A blog on issues affecting Australia's newsagents, media and small business generally. More ...

Author: Mark

Publishers need to revisit newsagent communication

Magazine publishers often complain that newsagents don’t read the material they send out.  While this may be true, instead of complaining about lack of engagement publishers should explore other ways of getting the attention of newsagents.

There is a sameness to communications … often boring.  They tend to not respect that newsagents are time poor.  They are often unclear in their call to action.

What I want publishers to tell me is:

What is special about this issue? Tell me what I need to know to make more money.  If there is a newsagent only free gift, tell me.  If there is placement which will drive sales, tell me.  If there is a story which will be controversial, tell me.

Where should the magazine be situated? remind me of this in every communication.

Who are you targeting? Tell me.  I might look at the magazine and make a wrong assumption.  Be specific and don’t leave it to chance that I get it.Your information could drive engagement aimed at connecting with your target buyer.

How are you driving traffic to my newsagency? Let me know what you are doing to drive people to my shop looking for your title.  This will encourage me to engage with your marketing spend.

I am more likely take notice of material which helps me reflect my point of difference, as a magazine specialist, and helps me drive sales.  I urge magazine publishers to think about this when they are next preparing communication for newsagents.

In supermarkets publishers don’t have the luxury of this communication.   The best they can hope for is that a magazine is put into the pocket for which the publisher pays.  In newsagencies we have a more valuable and cost effective model for publishers – where local engagement can be encouraged through better communication.

The next time a magazine publisher representative complains that newsagents have not engaged, they ought to wonder if this was because of poor communication.

magazine distribution

Vodka promotion brings Usher to GQ magazine

AdNews has reported that the next issue of GQ magazine will play a tune from Usher as readers turn the pages.  The magazine will come with headphones and a miniature stereo to play the song … all in pursuit of promoting a the limited edition Belvedere RED super premium vodka. now, if only there was a sampler of the Belvedere product with the magazine – that would be sublime.

The lack of vodka aside, this sounds like a terrific promotion.


Offering the AFL Football Record doubles sales

mags-aflrec-2011.JPGWe have already doubled last year’s sales of the AFL Football Record – grand final edition.  In just one day, yesterday, we have doubled what we sold in five days last year.  We did this by offering it to customers across the counter, by promoting it with the display in the photo and with tactical placement next to the newspapers.  The excellent sales result is a testament to the wonderful support of our team in asking shoppers if they would like a copy – who said newsagents can’t get their team members engaging with shoppers abut products?!

The terrific result goes to show what we can achieve by leveraging the shopper traffic in our businesses.  The McDonald’s approach of would you like fries with that works when you run it with the right offer and the right time.yesterday, with two Victorian teams in the AFL grand final, the timing was perfect.

What makes the result even better is that we have made the sales and will bank the results close to four weeks ahead of when we have to pay for the stock.  I mention this to go on the record as indicating that there are times when the magazine distribution model works in our favour.


Maxim cover up for supermarkets

mags-maximsuper.JPGIt may be that the cover of Maxim magazine was a bit much for supermarkets.  The photo shows a copy I saw at a Woolworths supermarket yesterday.  In addition to the issue being bagged to hold a razor, there is a paper sleeve wrapped around the cover to hide the semi-nakedness of Ruby Rose.  Click here to see the cover of the newsagent copy as I blogged yesterday.  I’d note that Maxim is not the only magazine supermarkets appear to like covered or bagged.


Promoting Top Gear magazine

mags-topgearoct11.JPGWe are promoting the latest issue of Top Gear with this aisle end promotion facing the men’s area we have just created in-store.

This display is in addition to a half waterfall giving the full front cover of the magazine prominence in our magazine fixturing.

While the magazine is in a sealed package, there is enough information on the display to demonstrate the value.  We certainly offer to open a package for any shopper who wants to see for themselves what is inside.


Does the Maxim cover go too far?

mags-maximcover.JPGA customer complained to me yesterday that the cover of Maxim magazine was pornographic and that we should not have it on open display.  He held his young son, probably around 8 years old, so he could not see the cover as he shared his feelings.

This is an example of there our magazine fixtures work against us.  In old wooden magazine fixtures two thirds of the cover would have been, well, covered.  Certainly the bit of the cover shot which offended my customer the most would have been out of sight.

I understand the concern expressed to me.  However, newsagencies are public spaces offering access to a diverse range of material.  We follow the law in terms of what we display.  I am not about to go beyond the law and unreasonably censor placement.

I;d be interested in what others here think – does the cover of Maxim go too far?


News Magazines trims back on MasterChef supply

mags-mc-oct11.JPGI am pleased that News Magazines has trimmed the supply of MasterChef magazine.  On our current supply we should hit a sell through of 75%.  For previous issues we were lucky to git a 20% sell through.  The cost of space and handling the returns made me look darkly on the magazine.  With the cut in supply I can focus more on building sales.

The Maggie Beer cover in the current issue is sure to help sales.  Maggie is widely loved and respected.  Any magazine with her on the cover sees a boost in sales.  I am planning on putting this issue at the counter later this week.

I do wonder if all recent giveaways and deep discount subscription offers have impacted the MasterChef sales.  All of these deals run the risk of devaluing the product in the minds of shoppers, especially when they have so many food titles from which to choose.


Lindt chocolate does the trick for Delicious

mags-deliciouschoc.JPGWe have placed the latest issue of Delicious magazine so that the free block of Lindt chocolate which comes with the magazine can be easily seen.  This is the only way to handle such a valuable gift.  Newsagents and others who give this issue just one pocket because that ‘s what they always do are set to lose sales as a result.  This is a premium issue and it needs to be treated as such.  If we have stock left later this week we are planning on giving Delicious come counter time.


Promoting value packed Girlfriend magazine

mags-gfoct11.JPGWe are promoting the latest issue of Girlfriend magazine with a high-profile in-location display as it comes with a quality free gift on the cover.  The display has only been up a few days and already it is working, sales have been good.  I expect we will sell out of this issue.  the key is placement so that the gift can be easily seen by browsers.  This is where the more modern magazine fixturing gives newsagents better merchandising options compared too the our of date wooden magazine fixtures.


Featuring Gardening Australia

mags-gaoct11.JPGOur customers love Gardening Australia magazine so we make sure that it is easy to find when a new isssue comes out.  We give it space at the front of the gardening title section – so that the full cover can be seen.

I work on the principle that buyers of many monthly magazines rarely purchase every copy and that we as retailers have to help monthly titles.  We are able to display the full cover of 33% of all of our magazines.  We work hard to put titles in the spotlight which respond to this attention.  This means placement such that the full cover is easily seen – as is the case with the latest issue of Gardening Australia.  The photo shows exactly how the title looks in-store.


Due diligence tips if you are buying a newsagency

My work with my newsagency software company, Tower Systems, sees me get involved in many change of newsagency ownership situations. Often, the involvement is sought to help get to the bottom of a dispute. If the purchaser undertook reasonable due diligence many of the disputes I see could have been avoided.

Here is my incomplete due diligence list. I say incomplete as it is what I suggest you do which is so often forgotten:

  • Use an accountant who is knowledgeable about newsagencies to audit the figures provided by the vendor.
  • Do not use the vendor’s solicitor or accountant.
  • Request sales reports direct from the software being used in the business – for comparison against the sales numbers in the P&L.
  • Request a list of customer accounts in a spreadsheet with customer name and purchases in the last year. Look for related party transactions and large customers and ensure that their value is secured.
  • Review roster sheets with claimed hours worked.
  • Request a full list of inventory sorted by when the item last sold. Pay attention to items which have not sold in the last year.
  • Consider having the stock take on settlement done using the computer system in the business – this is far better and more accurate than having a stock take done externally. It also leaves you with a valuable asset – accurate stock on hand data.
  • Request a list of all forward orders placed in the name of the business. This is especially important leading up to major seasons such as Christmas.

This list is by no means complete. I have listed items which tend to be overlooked.

There will be some newsagents who are not happy with me publishing this list. If you have nothing to hide then why worry? Transparency around a good business can only add value.

buying a newsagency

If this is the experience of all classified advertisers

I was helping a friend manage their classified ads with a regional newspaper this week and wanted to search for one of their ads by content.  No, this was not possible.  I would have preferred to place the ad online, controlling the content myself.  No, this was not possible.   So, while the rest of the world embraces search and gets how important this is in business, this newspaper had to use some other, more arcane, method to find the ad.  The experience overall was awful, a real turn off for anyone wanting to advertise on the classified pages of this newspaper.

Media disruption

UK newsagents set to act on Guardian margin cut

The Guardian newspaper in the UK this week increased the price of its weekday edition from £1 to £1.20 and cut its retailer margin at the same time from 25 per cent to 24 per cent.  This has resulted in understandable anger among newsagents as reported by the Press Gazette.  This is not the first newspaper margin cut in the UK this year.  Maybe it’s a (bad) sign of the times.

Newsagency challenges

Excellent visual merchandising of 2012 diaries

diaries-2012.JPGClick on the image to see an excellent visual merchandising display of 2012 diaries created by the team at one of my newsagencies.  This display is different to our usual diary display.  Most newsagents prefer to stack diaries on the shelves.  This display embraces the colour and shapes of the products.  The result is a boost in browsing and this, of course, drives sales.  It’s an excellent display in my view and will help us drive better diary sales than last year.

The challenge for newsagents is to go beyond the usual in displaying products like diaries and being creative.  If you’re not sure what to do, ask someone – there are plenty of visual merchandising experts who can help.  The photo itself offers excellent ideas.


Promoting Wheels and car magazines

mags-wheelsoct11.JPGThe team at on of my stores is cleverly promoting our car magazine sections with this front of store Wheels magazine display.

While the display itself is terrific, it is their specially made sign at the bottom off the sign letting our shoppers know that we have more car magazines at the back off the store which I see as a really smart move.

We have to grab every opportunity available to us.


The newsagent position re magazines is stronger

mags-overallsmall.jpgRecent (welcome) moves by Express Publications offering greater commission for all newsagents plus other commercial moves by some publishers reflect a shift in the newsagent / magazine publisher relationship. Publishers are demonstrating that they get the importance of our channel and are prepared to negotiate terms which reflect this.

While we have a way to go to achieve what supermarkets achieve with their various methods of compensation, the recent moves show that we are in a period of change, welcome change.

The newsagents best positioned to leverage the commercial benefits which could be available to us are those who manage their magazine department professionally and with great care from the top of the business down.

While I have noted here previously the challenges for magazine sales, they remain one of the most in not the most important product category in our stores.

Newsagents who leave managing magazines to a junior or unengaged employee do so at their own peril.

I obsess about magazines because I know that a good magazine department drives traffic and sales basket efficiency.

Publishers will treat newsagents differently. Those who engage are set to make more money than those who do not.


Free newspapers causing difficulties for newsagents

I have heard stories from four newsagents this week where customers have complained that the newsagent wanted to charge for a newspaper which was free elsewhere. It is bound to happen given the growth in outlets where newspapers are given away: airports, gyms, coffee shops, supermarkets. All of these free newspapers are educating shoppers and newsagents are having to deal with this.

My view is that any supplier respecting their product would not give it away as freely as newspaper publishers appear to be prepared to do right now, especially not when they have retailers who rely on newspaper sales for their businesses and who support newspapers and newspaper promotions.

If publishers do not address this and respect retail newsagents there will be a clash.

The best solutions is that publishers stop giving away their product.

Newsagency challenges

Promoting Cleo magazine

mags-cleosep2011.JPGClick on the image for a larger version of another stunning visual merchandising display by Renee.  This time it’s her selection of backing colours which have helped make this display promoting Cleo stand out at the front of our newsagency.  Good displays need to get people to turn their heads, stop and engage with the product on offer.  This display does that thanks more to how Renee is supporting thee collateral provided by ACP Magazines as well as the magazine itself.  Be sure to click on the image.


Fun gift products help make shopping more enjoyable

gift-hypo.JPGAs I blogged recently, we have been having some fun with a range of ‘pills’ like this one.  While it looks like a pill, it is actually a 10cm long foam stress ball – for the hypochondriac.  Shoppers laugh when they get what the product is.  Some then proceed to list who it would be ideal for.

Sales have been good – from a very simple hang sell display on a gift table facing into the shopping mall.

I like this type of product because it offers an unexpectedly enjoyable experience to most who notice it.  It is bound to help drive good word of mouth for our business too.  Plus, it broadens our range of gifts.

Gifts can mean so many things from the high end item for the home through to this simple and inexpensive stress ball.


Express Publications reacts to tough magazine conditions

The continuing decline in overall magazine sales has led to another publisher responding in an effort to get the attention of newsagents. Express Publications last week announced better margin and a reduced on-sale period for their titles in newsagencies. The move will see newsagents achieve 30% margin for some Express titles and 32.5% for other titles. This is a significant move from the usual 25% margin for magazines.

While I welcome the move, Express has not addressed the issue of bagged magazines (and the high retail space cost they represent), the expense of full copy returns or the desire among newsagents for a fair sell through target.

I would like Express to reduce their reliance on bagged product, eliminate full copy returns and set a minimum target sell through rate of 60% with a payment to newsagents if a title does not achieve the target.

Express could reasonably respond that they cannot afford to make these extra moves. The challenge is that newsagents cannot continue to carry the cost of full copy returns or a sell through rate of less than 60%.

Express also announced the new position of Director of Circulation. They devalued this good news by hiding contact behind a generic email address. Any company serious about customer service makes access to a real and named person easy by publishing direct contact numbers and a direct contact email address.  This could be easily fixed.

If Express made contact easier and more personal and addressed the other points I have noted they would win wild applause and support newsagents. They could expect their titles to receive special treatment and greater sales as a result.

magazine subscriptions

Enhancing the Cookbook display

Another change from our recent magazine relay in the placement of our ACP cookbooks. We have increased the space allocation in an effort to drive sales of all formats. We have the new titles co-located with food titles in the women’s magazine aisle and the full range as shown below in another aisle.

You can see that we are giving the mini cookbooks equal space with the regular size titles. This is designed to lift sales of the mini cookbooks.


We will continue to treat launch titles differently with placement in impulse units at the front of the newsagency.

While we would have preferred to fit the full cookbook range in our women’s magazine aisle, this was not possible if we were to maintain a professional display of magazines.


Great start to 2012 diary sales

diaries2012.JPGOur range of diaries for 2012 from The Last Diary Company and other companies have been selling well over the last three weeks. There are plenty of shoppers who are keen to get in early and purchase their diary which this year is barely two thirds old. We’re not doing anything special to promote the range other than have a terrific display set up in the aisle which also carries our food magazines.

Newsagents can own diaries. With other retailers play in this space, it is easy for us to own it in terms of range.

Diary customers are loyal. They will return to the retailer who provided the diary they prefer.


Newsagents scrambling to avoid the XchangeIT penalty

XchangeIT has written to newsagents who have consistently failed their timeliness, quality and or other criteria for sending magazine sales data from their businesses.  This action was first forecast over a year ago with regular reminders published since.

A flaw has been discovered in the timeliness criteria which XchangeIT has agreed to review.  This is where a newsagent may run their end of shift process prior to the end of the day, for sound operational reasons, and have some trading on that date before closing the business for the day.

Colleagues at my newsagency software company Tower Systems are navigating this gap in how XchangeIT expects newsagents to operate their businesses versus how some newsagents do operate their businesses.  The gap means that some newsagents who do send data recording all sales are set to be penalised because sales data for a day could be split across two sales files.

Immediately on being informed of the situation XchangeIT agreed to investigate.

In the meantime, I urge newsagents to treat the issue seriously and review their EDI related processes to avoid the XchangeIT penalty.

Footnote: if only magazine distributors would accept penalties for consistently poor performance as they are now imposing on newsagents through their XchangeIT operation.  The fines would cripple them.  Double standards are on show here.

Newsagent representation

Strengthening the Women’s magazine offer

In the relay undertaken in one of my newsagencies on Saturday I have intensified the focus on women’s magazines, bringing more categories and segments of women’s titles into the one aisle, to make it easier for women to browse and purchase magazines. Previously, women had to shop three aisles to access the selection they can now see in one aisle.

It was a challenge to meet the goal of consolidating women’s magazines in the relay. We were aided by our flexible fixtures which carry more copies of each title per pocket than the usual magazine fixtures.


While it is very early days for the new relay we are very happy with the performance so far.

I’d urge all newsagents to look at their magazine layout and put in the effort for a relay if it has been more than a year since the last relay.

Footnote: the photo only shows one said of our women’s aisle.