Magazines Register

Subscriptions, Newsstand Sales, and Digital Distribution: Which Is Best for Your Magazine?

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In previous articles in our magazine launch series, we discussed building an audience, developing a content strategy, selling ads, finding funding, and preparing collections in advance. But what about delivery strategies? How do you choose what mix of circulation, newsstand sales, digital, or other distribution methods to implement?

Subscriber circulation versus newsstand sales

Most publishers have traditionally relied on revenue from ad sales and circulation — subscriptions and single-copy sales — for their sustainability. Although ad sales are typically the largest revenue generator, the two are linked because higher circulation numbers mean publishers can charge advertisers more for ad space.

Subscriber revenue will generally far outweigh single-copy sales like those at newsstands, airports, and retail outlets. Publishers go after subscribers because, once they subscribe, these readers are a continuing source of revenue and relatively inexpensive to retain. Publishers have ongoing relationships with subscribers who value their content and are willing to pay for it because they trust they will find something of value in each issue. Subscription revenues are also easier to predict in the long term.

While most magazine publishers rely on subscription revenue, newsstand sales can also significantly contribute to the bottom line as well as boost circulation numbers. However, after factoring in shipping costs, commission paid to retail outlets, and unsold copy disposal, there may be little profit in those single-copy sales. One of the biggest benefits of newsstand sales is to introduce new readers to magazines by grabbing their attention from the racks. In best-case scenarios, these readers will then become subscribers. One area in which niche magazine publishers can sell well from racks is in specialty stores that sell related products.

Digital magazine distribution is an entirely different animal. Digital copies are easier to produce and do not include distribution costs such as shipping and postage. However, they don’t provide the same physical experience of holding a print product, or inspire the anticipation that a regular magazine subscription can. Digital newsstands have sprung up, allowing readers to purchase single copies, subscriptions, and — sometimes — download sample articles or issues. Although these digital newsstands are handy for publishers and readers, they don’t have the in-person draw that a flashy cover on a newsstand or checkout lane does.

Physical or digital distribution — or both?

There’s no question digital delivery is quicker, easier, and less costly than physically delivering issues of a print publication. So why are some publishers still choosing print? Because there is still a large market for print. Some readers prefer the look and feel of large glossy pages, the experience of turning the pages, and the portability and shareabililty of printed magazines. Lifestyle, travel, and fashion magazines tend to be most appropriate for print format.

Digital editions have the advantage of being current and are therefore most appropriate for time-sensitive materials like news, technology, and financial magazines, for example. The prevalence of apps to read digital editions on mobile devices makes digital a popular platform for those who prefer the convenience of anytime, anywhere access.

Often, it makes sense for publishers to include both physical and digital delivery in their strategies. Digital can be used to complement and augment print editions with interactive and multimedia content. Publishers can even bundle free digital subscriptions with print subscriptions to increase circulation numbers for little extra expense.

Still, there’s a lot to consider when determining the right magazine platform and distribution methods. Start slow, gather data, and be willing to change what isn’t working. Your content, readers, marketing efforts, and finances will dictate which combination of print and digital — and subscription versus newsstand — sales works best for your magazine.

Contact your Sheridan representative or visit our contact page to ask how we can help you streamline your publishing processes, reduce costs, and keep up with changes in print and publishing strategies.

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