Buying a magazine online? A few thoughts.

When we opened Magalleria in 2015, as strange as it sounds, we didn’t envisage selling magazines online. Back then it was all about having a lovely room full of paper and ink, but within two years we also had a webstore. In 2021 we sell half our stock this way and it seems everyone has discovered the convenience of online shopping. 

Selling magazines over the internet, however, is not easy. They are fragile, for starters. We do our utmost to supply them in good nick – obviously pristine or close to perfect condition as possible is our aim, but a lot of the time it’s difficult to achieve this, and we are expected to provide magazines in better condition than we receive them. 

This is primarily because the magazines themselves receive very little care and protection when they are sent to us. It’s always been this way and the industry as a whole still operates without any awareness that magazines aren’t wholly disposable for all the people who buy them. Sure, many people buy magazines just for content, so once read they’re effectively ‘consumed’ and chucked. But many magazines are now minor works of art and can be both collectable and covetable. With so many titles published in a price range somewhere between £10 to £20 they now represent an investment to a growing number of customers.

So you might think they would be treated more like books. We occasionally order books which, when they arrive, are usually allocated a crazy amount of space in the carton, two thirds of which might be given over to protective packing material. As mass production has forced the quality of books down, oddly the care taken in getting them to bookshops has increased. The production quality of magazines has gone through the roof yet they do not enjoy this luxury. More than half our deliveries contain no packing so they are likely to move in the box which causes creasing and bumping. They can be exposed to moisture and if the box is dropped or roughly handled (a given) then it’s curtains for a good percentage of the contents. Many suppliers do a fantastic job with their packaging, but far too many still think it’s ok to send magazines out in plastic bags.

Magazine profit margins are thin for every player in the publishing chain so the issue is related to cost-cutting as much as a lack of awareness. The industry also accommodates a sizeable sale or return policy which goes some way to explaining why magazines receive so little tenderness. But this is something that’s out of our control and I mention it only to underscore the fact that we do not enjoy a flow of delicately handled, unblemished publications through our door. My point is, if you want a perfect magazine, please let us know when or before you order and we’ll do our best to find one for you.

Then there is the cost of shipping and the vexed issue of free postage. Retail behemoths such as Amazon and eBay routinely give the impression that postage is something to be done away with. They and other corporates are making us think we’re in some super-serviced La La Land where everything is sold below the recommended retail price and delivered free with a fleet of operatives in waiting to handle our complaints when something isn’t right. 

We don’t offer free postage because the cost of mailing a single magazine is often more than the profit made from selling it. In most cases we also have pay suppliers to get our stock delivered – publishers in particular will always pass this cost on to the retailer for some reason – and if we’re importing the shipping fees are often eye-watering and now inevitably tangled up in Brexit red-tape. All the same, our tracked postage and courier fees are subsidised to keep our customers happy. If you are ordering from overseas we urge you to email us beforehand because courier prices are fluid and it may be possible to get you a better price. We do not charge you for packaging materials, primarily recycled paper Jiffy bags – highly sustainable of course, but when posting anything delicate or expensive we use extra recyclable or compostable polypropylene sleeves for extra protection. These are costly add-ons, but making sure your magazine arrives without fresh scars is part of our service.

Finally, although we manage to get the magazine to you without damage and at sensible cost, there’s still scope for customer disappointment when we send you the wrong cover, or rather not the one you were expecting. We can only supply the covers we get and most of the time we can’t select these ourselves. We make an effort to post a cover in the online store that corresponds to the bulk of our stockholding, but it’s beyond us to change the picture every hour to reflect this. So if you want a particular cover, just give us a call or drop us a line because we’re happy to help and really don’t want to disappoint you or mess with your expectations.

Online magazine selling is an emerging operation within a barely evolving industry so there are difficulties. But on the whole I think we're doing an alright job if the loyalty of our customers and the overwhelmingly grateful feedback we receive is anything to go by. I've said before there's no real 'world of magazines' but the people who buy them are creating a seriously friendly and information-sharing community we feel proud to play a part in.