As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a magazine junkie: the only reason I freelance is to finance my ever-growing magazine habit, which makes it impossible for me to walk past a newsagent without buying something to read. Since I moved out of Glasgow’s West End (which boasts Barratt’s, a superb newsagent that stocks *everything*), though, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to buy anything that’s actually worth reading.
(advance warning: this is a rant rather than a considered piece)
I live just North of Glasgow in a fairly typical suburb: a small high street with an independent newsagent and an RS McColl, a small co-op and two large supermarkets. You can get Heat, Now, Grazia et al in all of them, but the magazines I’m actually interested in – Edge, Car, The Week and so on – are like gold dust.
It’s particularly bizarre for me because I write for *loads* of magazines, but I rarely get to see them. Practical Web Design, Computer Upgrade and many of the other titles I write for don’t appear in my local supermarkets, which are doing their best to put the local newsagents out of business. The local newsagents are gutting the shelves of low-volume titles too: they only have so much room, so why stock – say – a high-end web design title when you can stock Grazia instead? Low circulation titles are supported by the high-volume sellers, but now that people buy their Heat, Now and Marie Claire from Tesco the newsagents are less able to afford that cross-subsidisation.
The other thing I’ve noticed is that more and more supermarket shelf space is devoted to the top sellers: for example, my local Tesco devotes not one but four rack sections to FHM, two to Maxim, two to Red and so on. Essentially that means FHM isn’t replacing one magazine on the shelves, but four. Ech.
(Incidentally, my local supermarkets are pretty good when you compare them to other, slightly less local ones. The next-nearest ASDA’s magazine section is appalling and always out of date, while the nearest Sainsbury’s stocks about three titles.)
What the supermarkets are doing to publishing isn’t dramatically different to what they’ve done to record shops: low prices, guaranteed sellers, if you want something more obscure then you’re out of luck. However, at least in music we have downloads; until electronic paper finally comes out at a sensible price there’s no iTunes for magazines. There are, however, still two options available to you: you can get your newsagent to order specific titles (pretty much anything that’s published in the UK), or you can subscribe (which saves you a packet). The shelves are already dominated by the magazine giants, but orders and subscriptions can keep lower-circulation titles alive.