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Magazine Industry Eyes Retail Partnerships

PHILADELPHIA -- The magazine industry aims to jumpstart sales at supermarkets by advocating for data-driven partnerships and focusing on innovative product launches, according to top publishing executives at a retail conference here.

These strategies are intended to lift a category impacted by the tough economy, new consumer behaviors, and changing dynamics at the retail front end.

"We need to coordinate our databases with databases of the retailer to promote directly to consumers to come into particular stores to buy magazines," said Efrem "Skip" Zimbalist 3d, chairman and chief executive officer, Active Interest Media.

He was part of a top executive panel at the 2013 MPA/PBAA Retail Marketplace Conference here.


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This could be done partly by "embracing the ability of smartphones to use location abilities to message consumers while they’re in the stores," Zimbalist added. "We could tell consumers about a new issue of a magazine, with a new recipe on the cover, and then send them a coupon."

Bob Sauerberg, president, Condé Nast, said partnerships that leverage both magazine industry databases and retailer loyalty programs have big potential. "We must work together," he said.

"This industry has assets like no other."

The need for innovation through new product introductions was underscored by David Carey, president, Hearst magazines.

"We’re committed to bringing new products to market," he said, adding that retail is an ideal place to test new concepts. "We can’t just rely on our intuition."

A number of executives said new concepts can balance declines in certain segments of the category. One of the most successful has been dubbed bookazines, because it’s considered a hybrid between a book and a magazine.

"These are quality products seen as better values that carry higher cover prices," said Steve Lacy, chairman of the board and CEO, Meredith Corp. "Certain things will continue to decline, but we’ll innovate with other new products."

Mary Berner, president and CEO, MPA, which focuses on magazine media, pointed to other examples of innovation and partnering at retail, including Condé Nast’s Wired branded licensed product display at Target; retail partnerships between Meredith’s Better Homes and Gardens and Wal-Mart; and an affiliation between People magazine and Kroger that involved elements including social media and in-store promotional vehicles.

She said magazines continue to attract strong consumer interest across platforms and benefit from a good dynamic at retail.

"The retail channel is a critical part of our business, and you are our critical partners," she told retailers.

She said MPA research found 73% of consumers are "influenced to buy the products advertised in magazines, and many of those products can be found on the shelves of your stores."

A number of speakers pointed to the need to solve challenges at the front end, including the tendency of some consumers to focus on their mobile phones at the checkout rather than read magazines on display. This phenomenon has been dubbed "mobile blindness."

However, executives were mostly upbeat about generational shifts, saying these haven’t dampened the outlook for magazines.

"Generation Y consumers are engaged in our brands on every platform, from mobile to print," Lacy said.

In another session at the conference, magazine editors offered a wish list of where they’d like their magazines placed at retail, and it wasn’t always just on the magazine racks.

"Put me in the produce section, that’s my personal plea," said Maile Carpenter, editor in chief, Food Network magazine, of her publication. "Many of our recipes call for produce. We’d sell more magazines and more produce."

Anne Alexander, senior vice president and editorial director, Prevention, said the magazine racks are a favored position, but she agreed it would also be good to have her brand merchandised in areas such as the produce department, in order to connect with shoppers on a different level.

"We know the obstacles people have to living healthier lifestyles, so we can help address the question of ‘what’s for dinner tonight,’" she said.

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