For us book lovers, the story of big box booksellers – especially the defunct ones, like Borders and Crown and Waldenbooks – has proven to be a double tragedy. You know the story. First, these colossii, in their single-minded quest for market share, succeeded in driving almost all the small, independent booksellers out of business. And then, having swept the field of those thousands of competitors – not just the new book sellers, but the used and antiquarian bookstores, too – they promptly imploded, leaving a vacuum in their wake.
Of course, us book lovers were complicit in these tragedies. We all paid our lip service to the value of the small book store, the insight of the independent proprietor, the superiority of locally owned business. But we all flocked to the big box, enchanted by the discount prices, the vast selection, and the bright stores – not to mention the coffee and scones. The independent bookstores, starved of customers, began their precipitous decline. Now, as we all flock to Amazon, the decline of the big boxes has been just as steep.
As troubling as this all is for the book lovers, it’s even more calamitous for the magazine readers. For those of us that used Borders as their own private reading room (you know you’re one of them) having such a vast, eclectic collection of magazines under one roof was intoxicating. For the price of a cappuccino, you could grab a stack of your favorite travel or fashion or dwelling magazines, plunk yourself down on a cozy sofa in the cafe, and gorge yourself on a free glut of modern culture. Now and then, you’d even buy a magazine. It was a sybarite’s dream; but of course it couldn’t last. And as the big boxes, one by one, have succumbed to market pressures (you’re next, Barnes and Noble), the inevitable culture gap they’ve left behind has been most acutely felt in the magazine realm.
Of course, the big box ethic didn’t go away – especially for magazines. You can still find it in the surprising large magazine racks at drug stores and grocery chains. And the big boxes themselves – the real ones, like Walmart and Costco – certainly shovel out the magazines, too. But for magazine fiends, these giants are just a taste of the same poison. The real answer to the magazine dilemma can only found by going back in time: to the proper newsstand.
King Fort Magazine on Fort Street Mall is a prime example. This old magazine shop has been around for decades, quietly catering to a downtown clientele that clearly likes variety. I visited today and just among automobile magazines, I counted 34 titles, including four on Mustangs. The grocery store may have many of those titles too, but you can’t match a dedicated newsstand for breadth of selection. King Fort offered 12 titles on military history, six on photography, and five shelves of puzzlers. But selection is not just about breadth; it’s also about depth. King Fort’s 10 tattoo mags include the standards, like Inked and Skin Deep, but also the shrink-wrapped, XXX-rated Tabu. (King Fort also has a rack of girlie magazines, once the profit center of newsstands everywhere, but now kind of an afterthought in the age of free Internet porn.) There are niche magazines about sports ranging from golf to karate (though only three titles for sailors like me: Boating, Small Boats and Sailing World.) That mix of specialization and eclecticism is what gives a newsstand charm. King Fort even has three magazines about watches and one devoted entirely to pens. And for the truly niche reader, how about a magazine called The Forensic Examiner. Heaven help the aficionados of the world if newsstands like King Fort all go out of business.
I do, of course, have a personal interest in supporting King Fort. It’s partly about holding on to my favorite place to browse (I confess: I’m no better a customer to King Fort than I was to Borders), but it’s also about the symbiosis between magazine stands and my business – magazine publishing. And King Fort is an important supporter of local publishers like us. In addition to the inevitable Pacific Basin titles, Honolulu, Hawaii Business and Hawaii Magazine, the old Fort Street Mall shop also carries Pacific Edge, Hawaii Skin Diver, Hawaii Fishing News, Out Aloha, Flux Hawaii, Hawaii Bride Groom, Hawaii Weddings and Hi Luxury Magazine. In other words, King Fort Magazine is ground zero for the magazine industry in Hawaii. So if you read magazines, you shouldn’t buy them at the drug store or read them for free at the (please don’t say it’s doomed) Barnes and Noble. Buy them off the rack in a real, old fashioned newsstand.