The news and magazines sector has taken a beating over the years, yet retailers are finding ways to make the category for for them
Are you reading this feature in our magazine, or have you migrated online like so many others? If it’s the latter, then you’re not the only one to make the change to digital. According to the latest Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) statistics, sales of the 447 UK magazine titles it audits are down 6.5% year on year for the second half of 2014, while in its latest newspaper circulations stats it was found that all but one daily newspaper, The Times, had witnessed a dip in sales over the past year, and all Sunday titles saw a drop in sales.
It’s clear that the news and magazines category is changing more than most others in a convenience store and retailers may be tempted to utilise the large amount of space from news and magazines for something else they feel is more profitable. But should we be giving up on print just yet?
Manny Patel of Manny’s Convenience Store, Long Ditton, Surrey, finds the category challenging at the moment and isn’t confident that it can make a full recovery. “Newspapers have gone downhill, magazines are doing better than papers but sales are still down year-on-year,” he says. “Sales of both are dropping and I’ve had to reduce my orders as the demand has fallen.”
He believes that consumers have changed, leading to the drop in sales. “I personally still like the newspaper, but lifestyles are different now,” says Manny. “The old guard still buy papers and magazines, but with everything now online it suits people to have information on tablets or phones.”
Despite the drop in sales, Manny doesn’t feel he’ll ever get rid of the category in his store and is considering focusing on the positive aspects of the sector. “It’ll never completely go away but will just be reduced over time,” he says. “I think there may be some opportunity with weekend newspapers as they offer good value with all the supplements. I’d be happy to cut back on the daily titles and focus on the Saturday and Sunday papers, especially as buying a newspaper can be part of some people’s weekend routine when they have more time in the day to sit and read it.”
Susan Connolly of Spar Pennings Road in Pewsey, East Wiltshire, doesn’t believe it’s time to get rid of news and mags. “We were advised to cut back on it and move it to the rear of the store, but we didn’t see the logic in that,” she explains. “Nobody was ever going to go to the back of the store for a paper so we kept the display to the front where people can see it.”
The store has three metres of magazines with seven shelves on each bay, plus a nine-title newspaper stand and a local paper display. When advised to cut that back, Susan balked. “We went against the grain, why would you not?” she says. “Even if sales are dipping, it’s still a 25% margin which would be tough to replace with another category.”
She says that category sales are up 16% year on year and attributes this to smart ranging. “Some titles sell better than others and we have to make sure we’re constantly looking at what isn’t selling,” says Susan. “Women’s magazines and health titles do very well for us. Women’s Health, which was launched last year by the publishers of Men’s Health, is a quarterly title that sells very well.”
As well as focusing on titles, Susan also tempts customers by placing small snack and confectionery display units on the magazine stand to increase impluse sales. “It’s another reason to visit the section and means customers might pick up an extra product while there, increasing basket spend.”
Susan isn’t the only retailer to see the growth in some areas of news and magazines. Anjali Karpal of Anjalika in East Grinstead and Essential Convenience Store in Horsham, West Sussex, had seen a drop in category sales over the past couple of years, however multi-packs have brought some people back to the printed page. “Some publishers are grouping magazines together for sale at a lower price than the combined price of the individual titles, which has generated interest among customers,” she says. “Like every category, we need to be showing value in stores so having these multipacks has helped.”
One thing that Manny feels is making the situation worse is the service provided by his suppliers, and he calls on them to up their game. “There’s no help from my distributor in the news and magazines category,” he says. “Newspapers are often late, which is inexcusable. There’s absolutely no point in papers arriving late these days and sometimes they don’t arrive till late morning. By the time they are printed and delivered, they are already out of date even if they’re on time, but if they don’t come in till after nine it’s almost pointless stocking them as people look elsewhere for their news.”
Susan doesn’t feel that suppliers are necessarily to blame for the perceived state of the category and has a good relationship with hers. “We very rarely get late deliveries from Smiths News,” she says. “One thing that could be improved is their ordering app, which takes a few days to register a change or new title being ordered; that would really help because quite often we get people asking for magazines we don’t have and we like to be able to order them in.”
It may also be easy to blame the internet for the dip in magazine sales, but Susan doesn’t think that all titles are being damaged by the growth of online just yet.
“Some magazines have been hit, but some - like Women’s Weekly and Take a Break - are still popular as women use them to de-stress. I certainly do, anyway,” she says. “We also can’t get enough of TV magazines. They fly off the shelves as we have an elderly population who don’t want to go online and prefer to have a magazine they can hold.”
Susan’s not the only one who enjoys planning out what to watch on TV in an old-school style. According to ABC figures, women’s weekly magazines are remaining strong with top titles such as Hello! and New! still having circulations of more than 250,000, while TV Choice magazine has the highest average print circulation of sold titles in the UK with 1,266,242 copies despite a 7.9% drop in sales.
For some independent retailers, the trick to growing the news and magazines category can be as simple as tightening up the range to make sure you’re stocking the key titles that suit your store rather than blindly holding what your suppliers are sending you.
Stacey Best of Spar Leegomery in Telford, Shropshire, has kept magazine sales stable over the past year by trimming back on the number of lines. “To make space for a Gregg’s unit we had to cut back on a few categories, including a metre of newspapers and magazines,” she explains. “It meant we had to look at our range and examine it to see which titles we could do without. Once these were identified and removed, we cut back on the space allocated to it - without seeing a drop in sales.
“Taking the time to check the epos data has really helped to make the most of the news and magazines category.”
Newspaper Ave circ Year on year change
Daily Mirror 922,235 -7.06
Daily Record 203,725 -10.51
Daily Star 425,246 -13.05
The Sun 1,978,702 -10.61
Daily Express 457,914 -8.50
Daily Mail 1,688,727 -5.16
The Daily Telegraph 494,675 -9.16
Financial Times 219,444 -6.30
The Guardian 185,429 -10.83
i 280,351 -6.01
The Independent 61,338 -7.87
The Times 396,621 3.21
Newspaper Ave circ Year on year change
Daily Star - Sunday 265,382 -14.41
The Sun on Sunday 1,582,359 -12.13
Sunday Mail 222,879 -12.96
Sunday Mirror 877,910 -7.47
Sunday People 335,093 -10.60
The Mail on Sunday 1,461,571 -7.90
Sunday Express 397,601 -7.66
Sunday Post 187,260 -14.96
Independent on Sunday 97,646 -3.59
The Observer 198,368 -12.02
The Sunday Times 801,623 -1.96
(Source: Audited Bureau of Circulation January 2015)
The partworks dilemma
Thanks to the growing popularity of crafting and resurgence in interest in sci-fi and comics, barely a week goes by without a new partworks being launched. But retailers aren’t so sure if they’re worth committing to, especially as the price often rockets after the first issue, potentially putting people off.
Surjeet Singh Notay of Nisa Heckmondwick in Leeds “hasn’t bothered with them for years”. According to Surjeet, they would start off well but then sales would fall off. “We had a really good customer who ordered part works one year, but half-way through decided they didn’t want them, but never came back in to the store. We didn’t see them for the rest of the year, lost sales and lost out on the sales of the partworks,” he explains.
Ravinder Singh Rai of Go Local Extra in Chesterfield gets shoppers to prepay for any partworks they order so they don’t let him down and leave him with stock.
One Stop and Londis retailer Steve Bassett says he doesn’t bother with part works at all, even the promotional first issues, to avoid upsetting customers. “We don’t stock them at all - not even the initial giveaway priced ones - so I don’t disappoint customers when we don’t stock them from issue 7 onwards.”