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April 25, 2019

Publishing News

Economist Names Lara Boro CEO
MediaPost: "The Economist Group has tapped Lara Boro as its new CEO, five months after Chris Stibbs announced he was stepping down.Stibbs has served as chief executive of The Economist Group, which publishes the weekly magazine-format newspaper, for over six years. He has spent 14 years at the company.Boro is currently CEO of Informa Intelligence, a B2B intelligence, events and academic publishing group. She will take on the new position at The Economist Group later this year, once Stibbs officially steps down. Lord Paul Deighton, chairman of The Economist Group, touted Boro’s “great experience in both business-to-consumer and business-to-business information markets.”Boro will be based in London, where The Economist Group’s headquarters is located.Previously CEO of International at Top Right Group (formerly EMAP), Boro and has held senior roles at CPA Global, the FT and Mondex International.Last year, The Economist Group combined its sales and circulation teams, now overseen by COO-publisher of The Economist, Michael Brunt.The company sold CQ Roll Call, which publishes Congress-focused Roll Call, last summer."

Update on Time, Fortune and Sports Illustrated
VF Hive's Joe Pompeo reports on the celebrity doings at the Time 100 gala, and the upbeat mood at the magazine after its sale by Meredith to Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and his wife Lynne. "Time was the first of the [Time Inc.] bunch to be sold, and with a price tag of $190M, it sent a loud-and-clear message that legacy print media wasn’t such a worthless dinosaur after all. Time now had a pair of philanthropically minded billionaire owners who were promising investment and editorial independence. The worker bees all got new laptops and $1,000 cash bonuses. The place has been hiring up a storm, and the staff is now getting ready for a move back to Midtown from Meredith’s Lower Manhattan headquarters. Judging by the conversations I had with Time employees at the gala on Tuesday night, the honeymoon phase is very much still operative, and they’re optimistic that the Benioffs will be upstanding owners in the long run." Similarly, he reports, "after Fortune's sale to the Thai businessman Chatchaval Jiaravanon for $150M back in November, the mood at the magazine is upbeat. The Fortune crew is soon moving to new headquarters at South Street Seaport, where they were treated to a low-key but much-appreciated welcoming party... Now they’re just waiting to be fully untangled from Meredith’s corporate infrastructure. “They’re neck-deep in back-end plumbing stuff, migrating the content over, remaking the Web site,” one staffer told me"... "That just leaves Sports Illustrated, which is said to be the most challenged of the brands from a business perspective," he continues. "It’s also the title whose sale has dragged on far longer than any had anticipated, with still no end in sight. Understandably, the vibe there isn’t exactly sanguine. 'Meredith told the street they were gonna have a deal done by June,' one person with knowledge of the sale process told me a couple weeks ago. 'It’s the middle of April, and there are still multiple people in conversations.' According to another person close to the sale, there are 'at least three' suitors presently in the mix, one of which is believed to be a group led by former basketball star Junior Bridgeman. (A Meredith spokesman said, 'I can’t comment on any particular potential buyer, other than to say we have several interested parties.') According to sources who are plugged into the deal-talk, Meredith wants between $120M and $150M for Sports Illustrated and the accompanying sports website FanSided, which Time Inc. bought in 2015. Asked for an update on the E.T.A., the Meredith spokesman said, 'We hope to have an agreement in place by the end of the fiscal year, but don’t have a specific timetable.' That said, the clock is ticking. 'I think they’re at a place where if it doesn’t move soon for whatever set of reasons, it’ll actually start to diminish in value,' one of my sources with knowledge of the sale process said. 'They need to get something done sooner rather than later.'"

Time 100 Summit Features Influential Names, Strong Attendance
MediaPost: "At the first Time 100 summit, Yo-Yo Ma played the cello, Jane Goodall got a standing ovation and Hillary Clinton discussed women in politics.The Time 100 summit is an expansion of Time magazine’s annual franchise, now in its 16th year, which lists the 100 most influential people in the world. The summit preceded the annual gala on the same day, April 23. Held in New York, the daylong summit had an impressive line-up of recognizable names across government, business, entertainment and science industries, including former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton; Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi; Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.); Apple CEO Tim Cook; primatologist Jane Goodall; screenwriter, director and producer Ryan Murphy; director Lee Daniels; activist and #MeToo movement founder Tarana Burke; actor, AI expert Kai-Fu Lee; Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd; White House advisor Jared Kushner; chef and activist José Andrés; activist, host and author Janet Mock; geneticist George Church; transplant surgeon Giuliano Testa; and model and entrepreneur Tyra Banks, among others... The interviews made headlines, too. Cook called for tech regulation. Pelosi discouraged impeachment as “one of the most divisive paths we could go down in our country," while Kushner said Russian collusion accusations are "nonsense.” Daniels criticized some black creators’ work in TV and film (“A lot of it is not good”), and Banks said she makes it a priority to hire women of color. The event was filled to capacity, with over 450 attendees. The summit was an impressive feat for the Time brand, sold by Meredith Corp. to Salesforce owner Marc Benioff and his wife Lynn last September. Edward Felsenthal, editor-in-chief-CEO of Time, told Publishers Daily a few weeks ago the summit represents a greater focus on the company's events business as a revenue stream. “We see expanding [the Time 100 franchise] as one of the biggest opportunities for our new company," he said. "You can expect to see more events and extensions of existing franchises, along with exciting new ones, from us going forward.”

Facebook Anticipates FTC Privacy Fine of Up to $5B
AP: "Facebook said it expects a fine of up to $5B from the FTC, which is investigating whether the social network violated its users’ privacy. The company set aside $3B in its quarterly earnings report Wednesday as a contingency against the possible penalty but noted that the “matter remains unresolved.” The one-time charge slashed Facebook’s first-quarter net income considerably, although revenue grew 26% in the period. The FTC has been looking into whether Facebook broke its own 2011 agreement promising to protect user privacy. Investors shrugged off the charge and sent the company’s stock up more than 9% to almost $200 in after-hours trading. EMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson, however, called it a “significant development” and noted that any settlement is likely to go beyond a mere dollar amount.″(Any) settlement with the FTC may impact the ways advertisers can use the platform in the future,” she said.Facebook has had several high-profile privacy lapses in the past couple of years. The FTC has been looking into Facebook’s involvement with the data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica scandal since last March. That company accessed the data of as many as 87M Facebook users without their consent. The 2011 FTC agreement bound Facebook to a 20-year privacy commitment; violations could subject Facebook to fines of $41,484 per violation per user per day. The agreement requires that Facebook’s users give “affirmative express consent” any time that data they haven’t made public is shared with a third party... Facebook [also] faces several others in the U.S. and Europe, including one from the Irish Data Protection Commission , and others in Belgium and Germany . Ireland is Facebook’s lead privacy regulator for Europe. The FTC is also reportedly looking into how it might hold CEO Mark Zuckerberg accountable for the company’s privacy lapses.The social network said its net income was $2.43B, or 85 cents per share in the January-March period. That’s down 51% from $4.99B, or $1.69 per share, a year earlier, largely as a result of the $3 billion charge.Revenue grew 26% to $15.08B from a year earlier. Excluding the charge, Facebook earned $1.89 per share. Analysts polled by FactSet expected earnings of $1.62 per share and revenue of $14.98B.The company cautioned during a conference call with analysts that it faces “ad targeting headwinds” in the second half of this year. That includes developments such as Europe’s new privacy regulation that could impair hurt the company’s ability to target ads. Facebook also plans to launch a long-promised “clear history” tool that will let users delete their web-browsing tracks from Facebook’s data records while also blocking the social network from tracking the links they click going forward"...

Adult Twitter Users Skew Younger, More Democratic; 10% Create 80% of Tweets
TechCrunch: A new Pew Research Center report "offers insight into the U.S. adult Twitter population. The firm’s research indicates the Twitterverse tends to skew younger and more Democratic than the general public. It also notes that the activity on Twitter is dominated by a small percentage — most users rarely tweet, while the most prolific 10 percent are responsible for 80% of tweets from U.S. adults.Pew says only around 22% of American adults today use Twitter, and they are representative of the broader population in some ways, but not in others.For starters, Twitter’s U.S. adult users tend to be younger.The study found the median age of Twitter users is 40, compared with the median age of U.S. adults, which is 47. Though less pronounced than the age differences, Twitter users also tend to have higher levels of household income and educational attainment compared with the general population. Indeed, 42% of adult Twitter users in the U.S. have at least a bachelor’s degree, which is 11 percentage points higher than the share of the public with this level of education (31%). Likely related to this is a higher income level; 41 percent of Twitter users have a household income above $75,000, which is 9 points higher than the same figure in the general population (32%). A major difference — and a notable one, given yesterday’s sit-down between Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and President Trump--is Pew’s discovery that 36% of Twitter U.S. adult users identify with the Democratic Party, versus 30 percent of U.S. adults (the latter, as per a November 2018 survey). Meanwhile, 21% of Twitter users identify as Republicans, versus 26% of U.S. adults. Political independents make up 29% of Twitter users, and a similar 27% of the general population. Despite these differences, there are areas where Twitter users are more like the general U.S. adult population--specifically, in terms of the gender and racial makeup, Pew says.In addition to the makeup of the adult population on Twitter, Pew also researched the activity on the platform and found that the median user only tweets twice per month.That means the conversation on Twitter is dominated by extremely active (or, in their parlance, “extremely online“) users. That means a large majority of Twitter’s content is created by a small number--10% of users are responsible for 80 percent of all tweets from U.S. adults on Twitter"...

Blockchain-Based Brave Launches Digital Advertising Model For Desktop
MediaPost: "With Brave’s release of its latest desktop browser, users can opt into Brave Rewards and view privacy-preserving Brave Ads.Brave, a privacy browser and blockchain-based digital advertising platform, gives users 70% of ad revenue in exchange for viewing promotions from brands like Vice, Home Chef, Ternio BlockCard, MyCrypto and eToro, all part of the launch. BuySellAds, TAP Network, AirSwap, Fluidity and Upholdalso advertise on the platform and were part of an early access program.Currently, Brave is building its Brave Ads catalog inventory by working with several ad networks. The catalogs are limited to one per region and are pushed to a user’s device.The Giving Block is also working with Brave to provide ad inventory and test cases for partner charities and nonprofits"...

Review: 'Ink,' Broadway Play About Murdoch
In CJR, Marie Glancy O'Shea writes in part: "Ink, which premiered in London in 2017 and officially opens today on Broadway, is not so much about Rupert Murdoch as the Rupert Murdoch Effect. Embodied by actor Bertie Carvel, Murdoch emerges as a god-like, if malformed, figure—one might say a Lucifer—who sets events in motion and appears at key moments thereafter to check in on what he’s wrought"...


Retail News

Walmart's $9B U.K. Supermarket Deal Blocked
SN: "British regulators announced today that the proposed sale of Walmart’s Asda supermarket brand to Sainsbury’s would not be allowed to go through due to antitrust concerns. The deal valued Asda at 7.3B pounds ($9.4B), and would have created a mega retailer with 2,800 stores and combined annual sales of roughly 51B pounds ($66B). "It's our responsibility to protect the millions of people who shop at Sainsbury's and Asda every week," Stuart McIntosh, who headed the investigation by the U.K.'S Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), said in a statement. "We have concluded that there is no effective way of addressing our concerns, other than to block the merger." The decision followed a recommendation in February that the deal be blocked or that the merger partners be required to divest a large number of stores or either the Asda or Sainsbury’s brand. The CMA concerns were that the deal, first announced almost exactly one year ago, could be detrimental to consumers by potentially leading to higher prices, lower-quality goods and an overall poor shopping experience. Sainsbury’s had offered to roll out 1B pounds in price cuts and sell as many as 150 stores, a proposal that was rejected by the CMA. “The CMA’s conclusion that we would increase prices post-merger ignores the dynamic and highly competitive nature of the U.K. grocery market,” Sainsbury CEO Mike Coupe said. “The CMA is today effectively taking 1B pounds out of customers’ pockets.” The ruling throws a wrench into plans for Walmart, which has been looking to move out of day-to-day retail operations in the British market. The deal with Sainsbury would have allowed Walmart to keep a foothold in the UK through a minority holding in the combined company. According to a Bloomberg report, in the aftermath of the blocked deal, Walmart is exploring options including an IPO of Asda or revisiting another sale. However, Asda’s recent improved performance — the chain has reported seven consecutive quarters of growth — eases any pressure on Walmart to act quickly. “While we’re disappointed by the CMA’s final report and conclusions, our focus now is continuing to position Asda as a strong UK retailer,” Judith McKenna, CEO of Walmart International, said in a statement. “Walmart will ensure Asda has the resources it needs to achieve that'"...

Ecommerce, Private Label Boost Albertsons Earnings
SN: "In its fourth quarter and full year of fiscal 2018, Albertsons Companies reported same-store sales increases of 1.1% and 1.0%, respectively, while noting that the continued strong performance of its own brands had reached sales penetration of more than 25% in Q4. "We are very pleased with the trends in our business as demonstrated by our strong results in the fourth quarter and full year," said Jim Donald, president and CEO of the Boise, Idaho-based operator of more than 2,200 supermarkets. "This performance in our core four-wall business is helping fund necessary investments into the business in both the four-wall and no-wall environments. We continue to delever the balance sheet with a total net debt to adjusted EBITDA ratio of 3.5x at the end of fiscal 2018, and have a clear path for further reduction." Donald, who has been in the role of president and CEO for less than seven months, is stepping down and will be replaced this Thursday by Vivek Sankaran, who formerly served as CEO of PepsiCo Foods North America. Donald will remain as co-chairman of the board along with Leonard Laufer. Albertsons also experienced e-commerce sales growth of 52% and 83% during the fourth quarter and full year, respectively. “We continue to make investments in and expand our capabilities in e-commerce, digital marketing and loyalty programs to provide value to our customers and to drive sales,” said Donald in this morning’s earnings conference call. “We also expanded our drive-up and go pickup service to over 250 stores by the end of the fiscal year. We also have expanded our fast delivery through Instacart, which allows our customers to have access to same-day delivery in as little as an hour. And we continue to make data-driven, personalized offers to our customers, which we have expanded to all markets.” As for Albertsons’ own brands, Donald noted, “Our own brands sales penetration continues to grow with quarter three and quarter four coming in at 25.2%, achieving our highest sales penetration rate since the merger with Safeway. Own brands continues to deliver on innovation with over 1,100 new item introductions in fiscal 2018. Open Nature, our brand that encompasses natural and products free from ingredients like antibiotics and MSG and O Organics, our organic brand continued to deliver strong sales growth, posting a 13.9% sales increase for the two combined brands in the fourth quarter compared to last year and 13.6% for the full year.”For the fiscal year 2018, sales and other revenue increased 1.0% to $60.5 billion during the 52 weeks ended Feb. 23, 2019, compared to $59.9 billion during the 52 weeks ended Feb. 24, 2018. The increase in sales was primarily driven by the company's 1.0% increase in identical sales and higher fuel sales, partially offset by a reduction in sales related to store closures during fiscal 2018. Gross profit margin increased to 27.9% during fiscal 2018 compared to 27.3% during fiscal 2017. Excluding the impact of fuel, gross profit margin increased 70 basis points. The increase in gross profit margin excluding the impact of fuel was primarily driven by improved shrink expense, lower advertising costs and improved product mix including increased own brands penetration. Selling and administrative expenses decreased to 26.6% of sales during fiscal 2018 compared to 27.1% of sales during fiscal 2017. Excluding the impact of fuel, selling and administrative expenses as a percentage of sales decreased 50 basis points during fiscal 2018 compared to fiscal 2017. The decrease in selling and administrative expenses as a percentage of sales was primarily driven by lower depreciation and amortization expense, higher gains related to the sale of assets and the company’s cost-reduction initiatives, partially offset by an increase in employee-related costs (primarily incentive pay). Adjusted EBITDA was $2.7B, or 4.5% of sales, during fiscal 2018 compared to $2.4B, or 4% of sales, during fiscal 2017. The increase in adjusted EBITDA primarily reflects the company's identical sales performance, improvements in shrink expense, higher fuel margins and the realization of the company's cost reduction initiatives, partially offset by higher employee-related costs (primarily incentive pay).For the fourth quarter of fiscal 2018, sales and other revenue was $14B during both the 12 weeks ended Feb. 23, 2019, and the 12 weeks ended Feb. 24, 2018. The company's identical sales increase of 1.1% was offset by a reduction in sales related to store closures.Gross profit margin increased to 29% during fiscal Q4 2018 compared to 28.1% during the fourth quarter of fiscal 2017. The company's gross profit margin benefited from better than expected fuel gross profit margin during the fourth quarter of fiscal 2018. Excluding the impact of fuel, gross profit margin increased 50 basis points. The increase was primarily attributable to improved shrink expense as a percentage of sales, which improved 40 basis points compared to the fourth quarter of fiscal 2017, and improved product mix, including increased own brands penetration."

Walmart Entering Beef Industry
PG: "Walmart Inc. is going into the beef business by developing an end-to-end supply chain for Angus beef. To ensure supply of quality product and fulfill customer demands for greater transparency, the Bentonville, Ark.-based mega-retailer is collaborating with such partners as Prime Pursuits, Mc6 Cattle Feeders, Creekstone Farms and FPL Food"...

Sellers Pay Big Bucks to Gain 'Black Market' Advantages on Amazon
BuzzFeed: "For the millions of third-party sellers on Amazon’s marketplace, maintaining a successful business is a constant battle to rank high in search results, collect positive product reviews, and keep up with Amazon when it releases its own branded versions of sellers’ most successful products. This intense competition has led to the emergence of a secretive, lucrative black market where agents peddle “black hat” services, sometimes obtained by bribing Amazon employees, that purportedly give marketplace sellers an advantage over their rivals, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.The most prominent black hat companies for US Amazon sellers offer ways to manipulate Amazon’s ranking system to promote products, protect accounts from disciplinary actions, and crush competitors. Sometimes, these black hat companies bribe corporate Amazon employees to leak information from the company’s wiki pages and business reports, which they then resell to marketplace sellers for steep prices. One black hat company charges as much as $10,000 a month to help Amazon sellers appear at the top of product search results. Other tactics to promote sellers’ products include removing negative reviews from product pages and exploiting technical loopholes on Amazon’s site to lift products’ overall sales rankings. These services make it harder for Amazon sellers who abide by the company’s terms of service to succeed in the marketplace, and sellers who rely on these tactics mislead customers and undermine trust in Amazon’s products"...

A Look at Men's Online Grocery-Shopping Behavior
PG: "Presuming that men’s online shopping activity mirrors their brick-and-mortar behaviors could cost retailers, big time.Inmar Analytics recently surveyed 2,000 online grocery shoppers to better understand their motivations, major concerns and overall mindset when it comes to purchasing their groceries online. The results make it clear that marketers should take a fresh perspective on who to target with ecommerce, and how best to meet their needs. 45% of the online grocery shoppers surveyed were men – a larger contingent than many attuned to this channel would have anticipated. With more men living alone, leading single-adult households with children or taking on their full share of family responsibilities, males are emerging more and more as the primary purchase decision-makers and shoppers. In fact, the Inmar survey found that 65 percent of male online grocery shoppers do most or all of the shopping for their households. Recognizing this break from traditional shopper demographics, retail brands should consider the following ways to engage male shoppers to increase their online sales": Convenience counts for a lot, as does help with meals. Another takeaway: Men are a key target for future online engagement. Article elaborates on the takeaways.

Amazon's Alexa Team Can Access Users' Home Addresses
Bloomberg: "An Inc. team auditing Alexa users’ commands has access to location data and can, in some cases, easily find a customer’s home address, according to five employees familiar with the program.The team, spread across three continents, transcribes, annotates and analyzes a portion of the voice recordings picked up by Alexa. The program, whose existence Bloomberg revealed earlier this month, was set up to help Amazon’s digital voice assistant get better at understanding and responding to commands.Team members with access to Alexa users’ geographic coordinates can easily type them into third-party mapping software and find home residences, according to the employees, who signed nondisclosure agreements barring them from speaking publicly about the program.While there’s no indication Amazon employees with access to the data have attempted to track down individual users, two members of the Alexa team expressed concern to Bloomberg that Amazon was granting unnecessarily broad access to customer data that would make it easy to identify a device’s owner. Location data is more sensitive than many other categories of user information, said Lindsey Barrett, a staff attorney and teaching fellow at Georgetown Law’s Communications and Technology Clinic.“Anytime someone is collecting where you are, that means it could go to someone else who could find you when you don’t want to be found,” she said. Widespread access to location data associated with Alexa user recordings “would set up a big red flag for me.”In an April 10 statement acknowledging the Alexa auditing program, Amazon said “employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow'"...

Slideshow: Walmart’s Intelligent Retail Lab
SN: "Artificial intelligence meets real-world shopping as Walmart today officially opened its new Intelligent Retail Lab (or IRL for short) inside a 50,000-square-foot Neighborhood Market grocery store in Levittown, N.Y., on Long Island.Walmart’s tech incubator Store No 8 has positioned the lab within one of the company’s busiest locations where the retailer will test new, innovative ideas within a real store containing over 30,000 items and equipped with artificial intelligence-enabled cameras, interactive displays and a massive data center. “We’ve got 50,000 square feet of real retail space. The scope of what we can do operationally is so exciting,” said Mike Hanrahan, CEO and founder of IRL, in a Walmart blog. “Technology enables us to understand so much more--in real time--about our business. When you combine all the information we’re gathering in IRL with Walmart’s 50-plus years of expertise in running stores, you can create really powerful experiences that improve the lives of both our customers and associates.” (Video link also offered, below.)


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