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Inviting magazine publishers to speak up about ignorant early return behaviour

Mark Fletcher
August 28th, 2014 · 40 Comments

I had a discussion with Terry Thelwell of Lovatts at the NANA Newsagent of the Year Awards in Sydney last week about the poor behaviour of some newsagents in early returning magazines. Terry and I have discussed this often and the data Lovatts has of newsagents early returning to a point where they have considerably less on the shelves than their usual sales of titles.

Lovatts is not alone experiencing ill-considered early returns where newsagents deny themselves sales they would have achieved. Many publishers have told me their stories and other stories about newsagents who then call saying they need more stock – because early returns too much stock.

The purpose of this post is to open the topic for magazine publishers to share their comments about early returns. Ideally, I’d like to see specific examples of where newsagents have hurt themselves through ill-considered early returns.

This is a serious topic because it could drive a self fulfilling prophecy about magazines in newsagencies. The poor behaviour of some could ultimately see a publisher or more flee our channel.

So publishers, share your stories…

12 likes

Category: magazine distribution · Magazine oversupply · magazines

40 responses so far ↓

  • 1 shauns // Aug 28, 2014 at 6:57 AM

    You cannot early return lovatts tittles ?

    1 likes

  • 2 Mark Fletcher // Aug 28, 2014 at 7:32 AM

    Didn’t say that Shaun. Many newsagents do and deny themselves sales they absolutely would have achieved. Dumb.

    0 likes

  • 3 Michael // Aug 28, 2014 at 8:14 AM

    We had a little contact with Lovatts when they approached us about early returns over a year ago. We explained how we go about our procedures and why it is necessary and that sometimes things do get caught in the crossfire so to speak.

    They were awesome, providing us with full sales data which was comparable to our computer stats, they were willing to engage with us and run a promo to help boost sales.

    They also understood our stance on early returns as a whole and understands why the cash flow portion of a newsagency is important. True professionals and since then they have implemented the delayed billing on (possibly all) of their titles. Which means they now stay on the shelves since we do have the space.

    Cant speak highly enough about this publisher despite my general feelings towards our distributors.

    4 likes

  • 4 Terry Thelwell // Aug 28, 2014 at 8:58 AM

    Mark, thanks for opening this much needed discussion. I have no doubt that at times we are also guilty of oversupply but this is never our intention. As always I welcome contact from agents who feel aggrieved about their supply from Lovatts. Agents, Publishers and Distributors need to work closely together to ensure we’re all still around in 20 years.

    I understand why and indeed encourage newsagents to early return magazines.

    However be selective. Your POS system is your best friend, use it accordingly.

    All crosswords aren’t the same, although some do look very similar. If it sells for you keep it, if it doesn’t send it back.

    Alas we see numerous examples of frustrated agents sending copies back on the first day which have a proven sales history and subsequently losing sales. We’re lucky to have loyal readers, they will then go elsewhere to buy those magazines.

    This may seem like a negative post but we’re very happy with the general support we receive from the Newsagency channel.

    7 likes

  • 5 Brett // Aug 28, 2014 at 9:21 AM

    Terry and Lovatts are champions.

    Their supply numbers are 99.9% correct. The product sells and they even pop in from time to time to drop off some goodies and have a chat.

    Any agent that needs advice on this product can talk to Lovatts with confidence. They are very much part of the team.

    4 likes

  • 6 Stacey // Aug 28, 2014 at 11:16 AM

    Lovatts aren’t an issue for us. I’ve instructed my staff to keep “branded”puzzler publications but the generic rubbish (mostly from GG) isn’t to touch the shelves. Despite requesting many of those titles to be removed from supply they still arrive. We have begun using the early return feature on Tower and makes life much easier as it takes the guess work out.

    1 likes

  • 7 jenny // Aug 28, 2014 at 1:59 PM

    Ditto to all these positive comments, Terry you are doing a great job for us and Lovatts!

    0 likes

  • 8 ken // Aug 28, 2014 at 2:16 PM

    Terry, surely lovatts has the power to stop network services from oversupplying their products or are you also dictated to by distributors?? They show no respect to me or my ability to set my own supply and as such everytime they lift my numbers needlessly i further reduce my magazine levels (lovatts included)and replace them with more giftware or art supplies or clothing or stationary or whatever. Every newsagency is different some choose to get rid of lotto ,some cigarettes some stationary but in my case magazines are too time consuming and stressful.They just are not worth it.

    0 likes

  • 9 Terry Thelwell // Aug 28, 2014 at 2:26 PM

    No Ken, we are not dictated to by Network.
    In fact, Network are working closely with us to reduce supply. Contact me on terryt@lovattsmedia.com and I’ll work with you to ensure your supply is at the level your happy with while maintaining sales.

    2 likes

  • 10 Paul // Aug 28, 2014 at 4:35 PM

    So publishers, share your stories…
    Lets just see how many publishers are going to. I bet they all read this blog and if history is anything to go by i bet we don’t get anymore
    Well done Terry at least you have commented Now where are the rest of you

    3 likes

  • 11 June // Aug 28, 2014 at 4:36 PM

    slightly off topic (right company though Bauer).
    We were missing 19 copies of Yen magazine last week (21/8) and I put it on
    netonline as a shortage together with 6 limelight.
    I got a message on the bottom of the submission to network that said it was a
    very large shortage and they would have to reassess it ????? and they would ring me on my phone no (on the screen too) to let me know the outcome.
    I have heard nothing and have received no
    stock so I checked my sales and I sell between 7 and 14 Yen so they have cost me dearly.
    We then have to go through the “”do you have a secure drop”” (yes we allow the driver a key so he brings our stock into our shop).
    It is so unsatisfactory and it is a patronising service. I wouldn’t be wasting my time on netonline IF I DIDN’T HAVE A PROBLEM.
    Second part of the story. I was 6 short for limelight magazine. The invoice had been altered (before we got the stock) and
    the 6 were obviously removed – HOWEVER, DON’T THINK THAT YOU WILL AUTOMATICALLY GET YOUR CREDIT FOLKS – you STILL have to go to netonline and you will find that you have been billed for the full amount, so you have to record the credit for these also.
    Heaven help any new incumbents into this industry. It is weighted against us and it
    is so wrong.

    2 likes

  • 12 June // Aug 28, 2014 at 4:40 PM

    Forgot to add that I was a bulk short of
    AWW this morning.
    If I add up my shortages I could take a holiday on the amount.
    Check all invoices carefully folks and mark off your consignment notes.
    Product that doesn’t have labels (AWW) must be counted very carefully and noted before you put them up for sale.
    One missing bulk (10 AWW) is $69.95 in turnover.

    2 likes

  • 13 Carol // Aug 28, 2014 at 5:10 PM

    Returning magazine on the first day is usually because we know they are not going to be given space on our already over loaded shelves. Just how many wedding titles do I need when we have two or three wedding a year on the town. Yes we can sell Pig Hunting mags and DVD’s but just how many can I allocate space too. This applies to all sections. Perhaps it is time the suppliers checked with all newsagents to see just what space we have available. We do use our POS to regulate returns but often we have to make a choice just what we have space for.

    5 likes

  • 14 Shayne // Aug 28, 2014 at 5:33 PM

    Carol sometimes I think it’s just a case of each distributor assuming that we all have 8000 pockets of magazines and unlimited funds to pay for it all. We are a small country town. If we stopped early returning we would quickly need to take over Mitre 10 next door to fit it all in.

    6 likes

  • 15 June // Aug 28, 2014 at 6:07 PM

    Last week of the month for returns.
    Finished scanning at 11.38 am today and sent via xchangeit.
    It is now 5.37 pm and still no returns on
    netonline so that I can finish my work ready for the returns to be collected early tomorrow morning.
    I never wait any more than 30 minutes each week for the rest of the month but the last returns date for the month is always running late.
    Anyone else have this hassle or don’t bauer like me

    0 likes

  • 16 Bill W // Aug 28, 2014 at 7:23 PM

    The issue will not be resolved until there is some true leadership in the category.
    Who takes this lead? No one is willing to step up. What ever happened to the MPA I think it was called?
    Until a total category approach, with the consumer as the focus, dealing with range, space, layout appearance, price and promotion, with buy in from all stakeholders is put in place the category will continue to be used as a dumping ground for over inflated volumes to meet advertising commitments not sales expectations.
    I would like a publisher to tell me I’m wrong.

    2 likes

  • 17 Mark Darton // Aug 29, 2014 at 10:05 AM

    Mark Darton here from Universal Magazines, thank you for the opportunity to contribute. We publish 48 different brands across a wide range of interest sectors. Our portfolio includes Wellbeing magazine, Grand Designs Australia, Home Design, Homespun, Dirt Action & Kitchens and Bathrooms.

    Early returns are a major frustration to our business and a major source of cost for us and some of our newsagent customers.

    The main issue we observe is there are no defining rules as to what constitutes over supply. For examples some retailers want to sell out of a publication where as a publisher we would say how many more sales could you have made.

    In regard to the number of titles in a category it is often difficult for a retailer to understand which should be displayed and will have the best chance of selling and which should not.

    We would welcome the opportunity to agree a basis of supply that ensured display of our titles with no early returns. Our problem is who do we agree this with. I perceive many publishers feel the same way.

    1 likes

  • 18 Ted // Aug 29, 2014 at 10:07 AM

    Terry #11- You may work with the distributors, but the distrubtors do not or will not work with the newsagents. It amazes me that the blame always seem to be put on the newsagents. If the distributors would lift their game I think you would see a big improvment.
    I congatulate you on talking on this blog. Its a shame the other publishers don’t seem to think highly enough of the channel to comment.

    1 likes

  • 19 Bill W // Aug 29, 2014 at 1:28 PM

    Mark Darton #17 – why does there need to be a rule? The answer is to use the market intelligence offered by each retailer and let them set their own supply in advance, with a cap on a maximum, but no minimum.
    I would hate to mention how many times I’m short delivered a title, then find there is none left to re-supply.

    0 likes

  • 20 Brett // Aug 29, 2014 at 1:49 PM

    Mark Darton,

    I think we can all agree that if we are returning one copy at the end of the on sale period then supply numbers were great.

    I also think publishers greatly underestimate the experience of the newsagent in setting quantities. It is the agent that speaks daily with their customers.

    EDI numbers are available – they have been running for many many years. The intelligence those numbers hold is vital to the supply model.

    An agent getting 6 of a title is not alarmed at getting 7 from time to time, the problem is when they get 20. Now, it may be that there is a good reason for the 20 but from my experience the agent is not privy to that reason, nor are they given the option to opt in should that reason be a compelling one.

    Oversupply is an easy issue to fix. Use the data we pay to supply daily and don’t surprise us with large quantity changes.

    If its marketing that is pushing a large quantity change then be courteous and pay for that. You could pay by simply charging us on a per copy sold model or a 50-100% margin offer or a simple cash up front offer for the costs involved in that products arrival, handling, display, shrinkage and return.

    The problem the agents have is we are not involved in the decisions, we merely get issued what others have decided to issue. I would love to be in touch with the publishers and agree on supply – chance would be a fine thing!

    3 likes

  • 21 rick // Aug 29, 2014 at 1:56 PM

    There is ample evidence that the mag dist system is broken, just no one can agree on a replacement model. Purely and simply we should only be charged for copies scanned as being sold and no returns required, for the dishonest out there, set some very harsh penalties ie stop supply forever if they are caught cheating the system.

    1 likes

  • 22 Mark Darton // Aug 29, 2014 at 3:42 PM

    Bill W – There needs to be industry rules or guide lines that we can all work to and get on with selling magazines rather than administering them, in my opinion.

    Brett – The distributors commercial and physical supply model is not currently set up to handle just in time delivery using scanned sales data across a broad base of publications.
    Any change to trading terms needs to work for us all Publisher, Distributor and Newsagent we are all very linked.
    We have just used a “Set your own supply” system via Network for our Diaries this year and the results have been good, we will use it again for our Calendars too. May be we will broaden this approach.

    0 likes

  • 23 Brett // Aug 29, 2014 at 5:14 PM

    Mark,

    Thanks for your contribution.

    I would like to see a root and branch change to the model. Personally a 50% margin firm sale would suit me – happy to be part of a trial if needed. We would need to talk about the supply numbers obviously and we would need to maintain open channels to make the numbers work for both the publisher and the agent.

    I think that model would work best in 2014.

    1 likes

  • 24 Mark Fletcher // Aug 29, 2014 at 5:44 PM

    Mark, newsagents need to set the rules as decades of distributors and publishers doing this have got us to where we are today – close to the brink. I have something I’ll publish tomorrow on this.

    0 likes

  • 25 Bill W // Aug 29, 2014 at 6:39 PM

    Mark Darton, yes what you did with diaries was excellent, and I ordered more than the suggested allocation in total.
    Personally I would like to see something along the line of what you were operating at NDD. We were able to view some or all of our titles and make changes to advanced forecasts. These changes would need to stick.
    I know it’s not a title of yours, but for example All About Soap, I put a way 1 copy for a customer, have done so for 10 years, I have never sold a single copy to anyone else so I made the decision not to carry it on shelf. I continue to get 2 copies then 3 etc. just a waste of everyone’s time. Then multiply that by an every increasing tail of small sellers.
    The current rule seems to be take the maximum sale of a title in the past 12 months and the send 2-3 times the amount in the hope that it might sell. Hope doesn’t give me a return on my time or money invested. Returns of 40-50% still with supplying scan data is a joke.

    1 likes

  • 26 peter // Aug 29, 2014 at 10:35 PM

    Oversupply?

    Don’t know how much simpler I can give you a definition, but it is when we get more magazines than we sell!!

    Lets cut to the chase here though, distributers do not care about oversupply, nor do they care about the welfare of newsagencies nor getting a better model.

    Where a large organisation makes its money from purely the amount of magazines it sends out to our smaller retail outlets, then the outcome will always be oversupply.

    Early returns are the only way to clear our shelves for the next round of magazines.

    We have a list of over 60 mags from both major distributers to cull completely at the moment. We have been receiving these since last cull nearly 12 months ago, without any getting to the shelf because they are proven to not sell in our shop. Obviously the data system for the distributors is not looked at, I wonder why? Distributors have still made money on these mags, we have lost by the return costs and handling.

    I don’t mind the current commissions and return policies, but to deliberately profiteer from oversupply, then have newsagencies foot the return is a corrupt practice.

    There are 2 ways to make profit, selling goods, or selling services. Oversupply is neither of these.

    How are publishers paid? I have no idea.

    5 likes

  • 27 Mark Fletcher // Aug 30, 2014 at 5:24 AM

    Peter, publishers are paid based on sales. Distribution out is done on a fee for service basis as is returns back in. So, their needs are aligned with ours.

    But some publishers are also part of the problem requiring all copies supplied to be distributed.

    If distributors were not supplied too many copies to start with newsagents could not be oversupplied.

    0 likes

  • 28 shauns // Aug 30, 2014 at 6:45 AM

    If distributors were not supplied too many copies to start with newsagents could not be oversupplied.

    That is the key problem if they didn’t print so many there wouldn’t be a need to send them all out

    1 likes

  • 29 Ross // Aug 30, 2014 at 8:28 AM

    Shauns I reckon you’re right. This may seem like an over simplification, but how much money must be wasted by over printing an issue which ultimately ends up in the waste container. Surely we would all be better off if commonsense prevailed

    0 likes

  • 30 shauns // Aug 30, 2014 at 9:04 AM

    If you give NDC 10000 copies they are going to deliver 10000 copies pretty simple really they are not going to store them, so as far as I am concerned our supply problems lay with the magazine company them selves they cannot pass the buck .

    0 likes

  • 31 Lisa // Sep 1, 2014 at 10:06 PM

    Thank you Mark, for the opportunity to join in the discussion! As an extremely green and very niche publisher I have no say in how our title is distributed other than (as Shauns has said) to control the number of magazines being printed and distributed.

    After learning about the early return process (yes, I’m very green in this industry) I focussed all of our marketing on driving would-be readers to newsagents and instead of the drop in online sales I expected, we saw an increase caused by readers who went out to newsagents listed on our site and couldn’t get a copy. We received this on the 29th of August: “I went to 6 different newsagencies listed on your site and none of them had them, so I ended up just buying it online”.

    Early returns are incredibly frustrating, newsagents have so much control over the success of my small business. I’m very interested to know how we can work with newsagents to keep our title on shelves long enough for readers to come out and buy them.

    1 likes

  • 32 Mark Fletcher // Sep 2, 2014 at 6:34 AM

    Lisa, start with getting your distributor to stop oversupplying. This is the first step to better engagement by newsagents.

    1 likes

  • 33 Brett // Sep 2, 2014 at 7:33 AM

    I have this Mag on the shelf, we are up to edition three now. I have yet to sell one however. While quality is high and the cookery is fine I think the price point is the killer.

    1 likes

  • 34 Chris // Sep 2, 2014 at 2:08 PM

    Lisa, as a publisher I would be asking NDC for a theory on how they supply?
    And you have to remember we are running businesses as well. For example: in my store I received 2 of Issue 2 and sold none yet NDC sent me 4 of Issue 3. What would you do if you were in my shoes and you were receiving hundreds of titles. It is nothing personal against your title.

    3 likes

  • 35 Gregg // Sep 2, 2014 at 3:50 PM

    Lisa, the advise from Chris is correct. Ask the distributor on what basis they supply certain quantities to newsagents and ask for proof. Just to muddy the water we received 4 copies of issue 1, sales = 0. Issue 2 received 4, sales = 2. Issue 3 received 2, sales will be two again cause that’s all they supplied. Here lays the problem we have . Chris sells zero of issue 2 and has 100% increase in issue 3 ? Yet we are reduced by 50% and we sold 2 of 4 supplied in issue 2?

    BTW great looking mag and web site.

    1 likes

  • 36 Lisa // Sep 3, 2014 at 12:45 PM

    Thanks for your feedback, I’m pleased to see that I’ve already taken steps that I hope will resolve some of these problems! I had no returns/individual sales reports until last week and it’s safe to say that I was furious when I saw them. I completely understand that it isn’t personal! One store had 4, sold none, received 5, sold none, then received 9. I can’t understand what supply model would suggest this kind of distribution and I was extremely disappointed – of course that agent is going to return them, I certainly would! I have asked that they review the distribution model, but as one of their smaller clients I don’t know whether my request will be actioned. I’ve also expanded distribution into WA, NT and TAS without increasing my supply to the distributor so I hope that will see a reduction in oversupply to agents that have been carrying the title in the eastern states and SA.

    I agree the price was too high, it was a price point we needed to have to cover the cost of printing in Australia. I’ve sourced a quality printer offshore which breaks my heart a little, but reduces the cost of printing significantly and has allowed us to reduce the price which will be reflected in the fourth issue and possibly a further reduction planned for early next year if we can improve sales.

    Thanks again for your advice, if there’s something else you think I could be doing please do let me know!

    2 likes

  • 37 Chris // Sep 3, 2014 at 9:20 PM

    That’s great Lisa and hopefully this leads to a solution for all of us.
    If you are capable of informing newsagents of your title and the target market it is aimed at you may have a better chance of getting it promoted in store as there is so much for us to absorb in this market place. Plus add that it is a new Australian title by an independant publisher.

    2 likes

  • 38 Lisa // Sep 3, 2014 at 10:27 PM

    Thanks Chris, I will look at the best way to do that!

    0 likes

  • 39 June // Sep 8, 2014 at 12:38 PM

    Aust country gardens ($19.95) redistributed today for the 3rd time in 6 months. Huge mag and very pretty but it
    takes up space which on a needs based basis has to be used for NEW product not RECYCLED. Straight to returns.
    It takes me as much time to check sales on mags so that I can maximise sales and only return mags that I either cannot sell or have no room for on my shelves.
    The system for mags is broken and if it is not fixed many publishers are going to hit
    the wall because we are being drowned in product that is either unsaleable or untenable in our stores (like porn which is so available online) STRAIGHT TO RETURNS.
    I wonder why the system hasn’t been changed in 40 years – IT ISN’T WORKING.

    0 likes

  • 40 Steve // Sep 8, 2014 at 1:04 PM

    June I was surprised to see the country garden one again but not as surprised as networks SBR sending me 2 copies of Motor mags Sept issue. Why is that surprising? Because the Oct issue arrived last Thursday and the recall date for the Sept issue is today, the same date as the delivery. So now I waste my time proccessing them as returns. At least I can say I didn’t early return them as that was impossible.

    2 likes

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