Published on: February 18, 2009by Michael Sansolo
”Retailers should think about just getting rid of their magazine sections and using the space for something more 21st century. (You can keep a few at checkout if you like.)” - Kevin Coupe, MNB, 2/10/09
It’s rare that this column addresses topics Kevin Coupe takes on, but this issue is one that demands further comment. Here goes:
Kevin didn’t go far enough.
Because, in truth, retailers should be thinking about getting rid of every section in their stores and using the space for something more 21st century. Or in some cases, more 20th century.
Here’s why. There is no greater enemy to business than the status quo; no greater hurdle to be cleared than the notion that the way we did things yesterday is exactly the way we need to do them tomorrow. In fact, we should ask radical questions and we should strive to come up with the answers.
Imagine what would happen if an entire category were called into question. Suddenly, suppliers and retailer partners would be meeting with incredible urgency to determine how best to save the space. There would be discussions about product mix, marketing segmentation, improved efficiency and other issues that all too often are left untouched. We’d likely see the category reborn, better dialed into the needs of local markets and possibly refreshed and revitalized at the shelf. Or we’d see it go away.
It could happen to any category, wherever there are too many SKUs, too many incorrectly placed SKUs and too many underperforming assets. In short, it could happen to any category in the store.
We’d also see a focused analysis on the role of the category and why it matters. We’d see emphasis on its place in building sales or profits or image. In short, we’d see categories managed the way they should because one sad truth in many (if not all) categories is that there are products on the shelf that don’t belong there because they were placed for the wrong reasons.
And in that regard, Kevin’s suggestion to get rid of the magazine category might actually be a huge boon for business.
That said, let’s try to start the discussion on magazines, the topic of Kevin’s commentary. Yes, magazine sales are down, but I don’t think the category is dying. Rather, I think we are at a point of change in the world of communications and many magazines will be examining how to shift their focus, their story mix, their sales mechanisms and more to deal with the basic realities of the current age. And by the current age, I’d argue that we have to look far beyond the current economic situation, which is obviously impacting everything. We have to examine the generational shift underway, the growing environmental movement and some inherent inefficiencies in the publication distribution business.
Newspapers, magazines and books may all be facing tough times, but if the hard questions are asked, I suspect all three will survive although the industry and the products might start looking different. (The New York Times ran an interesting article Monday about the changing role of school librarians. And anyone who thinks reading itself is dead has never watched a child devour a Harry Potter book.)
I’ve also felt that media provides one great example on how an industry can re-invent itself. The example is: radio. In my parents’ day, radio was the king, providing news, music, entertainment and story telling. (Woody Allen captured the power of the medium in the movie “Radio Days.”) By the time my generation came along, radio lost much of its role to television, yet radio remained a taste maker, a source for new music and we listened even as we migrated to the world of FM.
But for a host of reasons that are beyond what I understand - possibly cassette players in every car, the iPod, or whatever - radio’s role changed again. Now we listen for targeted shows on politics, news, sports or even specific genres of music. Radio goes on. The influence of people like Rush Limbaugh or Tom Joyner should remind us of this daily. So radio changed, connecting with an audience in a new way and moved on.
Now, radio obviously has some advantages that other categories do not. There are times radio still has us as a captive audience, like in the car, but I’d argue that if radio hadn’t created a new user model none of us would be listening. (And it’s instructive that the model is still experimenting and at times struggling. Consider the current perilous condition of Sirius XM.)
It’s an object lesson for magazines and publications, but also for every category of every store. The consumer changes and we must react. We have to understand shifting needs, shifting technologies and simple changes in day to day life that put some products on the ascend and some on the descend. It how we understand and cope with these changes that makes all the difference.
So yes, consider getting rid of every category, if you must. Ask the tough, uncomfortable questions. And as you answer them, prepare to change.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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