Newsstands are going the way of the dinosaur

The digital age is taking its toll on magazine sales

At Al’s Newsstand in Fort Collins, you could get a pack of smokes, a cigar, or a wad of chew. It had newspapers, of course, from local to national. You could grab a bag of popcorn, too.

But magazines were the big draw at Al’s, which closed last fall after 71 years of business. The store was long and narrow, and you sometimes had to squeeze past those browsing the high-brow stuff like Foreign Affairs to get back to magazines about motorcycles and guns, fishing and hunting, wildlife and the old West. It was a candy store for curious minds.

Very few newsstands remain in Colorado. Woody’s Newsstand in Greeley also closed last year after 80 years of business. In Boulder, Eads News & Smoke Shop closed in 2013. It had been around for a full century. City News in Loveland closed the same year. Metro Denver had lots of newsstands, too. Nearly all are gone, victims of a digital transformation in which all information is supposed to be free. It’s a terrible mantra for merchants of the printed word.

Airports still have newsstands, true, but none come close to Magpies in Durango, founded in 1996. For owner Tom Mulligan, it’s more than just business. It’s a passion.

“I am kind of an information junkie,” Mulligan says. “I love to know a little about everything. I like to know how things work. I found the magazine the best source for information.”

Magpies at its outset carried up to 3,000 different magazine titles in any given year. Most were from the United States, but there were titles from Germany, France and the UK as well. There were newspapers, too, in a half-dozen languages and from both coasts. True, demand wasn’t overwhelming. Durango then had fewer than 15,000 people. But somehow, Mulligan made it work. 

Then the recession hit. People stopped buying. When the recession receded, more slowly in Durango than in Denver, buyers returned slowly. 

Today, Magpies has half the titles it did 15 years ago. Sales have dropped by about as much. Mulligan’s side-business, a coffee shop, has become the lead horse. An ever-shakier distribution network has been both cause and consequence of declining sales. Magpies, for example, now gets magazines via UPS. 

In Alamosa, this distribution problem caused Narrow Gauge News to close in March 2018. It reopened a few months later as Narrow Gauge Books, with just a few dozen magazines. It’s operated as a cooperative, but the salient fact is that books always did have better profit margins than magazines. This is also evident in the Book Train at Glenwood Springs, which has a good magazine rack but far better book selection.

At Denver’s Tattered Cover, magazines were always seen as a service and a bit of profit, says Matt Miller, the chief executive and a store employee for more than 40 years. Now, there’s less of both, just 10 different newspapers compared with 20 to 25 from around the world a decade ago. Magazine selection at the East Colfax store has also slimmed to 1,500 titles, down from 2,000 at one time.

Categories: Magazine Articles, Tech