From left: Jerry Lynch, April Hudson, Laurie Del Negro, Dan Sheehan, Jay Felts, Jay Annis
What are the most effective drivers of retail sales growth for magazines and books in today’s marketplace?
Executives from two key retailers and other channel partners shared their takes on this and other important issues during a Magazines at Retail wrap-up discussion, moderated by Jerry Lynch, president of the newly formed Magazines and Books at Retail Association (MBR).
April Hudson, associate category manager, magazines, newspapers and publisher for Indigo Books and Music, Canada’s largest bookstore chain, said that Indigo has realized major success in the book category by using “storytelling” as the unique value proposition that differentiates it from competitors.
“We’ve seen tremendous growth in books with the storytelling focus, and I believe we will see the same if we can use the same approach for magazines,” she said. “There’s nothing out there like magazines when it comes to their power for storytelling. Think about how National Geographic transports you to another world, or how fashion magazines can make you feel transported to the runways, without traveling at all.”
However, she also said that she’s been somewhat disappointed to date by magazines’ level of engagement and collaboration on this front.
Laurie Del Negro, buyer, seasonal, plush, publishing and dollar products for Texas supermarket powerhouse H-E-B, emphasized the importance of innovation, including secondary displays, or outposting magazines in various areas of the store; as well as coupons, premiums and other attention-grabbing offers. “Getting more creative is key for [the magazine category] to succeed at H-E-B,” she said.
Jay Felts, president of Comag Marketing Group (CMG), said that new product launches are critical. He also said that CMG is investing heavily in getting closer to retailers and their wholesaler partners, both by sharing data and analytics and collaborating on promotional and marketing programs.
Industry newsstand and publishing veteran Jay Annis said he believes that learning how to use social media—not only to promote specific newsstand issues, but to reinforce magazine brands and retailer partnerships by using retailers’ new technology to reach out to consumers in-store—is critical to driving category performance in the years ahead.
Dan Sheehan, VP, general manager of Ingram Content Group, also stressed innovation, saying that Ingram is pushing to lead new models, such as print-on-demand. Disagreeing with another conference speaker’s contention that there are too many magazine titles being distributed today, Sheehan said that through POD, Ingram offers 14 million book titles, 13.2 million of which “don’t exist in physical format until they’re ordered.”
Asked how they measure success, Del Negro said that while sales and margin are always important, her key criteria for judging a promotion or program is whether customers return. She said she wants customers to feel compelled to return frequently in order to find out what H-E-B is going to offer them next.
Hudson said that, beyond sales, she defines success as the ability to assist customers to help them find what they want and also discover something new, so as to facilitate sales.
Felts said that meeting client publishers’ goals and contributing to a revival of positive trends and optimism in the industry are success priorities at CMG. “When anyone has success, it’s good for all in the industry,” he said.
Sheehan said that Ingram believes that staying relevant is the yardstick of success. He noted, for example, that Ingram is collaborating with Barnes & Noble to ensure that assortments are relevant by region.
Annis suggested that sales performance should not be the only metric of importance—that market share vis a vis competitive titles, and whether newsstand programs help draw new readers (including subscribers) should also be tracked.
Obstacles to Success
Asked about roadblocks to success, Annis said that, after all of the investments of money, resources and time spent on newsstand issues and programs, he worries about the critical, last-mile implementation in-store being left to “minimum-wage hourly workers” with high turnover and little investment in the results.
Hudson agreed, saying that motivating in-store employees to strive for excellence in merchandising and set-ups is absolutely critical, and a big challenge.
Sheehan said he would like to overcome obstacles relating to publishers not leveraging the massive amounts of valuable content that are “sitting in their vaults.”
Felts again stressed the importance of committing to leveraging tools like social media and research, and leveraging successes and optimism to create a new narrative for the category internally and with retailers.
Del Negro reemphasized her desire to brainstorm with channel partners to devise creative new ideas to try in H-E-B stores. “Bring me crazy ideas, and I’ll listen—and probably try them,” she said. “Getting out of our comfort zones is the only way to get to the next step and grow.”