Publishers seek talks over WHSmith 'review'

 

The Periodical Publishers Association has called for an urgent meeting with WHSmith over a “range review” by the retailer which could see hundreds of specialist titles forced off its shelves.

The review dictates which magazines should be stocked in WHSmith.

Publishers will see a huge reduction in the number of outlets that sell their titles. Sight and Sound, for example, would be stocked in only 40 stores instead of 300.

The move has angered editors, publishers, distributors and MPs and there are fears it could lead to job losses for journalists.

Political monthly Red Pepper joined forces with the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom last week to launch a charter demanding more rights for the minority press.

Speaking at the launch, London Mayor Ken Livingstone called for legislation to prevent the main players from dominating the market and he condemned what he saw as “a national dumbing down of the media.”

NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said: “Newsagents like WHSmith increasingly decide, based on the market, who can read what and when.

Freedom to publish is useless unless you have the means to distribute that information.”

One distributor said publishers would either have to prove that their magazine had “uniqueness” and argue that retailers should maintain the range, or they would have to pledge to spend more on in-store promotion.

It is understood some specialist publishers are offering to spend up to £5,000 on promotions to try to maintain a presence, while the larger men’s and women’s titles could spend as much as £50,000.

Some publishers want to press the PPA to lodge a complaint with the Competition Commission against WHSmith.

Other insiders have expressed surprise at the timing of WHSmith’s review, amid speculation of a possible takeover of the company.

PPA chief executive Ian Locks described the review as “extremely hasty”, given that the PPA had been working with WHSmith for the past 12 months. “It doesn’t allow publishers time to make the necessary adjustments,” he told Press Gazette.

Locks said publishers would have to look at alternative routes to market, adding that subscription was “the future for a large number of specialist publishers”.

WHSmith spokeswoman Louise Evans said: “Unfortunately it is not physically possible for us to stock all the magazine titles that are currently in print in-store. Therefore we provide a magazine ordering service which allows customers to order any current magazine for delivery to their local store.”

She insisted it was a “negotiable process” and that WHSmith would have “discussions” with individual publishers. A final decision will be made in August.

By Ruth Addicott and Andy Keeble

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