While media goes digital, what’s a corner newsstand to do?

A newsstand at 13th and Market Streets in Center City was doing pretty good business on a recent Friday afternoon. The stand offered both of Philadelphia’s daily papers, plus magazines.

But no one was buying them. “Pennsylvania Lottery and cigarettes–those are our main sources of revenue,” said John Rocco, president of the Newsstand Association of Philadelphia. Very little news at all is sold at newsstands anymore, said Rocco. Except big news.

“Unless the Phillies win the world series or the pennant or one of the other teams does well, that’s really the only time we see an upsurge,” he said. While sales overall are down, weeklies still sell. And we’re not talking about Time or Newsweek here, said Rocco. More like, “The National Inquirer. People still love that sort of stuff. Soap Opera Digest. Us. In Touch. You know, where they talk about who’s sleeping with whom.” It’s all a little low-brow for Stephen Kobrin. “A lot of magazines seem to be sold on newsstands that I’ve never heard of, certainly. And that I don’t want to know about,” he said. Kobrin’s a professor at Wharton and the publisher of its Digital Press. He asked, “Are there certain things you wouldn’t subscribe to that you by at a newsstand?”Maybe. Kobrin said people have always had the option to subscribe to publications. And the newsstand has always benefitted from the impulse buy. Which may not change with new technology.

“On the web, its a purposeful search,” said Kobrin. “It’s harder to do an impulse buy. If you walk by a newsstand and you see 15 covers looking at you, you grab one.”There is still at least one time when having a real tangible magazine in your hand beats using an e-reader: On an airplane.  “You can’t use it when you’re taxiing and taking off, which can take forever,” said Kobrin. “So, you’ve got to have something.”Something you bought from the newsstand–in the airport. Which, Kobrin agrees, may be one of the last places a newsstand actually sells its namesake.

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