But a couple of interesting approaches have bubbled up lately to provide a little hope. In the most recent, a news site obsessed with the latest magazine covers has started linking to a magazine retailer that delivers current issues -- as quickly as two hours if you're in Manhattan.
Buy it faster
A typical post today on the news site, CoverAwards.com, shows the new Sports Illustrated cover. "With five gold medals and counting, it's easy to say that Michael Phelps is stealing the show," the post says. "And Sport Illustrated debuts its latest cover featuring Phelps. Click here to buy it now!" The "click here" link brings you to Universal News on Demand, a site built by Universal News -- a bricks-and-mortar magazine retailer that carries some 6,000 titles.
"Universal News launched Universal News on Demand in the beginning of 2007 to basically increase the efficiency and the sell-through of the products that we already had in our stores," said Justine Kawas, VP-communications, Universal News. "We didn't want to turn to publishers and say we're okay with selling just 45% of your product -- which is actually higher than the industry average."
It's hard to imagine either site, or their partnership, becoming a mainstream magazine sales channel. Traffic to CoverAwards.com has so far come in below Nielsen Online's minimum for measurement. The site's founder, Mark Pasetsky, declined to quantify traffic so far but said he expects 200,000 visitors this month. Ms. Kawas declined to describe sales volume through the on-demand site.
Falling newsstand sales
But their efforts can only help; newsstand sales fell 6.4% in the first half of this year compared with first-half 2007, according to a CircMatters analysis of the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations report.
"This will help build buzz for publishers," Mr. Pasetsky said. "I don't think there's anything more valuable than creating a discussion around a magazine cover."
In an unrelated circulation initiative, Time Inc. is getting ready to go live with Maghound.com, which will sell interchangeable subscriptions in a variation on the Netflix model.
Traditional strategies, however, seem to retain most of their old grip. The Magazine Publishers of America, for example, is urging its members to consider copyright complaints against Mygazines.com, an unauthorized site for scanning, uploading and sharing magazines. And even as Time Inc. prepares Maghound, it is paying $110 million for QSP, a company that takes orders for magazine subscriptions as a way for schools and community groups to raise funds.