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‘We don’t have it in stock but I can order it for you!’ The words that are the death knell for small bookshops, according to Harry Mount, writing in the FT.
He points out that thanks to Amazon he can order it himself and the book will be delivered straight to his door. Mr Mount’s article is entitled: Shed no tears for the death of the old bookshop. He is confident that book shops may survive but only if they get the emotional pitch correct. They need to provide a quiet yet communal atmosphere in which shoppers can sift through ideas.
It all sounds a bit fancy but the magazine retailer has something to learn. What Mr Mount describes is the commoditisation of buying books. In my local bookshop, when I ask for a book that they don’t have, they suggest that they can order it for me. That means I must remember to come back. It also means if their wholesaler is out-of-stock then there will be more delays. I have never said yes.
But what might make me say yes? This was the question that Mr Mount does not address. I am sure that if the book shop assistant was to tell me that it was an excellent book and they wanted to read it themselves and they would love to order me a copy, then I might say yes. Instead, the look I get suggests why don’t I look around and find another book, there are plenty in the shop.
What is the analogy for the magazine market. In an insight article published last year, Marketforce director Christine Lucas said that readers don’t really care where they buy their magazines – just as long as they can get hold of them easily and conveniently. Ten years ago, when we organised the World of Magazines, our research showed people did care and a great many would go to WHSmith if they wanted to buy a magazine. What can have changed? The arrival of the supermarket, which is now seen, according to Ms Lucas as the “mainstay of magazine sales”.
However, her research of WHSmith shoppers suggest many do still see it as a destination for magazine purchases, with 40 per cent visiting purely to buy a magazine. What would they do if the magazine was not available? A third said they would opt for subscription copies. A quarter said they would go to a local newsagent. But more than one in 10 said they didn’t know where they would go.
One problem is that selling magazines has been commoditised. By selling publications on sale or return, publishers control the supply of copy, which gives supermarkets an edge. Local retailers may not like this but think about the situation in these terms. Supermarket A says 10 million people will walk past your magazine on shelf A. Shop B says 1000 people will walk past your magazine on shelf B. Which gets your attention?
Another problem is magazine publishers don’t know where to invest. Consider PPA boss Barry McIlheney’s remarks as published by Retail Newsagent: “For pretty much the entire industry: headline print figure might be down a bit, website up yet again, big growth in the radio station, massive surge on the Twitter followers, ditto the Facebook page, total brand reach now into the millions.”
The lack of focus could become self-fulfilling. Brain Murphy of the NFRN, also talking to Retail Newsagent, said: “The battle for retail space will not become easier because of the lack of titles, new or otherwise. It will become harder as other consumer products seize the opportunity opening before them.”
As if to underline that opportunity, Retail Newsagent’s slim Best Sellers update on the magazine market was preceeded by an advertisement for Clipstrips, an innovation from Pepsico so that local retailers can get crisps closer to their till points.
How will the industry respond? “The future is to continue the focus on category initiatives and to work hard on category adjacencies, display and range management in store,” suggests Paul Keenan of Bauer Media. The problem, Paul, is it doesn’t compare with Pepsico’s promise: “Site at till points to increase slaes by up to 30 per cent.”
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