News retailers are frustrated that a planned overhaul of the newspaper and magazine distribution industry has been hit by yet another delay.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) was expected to make a final decision in February on the compatibility of newspaper and magazine agreements with competition law.

However, following an internal review it will now issue a revised opinion in May, after getting more feedback from the industry. This will set out its new views and reasons for them. It will then take yet further evidence from the industry and make a final opinion in the autumn.
The OFT had originally planned to change the current system so retailers could buy magazines, but not newspapers, from any wholesaler.

This met resistance from publishers, wholesalers and some retailers, who said magazines should get the same protection as newspapers.

The Association of News Retailing is furious that the issue has been delayed yet again. Managing director John Lennon said: “This latest announcement that the OFT will now not publish its draft opinion until the end of 2006 smacks of arrogance and a total misunderstanding of the impact that the current monopolistic news supply arrangements have on the livelihoods of many community retailers.”

Des Barr, who runs Sinclair Barr Newsagents in Paisley, said the industry could end up back at square one. “I wasn’t in favour of what the OFT were proposing but I wish they had come out and been honest about it.”

The Periodical Publishers’ Association said that although the length of time the process was taking might be frustrating, it welcomed the fact the OFT had listened to the publishing industry’s arguments.

NFRN head of news and magazines Stefan Wojciechowski agreed it was frustrating and that there was no indication as to what decision the OFT would make. “There’s hope that they might grant magazines the same focus they give newspapers, but we really need the OFT to hand the matter over to the DTI,” he said.