A rebellion over the Radio Times and its subscription offer has erupted at www.connect2u.co.uk. Here's what the newsagents are saying.
" If you turn to the inside of the front cover of the Radio Times you will see a subscription leaflet offering six issues for £1 each. I have taken them out before we lose more custom. I wonder what they would think if every indie took them off sale in protest? "
" I also remove this leaflet, and have now put the Radio Times right at the back, behind every other TV listing magazine. "
" The Radio Times wouldn't be where it is today if it wasn't for shops like us selling for them and now they want to stab us in the back and keep all the commission. "
" We should send every copy of next week's edition of the Radio Times back to the wholesalers in protest - I bet they would sit up then. "
" We had one customer last year cancel delivery and say to me 'You would do the same with savings like that', to which I replied 'No, I would support my local corner shop'. "
" Complain to Radio Times - I did. First they tried to defend themselves by telling me that they were actually giving me more sales with this offer - um, I don't think so. But they did say that they would pass on my comments higher up the chain. I am still awaiting a response. "
" I remove all loose subscription offers from my HND magazines. Why should I deliver an offer to a customer who then takes up the offer and cancels? "
" The more people who complain the better, as the problem with this trade is that half the time we don't get our voices heard. If even 50 newsagents complain it's better than none whatsoever. "
The marriage between magazine publishers and the independent stores who give shelf space to their titles has never been the most comfortable of relationships, and the fragile domestic peace is under threat yet again as retailers accuse the publishers of seducing their customers and using their own display racks to do it.
Retailer Penny Robinson of Siop y Pentref in Mid Wales called Convenience Store to say she is prepared to de-list magazines from those publishers who carry high-profile subscription offers within their titles.
"They are using us to advertise these offers which are designed to take custom away from us," she says. "The subscription deals are well below cover price and include freebies like DVDs. I think it's unprincipled and I don't want to stock magazines which undermine retailers like this."
East Anglian newsagent Brian Webb goes even further. He suggests that publishers could be abusing a dominant position and therefore be in breach of the Competition Act 1998. "Publishers of magazines for sale in retail outlets are generally indulging in anti-competitive practices by advertising that magazine for sale by subscription at a lower price, which offers a considerably better deal to order direct and bypass the retailer," he alleges.
"This practice puts the retailer at considerable disadvantage in trading and should be challenged at first instance through the OFT."
Nicola Rowe, director of circulation at the publishers' association PPA, points out that there is nothing new or unusual going on here.
"Many magazines, and indeed newspapers, are sold via subscription. This in no way reflects dissatisfaction with retailers, but acknowledges the need for flexibility to cater for market demand and maximise sales," she says. "PPA recognises the value of independent retailers, not least the personal touch they bring to selling magazines."
The Radio Times has been a particular target of retailers' anger (see column, left). Its current subscription push offers four issues for £1, followed by 26 issues for £28.60, or £1.10 each - the same as the cover price.
The magazine says this gives the customer a 10% saving. But the small print reveals that this figure is calculated not against the shelf price of 51 issues a year - £56.10 - but against a Basic Annual Rate of £64, which includes "a contribution towards first class postage."
Radio Times confirms the 10% reduction relates to the full subscription rate and agrees that subscribing at this rate would be more expensive than buying from a store. However, subscriptions only account for 14% of its circulation, a spokeswoman said, adding that Radio Times was voted third best magazine for service and communication to retailers at last month's Association of Circulation Executives' awards.
What subscribers get for their money is home delivery, but unfortunately for the retailer that means not only the loss of your share of the cover price, but also potentially one less visit every week to your store.
The subscription fee is paid six months in advance by Direct Debit. So while the publisher has to pay for postage, it has money up front, a saving of the share of cover price that would go to the wholesaler and retailer, and the handy bonus of a customer's address details so they can be targeted with other offers.
With the retailer left high and dry, it's tempting to conclude that there's only one winner here. And it's not the newsagent.