COVID 19 has had a tremendous impact across the media landscape. And while a lot of attention has been focused on lost revenue due to cancelation of events, it has also had a major impact on brands at the newsstand.
We’ve reached out to Ron Murray, General Manager, Retail Services at NPS Media Group to get some insight into the ramifications COVID 19 has had on the newsstand business and what the outlook for the future looks like.
How has COVID-19 affected the newsstand industry?
In a word, dramatically. We started to see the impact on sales the third week of February. Airport traffic declined significantly – and in airports dropped precipitously, up to 30% or more. Conversely, starting the week ending February 22, magazine sales in supermarkets, mass merchants (Wal-Mart), drug stores, and dollar stores increased by approximately 10%. This increase occurred as shoppers stockpiled “essential” goods such as paper products and disinfectants. These sales trends continued thru March 13 as shopping patterns were adjusted for continued stockpiling.
Since mid-March, we saw the closure of many stores which sell magazines but were termed “non-essential” – most notably, booksellers like B&N, Books A Million and Chapters/Indigo and chains like Cabela’s, Bass Pro, JoAnn’s, and Michael’s Arts & Crafts.
Around the same time, as stay at home edicts went into place, magazine sales leveled off and then dropped through end of April. But sales for the first week of May have reversed and are close to pre-COVID levels.
Sales of selected titles for stay-at-home projects like puzzles, adult coloring, gardening, and food titles are doing well during this timeframe.
There have been a lot of retail bookstore closures, including Barnes & Noble. Some of them have announced they are starting to open stores again. How soon before they can all reopen? And how soon will they start stocking magazines again?
Barnes & Noble announced that they were going to reopen stores in phases, starting May 15. By the end of May, nearly 50% of their stores will be open. The rest of the stores are still dependent on local community curfews, and they need to make sure their stores are properly staffed and retrofitted to their new footprint prior to opening.
Books A Million and Cabela’s/Bass Pro are now fully open, and more than 600 JoAnn’s and Michael’s have reopened.
All these stores are accepting magazine deliveries.
Assuming most stores will be open again by the fall, do you think draws will go back to what they were early this year?
The anticipation is that in June – and perhaps July – shopping patterns will remain light as consumers get comfortable with getting out again. Thereafter supply levels should return to normal by August or September. Except, however, in airports where traffic will most likely be the slowest to recover.
Will stores need to implement social distancing, even in the magazine section? For instance, will they discourage browsing?
All classes of trade are trying to maintain social distancing as best as they can. Nearly all are placing plexiglass protectors at registers and customer service areas. Store personnel will be wearing face masks. Periodic disinfecting of doors and other high traffic areas will be implemented. B&N is also setting up sections in their stores for customers to place browsed items so that they can be disinfected.
Have any magazines decided to skip newsstand completely for a couple of issues? Will this affect their draw when they resume newsstand sales?
Yes, quite a number of publishers have skipped selected issues during this time. Some have been reducing supply by extracting copies from closed stores or reducing supply to selected stores with lower traffic due to COVID-19. However, there will be no negative impact from skipping issues, and we’ll be able to increase draw as circumstances dictate.
How is CMG doing through all this? What will “normal” look like for them in the future?
CMG has remained stable and steady during this timeframe by being able to supply data to publishers to assist in making print order decisions. Payments from them to publishers have been uninterrupted. ANC (American News Company) has continued to receive magazines in their warehouses and maintain delivery to all open accounts. ANC has continued to provide positive messages to retailers to encourage coverage of open space
Overall, the news is good for newsstand sales. We just need a little patience.
If you would like to get more information from Ron, he can be reached at: