Opinion

Publishers – ditch the supermarkets and go back to newsagents as the magazine specialists

mark fletcherLast week’s Publish conference featured a call for newsagents to get tough with publishers on what they stock. In this guest post, newsagent Mark Fletcher argues that the real problem is publishers’ love affair with supermarkets.

It is frustrating reading that magazine publishers bagged newsagents at an industry forum without newsagents having a reasonable right of reply. But maybe that is how publishers like it, maybe they don’t want to mix with newsagents. We do, after all, only sell 50 per cent of magazines sold in Australia.

Sheffield

Sheffield: Urged newsagents to set tougher standards

Nicole Sheffield, the CEO of NewsLifeMedia says we need to exert more control on the titles we receive. Ash Hunter, chairman of Publishers Australia and CEO of Hunterfive Group, says newsagents entering the channel are of a poor standard.

While these opinions could be factors in challenges for magazines, they are only opinions. Sheffield, Hunter and other publishers ought to look at the facts. They took what was a specialist channel and took from it around 50 per cent of magazine revenue and gifted it to supermarkets and convenience stores.

This new competitive landscape facilitated by the publishers left newsagents with less profitable titles. Newsagents are now, finally, responding by reducing retail space and labour they invest in the magazine channel. This is causing newsagents to not display all the magazine inventory sent as they no longer have the space for it.

Indeed, there is a fundamental disconnect between the retail space available in newsagencies and the inventory sent. Talk to magazine distributors Gordon & Gotch and Network Services and they will agree – they do not know the retail space allocated to magazines and that they do not know is not a factor in what they send. Nuts!

If Australia wants a profitable magazine publishing channel it needs a profitable route to market. Newsagents are the best opportunity. Plenty of them want to be the magazine specialist, a destination for the magazine shopper. But the numbers do not work. The numbers could work if publishers ignored supermarkets and helped direct more magazine traffic to news agencies.

news agency

My proposal is simple – make newsagents the magazine specialists by only supplying them.

This single move, of choosing to place titles exclusively in the newsagency channel, would encourage newsagent support. I am not talking here about one or two titles. No, I am talking about hundreds of titles, popular titles, titles in the top 200 even. Place these exclusively in the news agency channel and you change the game, you get the attention of newsagents, you push back against the supermarkets and you respect your product.

Publish Conference: Sheffield told the audience that newsagents should raise their standards

Publish Conference: Sheffield told the audience that newsagents should get tough with publishers

While I am confident that a bold move such as I outline here would benefit publishers and newsagents it would need careful negotiating, involving many titles and requiring thoughtful newsagent engagement. And, yes, there would need to be a discussion on margin. Rent and labour in retail are considerable expenses and titles not paying their way serve no purpose in any retail business. However, margin can be considered in various forms. For example, there could be a base stocking fee or some other levy to support the category.

If sought after product is only available in one channel then the two main parties to such a relationship, the publisher and newsagents, ought to benefit. We would have a shared commercial objective, far more so than exists today.

My call to Sheffield, Hunter and other magazine publishers with opinions about magazines in newsagencies is simple – engage with us, invite us to your conferences, work with us on an alternative model as the current model is not working for anyone. Oh, and don’t engage with the newsagent associations as they are out of touch on this and most other issues as history has shown.

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