Are Magazine Stores Doomed?

Aron Solomon
credit: Aron Solomon

It’s hard to walk by a magazine store today and not believe it’s doomed.

Yet the reality is that it's more complicated than that. Magazines still play an important part in our culture, and they may not be going away anytime soon. However, there are some magazines out there that might want to rethink their business models if they want to stay relevant for the next decade or two.

Many publishers have shifted their focus away from print media and toward digital versions; however, most publishers still believe that there is value in keeping physical copies available for purchase by consumers.

The reality is that the aggregate revenue of U.S. periodical publishers from 2005 to 2020 went down significantly, from $42.78 billion to $23.92 billion. With close to $19 billion in estimated aggregate expenses of all publishers, less than $4 billion annually is not a stellar profit margin.

The reality of running a magazine store business has become cumbersome in our digital age. Magazines require a lot of shelf space. A magazine store must stock a large number of magazines in order to be able to offer customers the number and variety that they want, so it can be difficult for them to expand their selection without making sacrifices.

For example, if you were to open up a new location for your magazine shop, it's likely that most people would expect your new store to carry every single title they've seen at every other location - and perhaps even more titles than that! In addition, you'll have to purchase all of those magazines from publishers - a cost that gets passed along directly onto consumers' shoulders through higher prices or smaller margins for retailers.

Much like bookstores before them, magazine stores must purchase from publishers at high prices because those publishers want their titles sold at full price - they don't want anyone offering discounts by buying two copies instead of one or getting deeply discounted bulk deals because there isn't enough competition among retailers willing to pay more money for less inventory than required by each individual buyer's personal preferences.

But there will always be people who take refuge in hard-copy magazines as opposed to the digital offerings, no matter how seemingly infinite the latter truly are.

John Lawlor, a South Florida lawyer, told me that magazine stores aren’t just about the present or future, they’re about the past:

“Florida has some beautiful old magazine stores, some big with a really good selection and some much smaller with a really loyal client base. For many people, their regular visits to their favorite magazine store is something familiar that they always look forward to.”

Magazines really are a form of self-care for many people. The act of reading is comforting and relaxing, especially when it’s something that you enjoy. Magazines are often the only place people have to escape from their daily stresses, and they do this by allowing readers to focus on an issue or article without worrying about how many emails they need to send or how much work they need to do before they leave work tonight.

For me, someone who functions in multiple languages, finding hard-copy magazines that fit my interests in languages other than English was always a challenge unless I was in a different country. Online offerings simply give me unlimited choice. While I still feel that I’m a little bit old school in that I appreciate the experience of a good actual printed magazine, I would strongly advise against the industry

While the advent of more and more technology is making it harder for magazines to stay in business, magazines have always had a hard time staying on the shelves at bookstores and grocery stores. The continued rise of e-books, tablets, and mobile phones with internet access from anywhere at any time makes it even harder for magazines to stay in circulation and the stores that sell them to succeed.

About Aron Solomon

A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Aron Solomon, JD, is the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital and 24-7 Abogados. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world. Aron has been featured in Forbes, CBS News, CNBC, USA Today, ESPN, TechCrunch, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Fortune, Venture Beat, The Independent, Fortune China, Yahoo!, ABA Journal,, The Boston Globe, NewsBreak, and many other leading publications.

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Aron Solomon, JD, is the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital, who has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world.


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