin plastic is about 1/3 the cost of recycled plastic so I think most people can do the math on that one. Recycling was Coke and other bad polluters feel good green washing campaign to keep people buying plastic.
Yep, paperbacks and magazines. Rip the cover off and toss the rest in the dumpster. Wasteful, but as somebody said, no one wanted to pay to ship back heavy unwanted cheap books or magazines.
But as a book store employee the thing that I absolutely loathed about magazine day was dredging out the THOUSANDS of subscription & advertising postcards that were just tucked in to the magazines. They were never stapled in, just wedged into the pages. They’d fall out while the magazine was standing in the rack. They’d fall out when people leafed through. People that wanted to buy the magazine would flip through to MAKE them fall out before they bought it.
You could tell when a title had been there for a couple of weeks because it was sitting an inch or so high on the pile of crumpled cards that were jammed under them.
Yes and yes!
It blew me away when I first encountered the no-sale magazine process. Here I was in the back store room at Lowe’s and behold, all of these woodworking Magazines with the cover gone. And the clerk I was with was really a hard nose when I offered to take them off his hands. Go Figure !
Can’t blame them; it would technically be theft. I don’t know if anyone actually facing charges for taking stripped magazines – maybe Chris or Megan are aware of some – but I knew plenty of store managers who were constantly worried about it
“…I was digging in the dumpster at Barnes & Noble…”
Having worked at a Border Books & Music, I can tell you that our dumpsters were full of three things: packing peanuts, flattened cardboard boxes, and de-covered magazines. No doubt, the caller also contacted “Guns & Ammo,” “Cat Fancy,” and “Playboy.”
When I worked at a college bookstore many years ago, we took the unsold coverless books to a nearby prison. The distributor let us do it because they weren’t going to show up in someone’s garage sale. Our manager also let employees take one copy of any stripped book to read for ourselves with the idea that we would be better at recommending books we had actually read.
Does anyone want a garage full of coverless paperbacks from the 70s?
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