A few years ago a publishing friend in Sao Paulo, Brazil said his company enjoyed zero newsstand returns. I assumed this was no more than acceptable bravado. After all, I had been arguing that the U.S. soccer team actually stood a chance against Brazil.
My friend didn't really sell every copy put out at retail. He just collected all "unsolds" and stashed them in a warehouse on the outskirts of town. "Fire hazard," is what I thought when eyeing the million-plus magazines reaching to the roof of a well-managed and spacious warehouse.
His plan was simple. He would distribute old magazines, usually with no cover date or price, to parts of the country that had not been exposed to articles about the "Ten Ways to Enjoy Brazilian Wines." That, by the way is a joke at the expense of my Brazilian friend who forced me to actually count all those stored magazines. Or he might re-issue the magazines with new covers putting, as it were, old wine in new bottles.
And why not? Brazil has huge swaths of land that have not been blessed with a traditional distribution system presently clustered around Rio and Sao Paulo.
Anyone who has been involved in international publishing knows the above story varies by degree in other developing countries or nations in transition. I've seen instances in China, India and Russia where publishers sell dated magazines outside the major metro areas. The old-fasioned doctrine of "scarcity" still works in some places. Yes, the local black market might have some skin in this game.
What happens when distribution systems in other nations become more mature, and these options are less viable?
At the recent OMMA Mobile conference in Los Angeles there was considerable talk of mobile applications at retail. In a way this was refreshing as there was less emphasis on the Jesus iPhone and more attention to the bottom of the puchase funnel. A number of speakers addressed mobile's ability to "geo-fence" around retail, including loyalty programs and CRM data. Ikea and JC Penny seem very advanced in reading scans with mobile phones.
TechCrunch reported on December 6, 2009 that "Google had mailed out window stickers with two-dimensional bar codes (aka QR codes) to the most searched for or clicked-on businesses in its local business directory. Anyone with a QR code reader in their phone can scan it to call up a Google Mobile local directory for one of these favorite places." Just wave your iPhone in front of the bar code and get all the necessary information about a local business.
As location-based mobile marketing becomes more sophisticated and coupon scanning more ubiquitous, retail businesses, including magazines, are likely to be transformed.
As for my friend in Brazil he plans to put all back issues of his million magazines on mobile devices.
And the U.S. is going to win the upcoming World Cup.