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June 14, 2017

When insights and determination are brought to bear, challenges at retail can be hidden opportunities.

That was the consensus among media, national distributor and wholesaler executives during a panel discussion wrapping up the opening general session at 2017’s Magazines and Books at Retail (MBR) Conference.

Time Inc. Books editorial director Kostya Kennedy, TNG president David Parry, Coca-Cola Retailing Research Councils director Michael Sansolo, Time Inc. Retail president Drew Wintemberg, and MBR president Jerry Lynch shared their views on high-priority areas and strategies for positioning magazines and books to win at retail in the near and long term.

A few highlights:

*Addressing the inherent strengths of magazines and books, Parry noted the category’s efficiency and profitability for retailers, based on factors including scan-based trading, no shrink costs to the retailer, and category-provided delivery, in-store merchandising and pickup.

But referencing a point made in Sansolo’s presentation (see coverage in MBR Daily later this week), Parry added that, with the enormous, unprecedented change in progress now within retail, media and channel partners alike, “relevance is also a critical issue—and we’ve got to fight, together, for relevance” with retailers and consumers.

“We’ve got to find new ways to leverage our extraordinary content,” said Wintemberg. “We need to work with retailers to inform, engage and activate. We need to explore new [revenue and sales] frontiers — beyond just selling magazines as we always have.” And with checkouts expected to be largely a thing of the past in the near future, “we’ve got to solve for that within the next three to five years,” he stressed.

Kennedy concurred, adding that while the category faces challenges at retail, magazines and books have the advantage of being carefully curated products that are shareable as a unit, “in full,” and that consumers relate to specific magazines and books as being uniquely irreplaceable and invaluable.

*On the category’s biggest long-term opportunities in bricks-and-mortar retail, Wintemberg noted that finding new ways to engage consumers before checkout, as competitive categories are doing, is one key to ensuring continued relevance for the magazines/books category.

“We need to truly embrace digital [promotional and communication] opportunities” in-store,” he said. “We are not yet part of retailers’ digital presence.” And while outposting displays isn’t a new idea, the coming revolution in payment methods and the transformation of the front end mean that “we must find a way to be in more locations in more stores,” he said.

Sansolo noted that any vendor/category leaders who can somehow help retailers turn the front end into a monetizable asset, they will win retailers’ everlasting gratitude.

Kennedy said that the category should leverage its unique editorial expertise to find ways to use technology to connect with consumers as they shop, in order to point them to specific magazine and book content of interest, such as health and beauty topics, or information about organic foods and recipes. “We should be talking to consumers as they enter the store,” he said.

The panelists agreed that finding ways to personalize magazine content, and enable “decoupling” of articles from the traditional bound, print format, is another promising concept to pursue.

Perhaps more than any other factor, magazines and books — like all consumer products — need to deliver “constant innovation and change” to engage consumers, emphasized Parry. He noted that the demand for the new Airbnb Magazine and The Pioneer Woman was so strong that not only did copies sell out; shoppers went to the trouble to bring this to store managers’ attention and ask for more.

Reflecting consumers’ shorter attention spans and thirst for the new, magazine life cycles are shortening, Parry believes. “We need to invest in new properties that are relevant."

Regarding key current challenges, Parry stressed the need to expand retail outlets for magazines and books. He noted, for example, that discounter Aldi has 1,600 U.S. stores and will add 900 over the next five years, and that Trader Joe’s has nearly 500 stores — and that neither chain carries magazines.

“Magazines are a basket-size driver, and retailers want that,” said Wintemberg. “But we need to demonstrate to retailers that we are vested in our business. We need to conduct research on the relevance of our category and bring that to retailers, and create new shopper experiences in store. We need to deliver innovation in content, and develop opportunities like subs or continuity at retail. We need to bring retailers solutions.”

And more than ever, “we also need to approach retailers with a single voice,” added Parry.


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