Press diversity is more important than beans

Between 1997 and 2002, specialist stores such as butchers, bakers
and fishmongers closed at the rate of 50 a week. In the same period,
nearly a thousand communities were left without access to a local bank.
British farming output has fallen over the past decade, despite a near
50 per cent increase in overall food consumption.

Welcome to “Clone Town Britain”, in which identikit chains dominate identikit high streets.

Why should we care?

Because it looks like we could be the next victims.

Until
now, the distribution of newspapers and magazines has been protected by
a system whereby every shop that sells newsprint is guaranteed stock
thanks to a series of exclusive regional deals. These give wholesalers
rights to mini-monopolies in different regions, in return for
guarantees that they will deliver to any newsagent within them.

But
last week the Office of Fair Trading indicated that, for magazines
(though confusingly, not for newspapers), it considers the system to be
anticompetitive.

Subject to further consultation, it wants more competition in magazine distribution.

It’s
not hard to see where that will lead. The power that supermarkets
already hold on distribution will be strengthened further. Independent
retailers, particularly those out in the sticks, will struggle to
compete. Many will close. And that’ll be the end of the easy stroll to
pick up the morning paper, or the evening regional, or the specialist
hobby mag the friendly newsagent keeps for you.

Will the big
supermarkets offer a diverse range of magazines? Or will they simply
stock the best-selling titles? And if a paper splashes on a story
critical of them, will they still display it prominently? Or will these
multinationals begin to influence editorial policy, as they already do
for some magazine covers?

If you’re not sure of the answers, ask a butcher, a baker or a prosperous farmer. If you can find one.

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