Distribution dilemmas

by Steve Watson in February 2009
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I’ve seen a couple of stories knocking around recently about distributors putting their costs up and seriously alarming publishers in the process. It’s a problem that I think Stack (or Stack-like businesses) can help with, so I’ve brought the bits and pieces together in one post.

First up is the news, reported in the New York Post and blogged about by Jeff Jarvis and Andrew Losowsky, that US distributor Anderson News is set to impose a seven cent charge on each copy it delivers to shops, starting today. The New York Post estimated that the charge could add up to $15m in extra charges for big titles like People, and while People and co. may be able to swallow that sort of hike, smaller publishers almost certainly will not.

In strikingly similar news, comic distributor Diamond has raised the benchmark of what it will consider a title worth distributing, as reported by British publisher and blogger Harry Markos.

It seems that everyone’s getting squeezed, but while the distributors can pass their charges on to the magazines and comics they distribute, the price rises can’t go much further down the line. One option could be to pass the charge on to readers by raising the cover price, but The Independent has seen the negative effects of that recently.

A better option all round is to look for new ways of actually getting the goods to the readers, which is where Stack comes in. Because Stack is subscriber-based, I know that every copy I buy from a publisher has already been sold to a reader, who has also paid the postage for me to send that magazine on to them. I’m already speaking to British independent comic publishers about how we could put together a separate branch of Stack (Stack Comics?) and early indications are promising.

Of course this sort of distribution isn’t going to replace the conventional method of sending magazines to shops, or at least not any time soon. But there’s lots of potential for more creative ways of distributing magazines (and comics, and newspapers, and online content, films, music…) that doesn’t rely on the current inefficiencies of printing in huge numbers, sending them out to shops and keeping your fingers crossed.

I’ll be taking part in a panel discussion about this at Colophon in the middle of March, so I’ve got six weeks or so to try and hammer out some more cohesive thoughts on the subject. As well as posting about new issues out, Stack-related events and other stuff, I’ll keep the blog updated with thoughts on the subject of distribution. And in the meantime, any comments or suggestions that I can take and pass off as my own would be gratefully accepted.

Image (c) www.friedmanarchives.com

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