(Bloomberg) -- As doctors and dentists reopen their offices, patients have noticed something missing: the magazines.
Medical providers have removed periodicals from waiting rooms as a precaution during the coronavirus. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommended that its 136,700 members get rid of all their publications during Covid-19. And it’s not just doctor’s offices: United and Delta removed in-flight magazines from seat-back pockets as part of new cleaning procedures.
For years, print media has faced an existential threat from the internet. Now, publications are grappling with a new challenge -- fears that you can get the coronavirus by touching them. It’s just the latest blow to an industry already ravaged by an aging customer base and the shift of advertising to Google and Facebook.“We’ve thrown out all the magazines,” a South Carolina doctor recently told a local TV station. “I mean, I wouldn’t touch one. It just seems like that’s a bad idea.”Health experts say it’s highly unlikely that someone could get infected this way. On its website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s possible to get Covid-19 by touching an object with the virus on it then touching your mouth, nose or eyes, “but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”Still, paranoia over print has lingered.“Everything I’ve heard is there’s very little chance of passing along the coronavirus through print,” said Linda Ruth, chief executive officer of publishing consulting firm PSCS, whose clients include magazines. “On the other hand, who really wants to go and pick up something that other people have been touching?”
In December, there were more than 8 million magazine subscriptions in public places such as doctor’s offices, gyms and salons, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. While that’s less than 4% of total circulation, it’s a hit the industry can scarcely afford. These magazines also help boost advertising because their “pass-along rate” lets publishers command higher prices.
Newspapers and books have their own challenges. In March and April, the Wall Street Journal published a note on its front page saying the World Health Organization had deemed it OK to handle newspapers during the pandemic. Barnes & Noble created designated spaces for customers to deposit books they picked up while browsing, which are then taken out of circulation for sanitizing.
Some publishers have provided gloves, masks and sanitizers to newsstands and street sellers, according to Earl Wilkinson, CEO of International News Media Association. In March, Wilkinson wrote a blog post that said there hadn’t been a documented incident of the virus spreading from a print newspaper or magazine. It got more traffic than nearly every other article his organization has published.
Magazine sales at grocery stories, meanwhile, have held up reasonably well, said John Kulhawik, chief marketing officer at PubWorX, which manages newsstand sales for publishers such as Conde Nast and Hearst. So perhaps consumers aren’t that concerned about handling them.
“Truthfully, it’s not much different than buying a can of peaches,” he said.
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