Death by a thousand (paper) cuts

A magazine distributor is doing what the Bellingham police and a prosecutor tried to do and couldn't.
The Newstand in Bellingham. (Bob Simmons)

The Newstand in Bellingham. (Bob Simmons) None

Ira Stohl, owner of The Newstand. (Bob Simmons)

Ira Stohl, owner of The Newstand. (Bob Simmons) None

If you like buying a newspaper or magazine from a literate newsstand dealer who knows you and knows what you like to read, enjoy it while you can. The independent newsstand is headed for the museum.

A magazine distribution system that seems designed to drive retailers into therapy is driving them out of business. The dominant company in that system has notified two of Seattle's three remaining independent newsstands, along with one in Portland and the only one in Bellingham, that the distributor will no longer distribute. Not to them.

The first to close will be Ira Stohl, a regionally famous First Amendment hero who owns and operates an iconic Bellingham store known as The Newstand. He still has more than a few thousand magazines and newspapers on the racks today, but he'll lock the door for good sometime around Labor Day. Stohl got a termination letter a short time ago from Source-Interlink, the largest supplier of periodicals to his store. The company no longer wants to bother with Stohl. "I've been doing business with them for eighteen years," Stohl said the other day, "and suddenly I'm not worthy."

Owners of Seattle's Bulldog News and Broadway News got similar letters saying that Source-Interlink will no longer distribute magazines to their newsstands. Lee Lauckart of First and Pike News never got the termination notice, just the termination. Starting August 1, Source-Interlink suddenly stopped bringing some two hundred titles, including the big sellers like Time and Newsweek. "They said it was a mistake," Lauckhart said this week. "I was one of the few independent newsstands they said they'd continue to supply. Now they say they're trying to get me back on, but I haven't had anything from them in three weeks."

Lauckhart plans to keep on, but he doesn't evidence much hope for the selling of the printed word, long-term. "I'm a dinosaur, about to become extinct," he says. "Every business like ours is in jeopardy."

Samantha Vanover, who runs the magazine business at Rich's Cigar Store in Portland — that city's largest independent news dealer not connected with a book store — also got Source-Interlink's form letter, with no explanation and no conditions under which the store might continue. She says there are hundreds of magazine titles she won't find anywhere else. "We're looking for some from other distributors, but we know there will be some we won't be able to get. It's ridiculous. It's a shame."

This isn't about street corner kiosks. These are full-service magazine stores that cater to people with a passion for reading. Bulldog News of Seattle offers 1,600 square feet of magazines and newspapers. First and Pike News (known for years as Read All About It) sells more than 2,500 titles in its 700 square feet, and it's the region's top dealer in foreign language periodicals, a reflection of Seattle's rich mix of nationalities.

The independents compete by stocking a remarkable variety of magazines you're unlikely to find at Barnes & Noble or Borders. Bellingham's Newstand carries more than 3,500 different titles, including magazines for followers of Bhuddism and of the roller derby. They sell magazines for those who are into knitting, grilling, Sodoku, farm life (twenty different magazines for city people who want to read about farm life) home design and decorating (120 titles), left and right wing politics, meditation, Christian worship, Christian non-worship, Paganism, Druidism, dog keeping, cat keeping, fish keeping, parrot keeping, exotic animal keeping, and exotic animal cooking. There's Primitive Bow Hunter Magazine; Cowboys and Indians Magazine; Warlords; Armchair General; Skirmish; The Walrus; Tikkun, a serious bimonthly Jewish critique of culture and politics; Philosophy Now; Cult Times; crowded shelves filled with bride and marriage magazines, along with newspapers from parts of the world you didn't know you needed to keep up with.

In one sense it's the Internet in reverse. If the net's the place to find whatever you're looking for, The Newstand is the place to find what you were not looking for and may never have heard of. The store's regulars are aware of the possibility of surprise, and that's its beauty, Ira Stohl believes. "Young people browsing this store come up against ideas they wouldn't encounter anywhere else. Maybe it starts them thinking worthwhile thoughts. Maybe it redirects someone's life, who knows? It has that possibility, and that's why I love it."


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Aug 20, 6:57 a.m. Inappropriate

What terrible news!: I love Seattle's independent news stands--they're an irreplaceable part of the city's culture.

These jerks at Source-Interlink couldn't even bother to offer extended notice of their plans, to allow Washington state newsstands more time to find alternate distributors??

I will never buy a magazine again from a big chain store. This sorry situation calls for a boycott.

Posted Wed, Aug 20, 7:06 a.m. Inappropriate

thanks: Wonderful story, great read, and good explanation for why small operators are going out of business these days. As a customer, I always wondered how these magazine stores managed to survive.

Posted Wed, Aug 20, 8:13 a.m. Inappropriate

Answer Me! only "awful" in the eyes of the beholder.: I was a reader of Answer Me! I respect Jim Goad, the publisher, even if I do not agree with everything he says. Answer Me! was a fine example of alternative publishing.

All of us will feel the loss of The Newsstand and other venues, such as Fremont News in Seattle.
SMullen

Posted Wed, Aug 20, 8:25 a.m. Inappropriate

What a loss: I visited The Newsstand for the first time recently, and it had the best selection of magazines I've seen anywhere.

Posted Wed, Aug 20, 9:38 a.m. Inappropriate

Big magazine distributors: I publish a regional wine magazine, and the larger magazine distributors make it impossible to do business with them. You're lucky if they pay you within 180 days, and their distribution is spotty at best. I much prefer to work with the smaller distributors, who actually care about our business. Anymore, we work directly with smaller retailers in our niche (wine shops, wineries, etc.) and skip the big distributors, who can barely clear 10% sell-through. In fact, it ends up making way more sense for us to drop most of our single-copy sales and focus on subscriptions just because of how difficult the big distributors are to work with.

aperdue

Posted Wed, Aug 20, 12:17 p.m. Inappropriate

What's the name of that roller derby magazine?: I'm going to go to First & Pike and ask them for it. My sister-in-law is a relatively new, but huge fan. This is the kind of thing that makes the newsstands so much fun to peruse. When I was working on my thesis on Mexican government, I used to go to newsstands to buy Mexican journals when I was away from the university.

Posted Wed, Aug 20, 12:51 p.m. Inappropriate

Noodling: "That was cold. That never should have happened. The person who sent that has been beaten up with a wet noodle."

I'd like to see Gillis beaten up with a wet noodle.

Why are people like that in the media business in the first place? Surely they could be making a lot more money elsewhere. Let them mess up something nobody cares about — like clam juice, pig's feet, or MP3 player skins — not the written word, for God's sake.

Posted Wed, Aug 20, 3:15 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Noodling: Well, the answer is they aren't really in the media business, they are in the business of selling products and turning them over as fast as they can. It's a real shame what has happened in the book and magazine business. If you really want to make a difference, don't buy anything from the chain stores and Amazon, buy only from small independent retailers. It's probably too late now, but better late than never.

David Tatelman
Homestead Book Company
DavidT

Posted Sun, Sep 7, 8:23 a.m. Inappropriate

A sign of things to come?: Seems this is a trend in a lot of places, check out this guys thesis on the subject:

http://www.onewordphotography.com/blog/?p=141
peterd

Posted Mon, Sep 8, 7:08 a.m. Inappropriate

You are not alone!: I am an independent magazine supplier in the midwest, my company caters to the independents. I have watched the "big boys" do this for years to those accounts that don't meet the numbers. Unfortunately, I do not know of any suppliers in that part of the country. To far for me to deliver, always UPS!

Be sure you support your local newsstand, or else all of those eclectic titles we love will vanish as Wal-Mart de-lists them.

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