By Jerry Lynch
President, Magazines & Books at Retail
Recently, newsletter publisher Bob Sacks (“BoSacks”) solicited and ran opinion pieces about the current status of the newsstand, by Baird Davis and John Harrington.
Those on the front lines are more inclined to assess the business within its real-world context: the larger retail transformation that’s underway, the real opportunities as well as challenges that this presents, and the practical efforts being made to secure our category’s future in these channels.
Simple logic and good business sense demand that all channel partners use their experience and resources to focus on creating a strategy to ensure viable, mutually profitable retail channels for our category for the future.
The supply chain has indeed seen a series of dramatic reconfigurations over the past two decades — as well as implementation of major, beneficial operational streamlining initiatives, including scan-based trading (SBT) and point-of-sale data (POS), and off-invoice retail display allowance (RDA) payments.
At this stage, many across the partner segments agree that the most effective strategic priority lies in finding ways to stabilize and ultimately grow sales.
That will require going well beyond old ways of doing business. It will require collaborating like never before to drive an innovative, coherent marketing initiative that aligns with, supports and leverages the “360 degree” and “consumer-first” paradigms now driving the media and retail businesses.
It will require that publishing and distribution players cooperate and work actively with retailers to introduce fresh, effective strategies for harnessing the unique content and audience strengths of magazines and books. By that, I mean harnessing these in all of the ways and all of the channels that both retailers and publishers now use to engage with and market to consumers.
Members of Magazines & Books at Retail — active national distributor, publisher, wholesaler and retailer executives alike — have made a start. They’ve spent significant amounts of time working together to identify opportunities to test new insights, opportunities and approaches at retail. Now we need to marshal the troops and get them into the field.
These pros see the opportunities, as well as the challenges. They know that 80% of all commodities sales still occur in bricks-and-mortar stores, and that magazines and books are still read by 90% of the population.
Yes, they grapple daily with the marketplace challenges behind the sales declines in audited magazines — but they know that there’s real, untapped potential out there, because they also see success stories. Not just the justifiably celebrated, high-profile launches like The Magnolia Journal and The Pioneer Woman Magazine, but also the positive trends among unaudited, niche titles and special interest publications (SIPs). These titles have for years now been disproving outdated assumptions about what consumers want and are willing to pay for at retail. They are serving consumer interests in every imaginable new topic area, as well as the changing trends within classic categories, with DIY guides for home improvement, expert health and lifestyle advice, and more.
MBR recently developed a presentation for channel partners to employ in a retailer outreach push. This initiative is based on the reality that retailers are now looking for every means possible to differentiate themselves amid unprecedented competition and deliver the personalized, engaging, novel and entertaining shopping experiences that today’s consumers demand.
Called “What If We Leveraged Everything That Magazines and Books Have to Offer?,” this goes well beyond updating retailers on our category’s latest, very strong profitability metrics. Its main purpose is to stimulate ideas for category/retailer partnerships that leverage the myriad ways that magazine and book content (digital as well as print), special interest expertise, reader ad advertiser relationships and customer data can be leveraged to help retailers attract and build loyalty with consumers who have shifting tastes, demographics, and new options for consumption.
How can we use covers online to drive consumers not just to social media channels, but into stores to pick up copies? Can we fulfill subscriptions at retailers’ click-and-collect stations, and include publication samples and offers in their bags ? What if we created store displays featuring great recipes from magazines and books along with all of the ingredients needed? What if we could bring all of our industry’s consumer knowledge to life in retail and online, working in true collaboration with retail partners? We haven’t even scratched the surface on the possibilities.
We now need to raise the category’s profile and engage productively and innovatively with the retail community to convey not just our traditional strengths, but our digital media and audience development savvy.
One of MBR’s current initiatives is working with the leading retail experience agency, Miller Zell, on ways to revitalize magazine mainline and outpost displays. Consumer research is guiding prototype concepts designed to be tested in partnership with retailers.
In recent times, we’ve also invested in marshalling new levels of expertise to better understand and align with consumer and retailer interests.
RetailNet Group and Kantar Retail have shared a wealth of retail insights. Field Agent and Dechert Hampe were tapped to study and reveal insights about consumer interaction with our product displays.
Willard Bishop devised and used a new, cost-inclusive formula that measures “true profit” to conduct game-changing analyses that have demonstrated magazines’ strong profitability performance in supermarkets. That, in turn, laid the groundwork for applying true profit metrics in the latest Front End Focus study (recently summarized in MBR Daily Publishing and Retail News).
Traditional retail continues to have value in building audiences and brand recognition among consumers and advertisers, and MBR members know that with commitment, we can find ways to change the narrative and move the needle.
With the buy-in of top magazine media executives, we can achieve those objectives by leveraging the unique, amazing assets that magazines and books have to offer to enlist retailers for genuinely innovative and mutually profitable partnerships.