Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Colonization of the American Newsstand by Foreign Magazines

During one of my regular visits to my local magazine shop (Fog City News, if you're curious), I was doing my usual review of the various international titles they carry. I was reminded of just how easy it is to buy magazines from around the world today. Whether it's foreign editions of U.S.-based publications or it's publications only produced in some other country, they are now available to us as never before. Not only does this make magazine buying and reading more enjoyable, but it raises the bar for American publishers, because their readers can see the many different (and often better) ways that magazines are produced in other countries.

Fog City News is a dedicated magazine store (well, they also sell chocolate, but that's a different column), so it's not surprising that they would be a good place to find magazines from other lands. But go to any Borders and you'll find Italian and French and some German titles (oddly, no Chinese or Japanese magazines, even here in heavily Asian San Francisco). Magazines from the UK and Australia have an even broader reach, of course, because they don't have the language barrier. When I lived in Manhattan in 2000-2001, practically every street corner had a newsstand where you could buy publications from around the world. (I remember looking at a couple near the subway station in my Upper East Side neighborhood and noticing that you could buy newspapers from Serbia and other eastern European countries, but there was no Chicago Tribune to be found.)

But it wasn't always this easy to find magazines from abroad. When I was but a wee lad, the only place in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where I could find the occasional foreign magazine was at that city's legendary magazine shop (Bosse's News & Tabacco, if you're curious). And before the internet came along -- especially eBay's foreign sites -- and made it easy to buy things from anywhere, you were left with either mail-order catalogs (if you could find them) or going to a large library.

Today, practically any Borders (for example) carries the French, British, and Indian editions of GQ magazine. Without working too hard, you can also get the UK edition of Esquire, the Italian Vanity Fair, French GEO, Chinese National Geographic, and much more.

It means that magazine producers in this country have to be aware that they have new "competition," even if that competition isn't necessarily directly related to sales (and it sometimes is). It means their customers can see magazines from all around the world, and those foreign magazines are often printed on heavier paper stock, are a larger trim size, have more pages, and cover topics that haven't already been done to death by lazy American editors and writers.

For example, the Italian edition of Vanity Fair is weekly, not monthly like the U.S. edition. And it's a thick weekly; it's not as if Vanity Fair Italy produces four thin editions that equal the thick monthly American edition. The German newsweeklies Der Spiegel and Focus are regularly two or three times as thick as Time or Newsweek. And the niche market of science fiction magazines in this country has been almost completely taken over by UK publications, with U.S. titles few and far between.

The bar is raised.

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