Newsstand Spies 
By Devyani Onial, Anna Sophie Loewenberg, E, Kate Novack and Diana Wang  


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Magazine publishers spend millions of dollars on focus groups and demographic studies to find out which covers sell magazines at the newsstand. We decided to cut through all the science and consider the issue ourselves. Below, a round-up of our unscientific, completely arbitrary, and wholly subjective survey of a random selection of supermarket, bodega, subway, corner and bookstore newstands in and around Manhattan.

The newsstand cover of the June 2000 issue of Gourmet magazine featured Rocco DiSpirito, the good-looking chef at New York City’s Union Pacific restaurant. But the magazine’s 800,000 subscribers received a different version of the magazine, with a bouquet-like arrangement of mushrooms on the cover. The message: on newsstands, hunks sell; fungi don’t.

Cosmopolitan, InStyle, Marie Claire, Maxim, and Vanidades, a Spanish fashion title, plaster the windows of the newsstand at the Port Authority bus station on Ninth Avenue at 41st Street in midtown Manhattan. But the best-selling title, according to the store’s manager, Afzal Hossain, is TV Notas, a weekly featuring stories on Mexican television stars. Time is a big seller at Hudson News in Grand Central Station. So is InStyle, which sells about 75 copies each day, according to the store’s manager, Naim Hyder. At a local beer and grocery store on the corner of Church and Nostrand Avenues in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, InStyle and Time sell only two to three copies a week. Here, the best seller is The Source, a magazine about hip-hop, which sells an average of 60 copies each week, according to Ahmed Khokow, a store employee.

Although supermarkets are a major outlet for magazines, only a few of New York City’s market chains carry them. The glaring headlines of tabloids such as The National Enquirer line the magazine racks at the huge Gristede’s Superstore on West 100th Street and Broadway on the Upper West Side, attracting disinterested stares from some customers, and quick browsing from others, but rarely a sale. During our recent stakeout, we watched as shoppers scanned Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Time Out and People while waiting impatiently on line at the cash register. When it came time to pay for their groceries, they promptly returned the reading material to the rack.

Although the most popular titles vary from place to place in New York City, our admittedly inaccurate survey of what prompts New Yorkers to buy magazines at the newsstand reveals a few notable patterns, we think. Covers — especially ones with celebrities or sex on them — sell. They can convert browsers into buyers, prompt serious readers to spring for titles they wouldn’t normally buy, and are often the deciding factor when a would-be reader is choosing from a number of similar titles. For some, information and trend-spotting is key, while others opt for magazines with practical advice such as personal finance tips.

Jim Colo, 41, is a regular visitor to magazine stores, but only an occasional buyer. He works at Northwest Airlines, so he gets many magazines free. But if something catches his eye, he buys it. Today, Colo scans a row of magazines at 906 on Second Avenue. When he reaches Essence, his eyes stop. He seizes the magazine triumphantly, flips its pages, and marches to the cash register to dole out the $3.95 cover price. It was the singer Sade’s cover photo that inspired Colo to grab the magazine. "I love her and want to read everything about her," he says. He had never bought Essence before Sade.

At the Barnes & Noble in the Citicorp building at 54th Street and Third Avenue in midtown Manhattan, Luciana Cairrao, 32, sits reading intently while her husband keeps an eye on their young son. Cairrao, a housewife originally from Brazil, is reading Cross Stitch – an apt name for a magazine that is all about sewing. "I like to read magazines on crafts and this is the one that I usually buy," says Cairrao, moving on to look at Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Elle. Today, she decides to buy Vogue as well as Cross Stitch. "I always look at these magazines and then buy whichever one has better features or a good cover," she says.

Muhammad Sean, 23, who manages D&M Convenience, a small bodega on the corner of East 12th Street and Third Avenue in Greenwich Village in downtown Manhattan, says his most popular titles are Vogue and InStyle. Each sells about 25 to 30 copies per month. Time Out New York, a weekly magazine that lists happenings around the city, also does well at D&M, selling about 25 copies of each issue. But Sean says his customers tend to buy by the cover, rather than coming in to purchase a particular title. So what covers sell the best? "Anything with sex goes better," he says. So, Sports Illustrated, which is featuring its swimsuit issue, has an unusually prime spot in the store this month. It’s in a front row, between fashion and lifestyle magazines on one side and the pornography titles on the other.

Some magazine customers limit the fantasy reading to browsing and take home the more practical titles. Martha Brown, a 35-year-old teacher, buys magazines at the newsstand on the East 125th Street subway station platform in East Harlem. Brown looks at the crowded line of hair braiding magazines that occupy a front-and-center position on the racks before reaching out for the fashion magazines. "I look at the braiding magazines but never buy them. I don’t have much hair," she says, patting her head. She then checks out the fashion magazines that, all in one voice, deny the bitter cold, declaring that spring is in the air.
Brown examines how spring "goes pop" in Harper’s Bazaar and checks out fashion blockbusters in Elle. Once she feels suitably equipped to greet the season, she picks up Black Enterprise and buys it. "I have found out how I can look good. Now, I need to know how to invest to get the money to look good," she says.

Then there are the magazine junkies, who subscribe to more than ten publications and still peruse the racks at newsstands. Robin Scott, 30, calls himself an information junkie. He says he has over 50 subscriptions, including Time Out, Vanity Fair, Maxim and Fortune. The Midtown resident is the owner of a management company and says he spends over $50 each day on magazines and books. "If you’re going to take care of other people’s business, you have to know what’s going on," he says. Today, he’s buying the latest issue of Rolling Stone at the Barnes & Noble on West 82nd Street and Broadway.

Brian Marko, 31, a fashion photographer who lives in the East Village, says he buys specifically for his career. "This is research for me; I have to keep up with fashion trends," says Marko, who has nearly a dozen subscriptions, including Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Vanity Fair, and Harper’s Bazaar — all tax write-offs because of his line of work. He says he religiously frequents larger newsstands, which carry foreign magazines that allow him to follow fashion trends around the world. "That’s what’s great about magazine stands in New York City," says Marko, who is taking a quick look at the Hudson News store in Pennsylvania Station before catching his train. "People say there’s too much, but to me it’s like candy land."