One of the country’s most successful magazine publishers once said “Give me great racks and I can sell sh–!”  He was referring to having solid “distribution,” and you can’t say it much plainer than that! But I can add this from experience: “Without racks you CAN’T sell sh–!” Your product is valueless.

Distribution is the lifeblood behind almost everything made. Newspapers, magazines, comic books, movies, groceries, you name it, all depend on distribution. The Internet has emerged as a major distribution vehicle, and I’ll touch base on that in a future blog. Right now, we’ll stick with the good old fashioned variety.

I worked as circulation manager for a 2,500-circ. weekly newspaper back in 1971, and part of my job was to deliver bundled papers to 80-some paper boys thrice weekly. I also dropped bundles off to 21 retail outlets (giving us 21 racks), as well as to the local “big” regional distributor, who delivered these to points elsewhere. Later in the day I’d pick up previous editions that did not sell, i.e. “returns”, and collect the money for those which did. Typically, if I dropped off 20 newspapers and picked up 10 by next cycle, we had a 50% sell-through at that outlet.

Suppose I suddenly, without warning, quit. Let’s say my 1958 white-over red Rambler rustbucket wagon was packed to the gills with freshly-printed papers, and a mile into my trip I say “screw this,” park the car and go party. The next day, paper boys head to school without delivering newspapers as those 21 store racks go unfilled. Readers expecting their morning newspaper would be livid! All store sales would be lost and refunds for advertising within that day’s paper would have to be made. The paper’s reputation would obviously take a hit.

What would YOU think of me for quitting?

That never happened, of course…and when I finally left that job, I gave proper notice — helping to train the new delivery guy in the process. After all, I REALLY wanted to draw comic pages, and could not fathom why God stuck me into this boring distribution job in the first place. “Why do I need to know this stuff,” I asked myself.

Years later I became publisher of CRACKED Magazine, upstart to the more famous MAD Magazine. My neck stuck out a mile long over this acquisition, but as compared to my first newspaper’s 21 racks, Cracked’s 62,000 racks — accumulated since 1958 — looked mighty awesome! THAT’S why I took the leap, ’cause therein lied its value.

Without a hitch, Cracked #352 was printed and distributed by December 2000, and a month later, issue #353 was published, with 250,000 issues packed in bundles and sitting on skids, ready for delivery.

Problem was…the delivery guy had JUST quit…no notice given. All records, wiped out. Boy, that beat-up ’58 Rambler suddenly looked mighty good to me!

“My” Cracked Magazine would never recover.

Stay tuned.

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