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September 27, 2005

Lotsa Magazines

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I stumbled across a really nice bookstore magazine department recently -- in Helsinki, Finland.

The previous sentence serves, Gentle Readers, as a preview (warning?) of what's to come now that I've been elevated from Guest Poster status to the nosebleed-inducing heights of Blowhard.

It's no big secret that blogs are a lot like talk radio in that much of the content is event-driven. I didn't start reading blogs until shortly after the September 11th attacks when "milblogs" leaped to the fore, but I've read that many early blogs were "web diaries" -- accounts of day-to-day events by ordinary folks.

I'm not planning to glaze your eyes with daily reports about my personal life. But my life, like yours, consists of a string of events, some of which will trigger subject ideas or even subjects themselves. Such as the fact that I was in Finland not long ago. And in Denmark, Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Accordingly, expect a few Baltic-centered postings over the next couple months because I found some things there worth writing about such as that magazine department mentioned above.

I'll write about other stuff too.

Like Friedrich, I'm something of a history buff who's curious about Modernism and how it usurped other approaches to art and architecture. Don't expect as much profundity as Friedrich used to regularly deliver, but you can count on the subject being raised from time to time.

And you'll be reading about painting, architecture, industrial design, media, advertising, "social science" bits, commercial illustration, transportation design and other arts-and-culture fields I tend to follow.

What you won’t get much of from me are articles about performing arts, cinema and literature -- I'll happily leave those areas to Michael.

Okay. What about that magazine department?

It is in a bookstore owned by Stockmann, Helsinki's major department store. Stockmann also has stores elsewhere in the Baltic region, including Russia, and I was told that there's a saying that "If you can't find it at Stockmann's, you don't need it." The main Stockmann building is an early 20th Century architectural landmark (I might discuss it another time) and the bookstore is across the street.

Stockmann store X.jpg Stockmann store

Actually, the bookstore itself is large, taking up at least three substantial floors. I didn't thoroughly case the joint, focusing mostly on the 3rd floor art & architecture section. A good share of the books I noticed were in Finnish, a slight surprise because most Finns seem to know English and their language is probably understood by fewer people than live in the five New York City boroughs, making for comparatively small printing runs and high prices. (In the three Baltic states, fairly large proportions of the books I saw were in English and not in the local language. This was particularly the case in academically-oriented bookstores, as might be expected.)

The magazine department had a large number of English-language magazines, many from America and the rest mostly from Britain. The Fiancée was able to find copies of Good Housekeeping and Vanity Fair for airplane-reading.

I surveyed the automobile section and found plenty of copies of the major American publications, including Motor Trend, Road & Track, Car and Driver, Automobile and so forth along with Brit mags such as Car. There were also German and Scandinavian-language car magazines. I even found Auto & Design, a bilingual (Italian and English) car styling / industrial design publication from Italy that I once upon a time was able to buy in the Seattle area.

What I didn't see were car magazines from France and southern Europe, aside from the design magazine just mentioned. This was true as well for magazine stands I inspected in Denmark and the Baltic countries. Clearly it doesn't seem commercially worthwhile to stock publications from Romance-language countries in that part of the world.

The bottom line is that an American living in Helsinki would have little trouble finding a lot of his favorite reading material.

Although the magazine section might have been larger and more cosmopolitan than what you might find in a typical Borders or Barnes & Noble store, it was not the largest I've encountered. My size-prize goes to a store called City News that was located in the Detroit area -- probably Ann Arbor. (All these details are hazy and might be wrong, I'm afraid; please post corrections in Comments.) It folded years ago: that I know for sure.

I really like places that sell lots of different magazines, especially foreign magazines. But I wonder if the Internet and changing reading habits will cut the number of magazine titles along with the size and number of places that sell them. Actually, I don't wonder about it: I'm almost certain it will happen and the question is really about the extent of those cuts.

For the near-term, however, all you magazine-reading Blowhards fans heading for Helsinki now know where to find the mother lode.



posted by Donald at September 27, 2005


Magazines are something like restaurants: the failure rate for new ventures is fearsomely high, yet there's no shortage of people/companies eager to start new ones.

Posted by: Peter on September 28, 2005 8:31 AM

Are the magazines exhorbitantly priced? Once when I was in London and found a store that had this magazine I loved, I wanted to buy an issue but it cost like 12$. You see the same thing for foreign magazines in the US. I like to check out the European versions of Vogue and other fashion mags, but they cost a lot in the US.

Posted by: lindenen on September 28, 2005 5:41 PM

Peter -- It's true that magazine titles grow like toadstools, or have been doing so, anyhow. I haven't noticed any comprehensive circulation figures for mags, but newspapers have been taking serious hits of late. And Time is apparently under suspicion of overstating circulation. Perhaps the Web impact on mags is slower than on papers. Or maybe Mags have a more unique niche-status and appeal than papers. I love magazines, but it's hard to see how they can escape the technology revolution's effect on older media of all kinds, movies included.

Lindenen -- Remember that unless a foreign title is actually printed in the USA (I assume this is the case for The Economist, for instance), the cost of intercontinental distribution has to be considered in newsstand pricing. Magazines (in bulk) are pretty heavy objects, and weight is an important transportation cost factor (along with bulk).

I didn't price the US mags in Euros, but here are some comparisons for European mags sold here: Automobile Classiques sold for $9.95 at Bulldog News in Seattle and its cover price in France was 6.80 Euros; converting at the approximately 1.25 factor when the magazine came out, we're talking $8.50 in France.

More comparisons: Historia (also French) has a French price converted to $5.60 and sold in Seattle for $7.25. L'Automobile is about $4.50 in France and I paid $6.95 here. The worst case is Auto & Design (mentioned in the posting): 9.30 Euros in Italy (around $11.60), 20.15 Euros in Finland (if I read the sticker correctly), or $25.20, and I was paying around $30 a copy back when they were available in Seattle.

Clearly, the solution for me is to move to France. But I'll need a raise. Michael, how much is $0.00 when increased 200%?

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on September 28, 2005 8:36 PM

I like some of those fancy and expensive Euro fashion magazines too. What gorgeous things they are. I've only forked over for a few those -- most of them seem to retail in NYC for 19 bucks or more, with a few topping out at 50 bucks. Perfect to flip through at the magazine stand, and then leave having purchased one copy of MacHome ($5.95).

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 28, 2005 10:18 PM

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