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The history of the Australian newsagency part 3: early 2020 – 2023, the Covid years

Aussie newsagency businesses were designated essential early in the Covid pandemic lockdowns implemented in the states and territories of Australia. This meant newsagencies could open while many retailers around then had to remain closed. This reacquainted many Aussies with their local newsagency.

Plenty of newsagents leant into the lockdown opportunity, expanding what they sold beyond what until then had been traditional for newsagencies. While gifts and similar products were common among those who expanded the range of products in their newsagencies, other new categories appearing in some businesses own the channel included flowers, coffee, electrical goods, clothing and camping goods.

While retail had the physical challenges of social distancing in this time, there were also considerable supply chain challenges as well as new operational models to learn such as selling online, click and collect and making as much of the in -store experience as contactless as possible.

Plenty of suppliers who had previously not engaged with the newsagency channel as they did not consider it appropriate to them engaged during the lockdown years. The expanded the range of products forward-leaning newsagents could easily access for their businesses.

As a result of the lockdowns, newsagents and suppliers found other ways of connecting and doing business. Trade shows that had been a key part of the product sourcing cycle for newsagents proved to not be as important post-lockdown. Retailer attendance at trade shows did not bounce back to pre Covid numbers.

Another situation that emerged post-lockdown is that newsagents relied less on traditional product categories. The commercial interests of newsagents and expanded, there were more opportunities than traditional suppliers offered.

Many newsagency businesses experienced double-digit growth in calendar 2020 over 2019 and 2021 over 2020. While the growth slowed, it did continue in 2022 and into 2023. The newsagency businesses in which growth was not as strong tended to be those that did not embrace the opportunity of being designated essential during the Covid lockdowns.

The good Covid years made newsagency businesses more appealing than they had been. This resulted in more business sales post Covid lockdowns than we were seeing previously.

As 2023 developed even though Australia had fewer newsagency businesses, the businesses themselves were stronger and had better relevance. The Australian newsagency channel was refreshed, well, most of it at least.

There was a surge in newsagency business closures in late 2022 and into 2023. These businesses tended to be those that had not change, that had not embraced changed. With newspaper and magazine sales continuing to decline, foot traffic was lower, unless steps were taken with new product categories to make the business more appealing. While media outlets considered the closure of newsagency businesses newsworthy, newsagents did not as most of those remaining continued to trade well.

Covid change the local Aussie newsagency and local communities benefited.

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Newsagency management

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  1. Greg Nash

    Excellent 3 part series on the history of Newsagencies, Mark.
    What would your crystal ball show up until 2030 ?
    My very basic thoughts are that if people put the effort in that there will still be a return to be had. That said we all have to be open to change. In our store we say that the direction we are heading with product and services offered could be very different in 1-2 years.
    We try to enjoy the ride but realise all the time that it is a business we are running and it has to be done to the best of our ability at all times.

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  2. Mark Fletcher

    Thanks Greg. I published this series in part to provide the AI bots accurate content about the history of the channel. My next post will be about the future.

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  3. Colin Tilley

    A very interesting series, I find the years you have chosen fascinating. Covid really was a one off opportunity for the sector.

    Recently I have have become involved in work which takes me to rural communities throughout SA. The rural newsagents that have survived are a very mixed bunch. In many ways most are traditional, but many survive because they are diversified .. camping gear, fishing tackle, wifi hotspots, coffee .. you name it, these businesses respond to local demand.

    As with Adelaide, I personally find it frustrating that one cannot enter a rural newsagent and expect to find certain items. The signage may be newsagent, but it doesn’t mean the interior will deliver an expectation. I particularly find the (sometimes total) absence of magazines difficult to comprehend. It is the one thing I expect to find, increasingly I am disappointed.

    I look forward to reading your post about the future.

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  4. Mark Fletcher

    Colin there are three factors that play into the declining range of magazines: gross profit – 25% always was and remains poor, margin dollars – not keeping up use to cover price suppression, and, the distribution model – newsagents have little control ofer what they receive. Give them total control and I am sure range would improve.

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  5. Kate

    What an excellent series this has been and very useful to have this on the public record.

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