Even as relative new entrants to the magazine trade we quickly noticed the amount of wastage built into the operating system. You may or may not know that the majority of unsold magazines are pulped by larger distributors. Coming from the book trade I was aware of the lifespan of an ordinary book in the average bookshop, but the cyclical culling of magazines is something else altogether. The book can expect a brief shelf life but a range of factors mean that many will linger for longer. Nearly all magazines have a cruel, short existence regardless of publication frequency.
'We became aware too that as soon as an unsold magazine left the building someone would come in and ask to buy it.'
We became aware too that as soon as an unsold magazine left the building someone would come in and ask to buy it. Frustrating, and often compounded by a lengthy hiatus until the following issue turned up. Over which time invariably more people would join pursuit of the vanquished magazine.
Against this backdrop we found ourselves acquiring back issues, initially because we failed to organise ourselves properly early on and missed return deadlines by forgetting dates or losing magazines somewhere in the shop. Of course we’re more efficient now, but the interesting thing is that we’re now deliberately inclined to hold on to an unsold issue rather than to return it when the time comes.
There are two reasons for this. On the one hand selling magazines is a tough business because the margins for retailers are miserly compared to many other forms merchandise. Extra discount, where we can get it, is usually exchanged for the right to return unsold magazines. On the other hand – and this is one the great satisfactions we get from what we do – people tell us they enjoyed a particular magazine so much that they now want read any other issue available.
So we’ve started to retain or put aside magazines we rate or feel will sell in the long run, and buying back issues from publishers where these still remain in print. Last year we built extra shelving to specifically accommodate our most popular, collectable or aesthetically pleasing collections. These include Ernest Journal, Sidetracked (now running out, so do hurry), UPPERCASE (Ditto) and many others. For a while now these magazines have been squirrelled away under tables, uncategorised and mixed up with our general overstocks. This makes Magalleria a magnet for those who like to rummage or dig around, but we think that by organising and showcasing print collections more formally people might contemplate the development, diversity and beauty of contemporary independent magazine publishing a little more finely.
The majority of magazines will remain ephemeral, get-them-while-you-can bringers of joy and this, of course, is their essence.