Who said print is dead? It’s just got Issues
on March 28, 2011
Gourmet and Modern Bride magazines went under. US News and World Report has gone digital-only. Apple launched a new iPad that lets people read National Geographic and The New Yorker online and also watch live TV. And today the New York Times will become the first major newspaper to charge for digital subscriptions. You might worry anything made with paper is … well, doomed.
A stop by Issues magazine store, however, might quell those fears.
This small colorful shop off of Piedmont Avenue carries thousands of different magazine titles, from The New York Review of Books to Marie Claire Maison to MAD Magazine. “We try to be as comprehensive as we can subject-wise,” says co-owner Joe Colley, who is tall, soft-spoken and wears black-rimmed glasses. “That’s part of our philosophy—to carry something for everyone.”
“This place is packed pretty tight in here,” says Colley as he gives a tour of Issues’ magazine racks, which have rows upon rows of neatly stacked and layered magazines. In the store’s foreign language section people can buy British, Indian, Australian, Japanese and Italian versions of Vogue alone. Near these international fashion magazines are other foreign magazines in dozens of languages on politics, literature and current events. “You see stuff like you’d never see in America,” says Colley. “Like this whole magazine on Russian literature,” (which happens to be written in French).
In addition to the topics one would expect to find on a well-stocked newsstand—music, food, sports, the environment, animals and tabloids (Issues doesn’t discriminate between highbrow and lowbrow)—readers can find ultra-specialized titles like Boar Hunter, which is about the specifics of hunting wild pigs; Communities, which is about living in communal cooperatives; and Fortean Times, which covers the world of strange phenomena and publishes articles like “Why it’s time to embrace our Neanderthal cousins.”
And it doesn’t stop there. With a magazine specifically on gold panning, Gold Prospectors,
and one for Star Wars buffs, Star Wars Insider, and even a magazine that boasts that it’s “the world’s first firearms publication for women,” Women & Guns, Colley explains that “people are really happy to find niche stuff.”
Colley and his business partner, Noella Teele, who also happens to be his girlfriend, got the idea to open a comprehensive magazine store in 2007 when they were trying to track down a hard-to-find music magazine from the United Kingdom called The Wire. “It was New Year’s Day and Joe had been featured in that particular issue,” says Teele, mentioning that Colley is also an electronic musician. “We went to brunch—I remember I had chilaquiles—and I said we should open a magazine store.”
Both of them had always loved magazines. “It just seemed like a good idea because there wasn’t anything else,” says Teele, explaining how difficult it was to find unusual magazines in Oakland. By spring they had a lease and they officially opened in June, 2007.
Neither of them had owned a business before, so Colley says it’s been a learning process. “The margin for selling magazines is very small,” he says. This is partially due to the fact that there’s a set cover price. “It’s kind of a take it or leave it thing,” Colley says. Plus, because there’s always a new issue coming, they have to be careful not to overstock. “A guy once told me it’s like a banana,” he says. “The magazine has a shelf life.”
In addition to offering an extensive selection of magazine titles, Colley and Teele also try to make Issues a community space by helping customers find specific magazines and giving suggestions about magazines people might not know about. “The contrast with us and Borders is we actually know what we sell,” says Colley. “There’s the service aspect of it.”
Not only will they hold specific issues for customers, but they will also order magazines at customers’ requests. “We try to be a place for everybody, whether they’re an art student or an elderly lady,” says Teele. “And sometimes you just need an Oprah magazine.”
Colley says that there are tons of readers in the store’s neighborhood, from people who are interested in obscure topics, like Pacific horticulture, model railroads or the art of puppetry, to those who don’t mind paying $25.95 for an Italian design and architecture magazine or $15 for Lapham’s Quarterly. “People don’t hesitate,” he says. “People pay for quality.”
Frequent customer Tracy Burnham says she stops by the store at least a couple of times a week. She buys art magazines for herself, skateboard magazines for her husband, kids’ magazines for her daughter, home design magazines for her mom and fashion magazines for her best friend. “We’re a local family that spends all our money here,” she says only semi-jokingly.
Another customer, Michele Tusinac, who works nearby, says she often comes in during her break to browse the racks. She typically buys garden design, interior design and cooking magazines. “I’m obsessed with those,” she says. Before Issues opened she says she had to go to San Francisco to find the magazines that she especially loves, like Belle, which is an Australian magazine, and Livingetc, which is from the United Kingdom. “I love this store,” she says. “It’s a destination spot for me.”
As Teele rings up customers, she says there are still a lot of people who enjoy the tactile experience of reading on paper. “It’s important to say print is alive and well,” she says. “People always ask us if we are worried about the iWhatever. No, we’re not scared of technology—we have 20 magazines on technology.”
Issues is located on 20 Glen Avenue, right off of Piedmont Avenue, and is open seven days a week. In addition to magazines, they also sell gift cards, notepads, books, posters, zines, organizers, t-shirts, records and jewelry.
Correction: This story was updated on March 29, 2011, to amend the statement that the Christian Science Monitor has gone digital-only. It currently publishes a daily online news site and a subscription weekly print magazine.
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