Blair urged to support small titles in distribution shake-up

Magazine editors have once again asked the Prime Minster to intervene in the inquiry over the distribution chain, which they fear will force many small titles to close.

At an audience with the British Society of Magazine Editors on Tuesday, Tony Blair was reminded that he had promised 12 months ago to look into the issue, which could see the closure of thousands of small newsagents if supermarket chains get more control over the supply chain.

Sarah Miller, editor of Condé Nast Traveller, told Blair: “A year on, we haven’t seen any progress. I think it’s about time the Government, with the DTI, started to take a serious interest in what will effectively threaten the freedom of the press, because lots of magazines and newspapers will not be sold in independent newsagents if these plans go through.” Blair said: “The OFT are now conducting their enquiry .The trouble is, I can’t interfere with it.” Miller reminded the PM that Culture

Secretary Tessa Jowell had raised her concern last October over the public interest element of any changes to the distribution chain. “Given that the OFT has stated publicly that it doesn’t have responsibility for public interest, we believe the DTI should be seen to engage publicly in this matter — and you can influence that,” Miller said.

Blair responded: “Yes, but you can only look at the public interest dimension of this as a Government once they’ve made their report. The Government can’t express a view until we’ve gone through the whole process.

“You’re right, we have got the power in the end, on public interest grounds, to intervene. But we have to do that, taking into account what they’ve said about competition issues.” Last month, the OFT’s new chief executive, John Fingleton, published the organisation’s draft opinion on the supply chain review and said the current system — in which many publishers award contracts based on local monopolies — “may harm consumers and be difficult to justify in terms of competition law”.

Miller told Blair of the OFT’s statement: “At the moment, they’re going to be favouring supermarkets, who are going to take over the wholesale distribution of magazines, thus putting a lot of smaller magazines and the retailers out of business. Please help.”

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