Will PM listen to fears of supermarket threat?

A gathering of the most influential magazine editors in the country
gives Tony Blair a golden opportunity to do a spot of pre-election
schmoozing with the men and women who have the ear of so many key
voting groups. But the meeting this week, organised by the British
Society of Magazine Editors, will not be one-way traffic from the Prime
Minister. Those editors have a crucial message that they want to make
sure he hears loud and clear.

It concerns their fears over the
power that is likely to be handed to supermarket chains unless the
Government intervenes promptly in the next few weeks. Those fears are
well grounded. Last month’s OFT report into magazine and newspaper
distribution was a severe blow to the magazine industry. It decided
that although newspapers were a special case that needed protection to
ensure they could be delivered all over the UK at the same price to
each retailer, the same could not be said of magazines.

This
raises the spectre of giant supermarket groups being able to seize
greater control of the distribution chain, in the same way they have
done with farm produce. The result could be the disappearance of
smaller newsagents, particularly in rural areas, who no longer have
guaranteed access to a full range of titles that currently keeps them
on a level playing field.

The grim logic that follows is that
smallercirculation titles will fold, as supermarkets concentrate their
efforts on the high-volume brands.

National and regional
newspaper circulations would inevitably be hit too, as readers found
they could no longer stroll down to the local newsagent to pick up a
copy of their favourite paper. Supermarket shopping might be
convenient, but it’s not a daily habit.

Worse still is the power
that those chains will also be able to exercise, not only over the
covers of the magazines they stock, but also the content. If M&S
can withdraw its advertising with Associated Newspapers because it’s
unhappy with the Mail’s business coverage, it’s not hard to imagine
another chain pulling copies of a newspaper or business magazine from
the shelf if it disagreed with their coverage of, say, GM foods.

Meanwhile
the PPA has launched a campaigning website,
www.freeanddiversepress.com, aimed at explaining the implications of
any moves to weaken a system that guarantees people’s universal access
to news and magazines. Plenty there for Mr Blair to think about. Let’s
hope he realises what a vote-loser this could be, before it’s too late.

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