Implications of retail innovation on the world of magazine media

Jim will host a panel discussion at FIPP London on innovation in retail technology and what it means for magazine media, including how the physical and digital worlds of retail may blend to offer consumers with a stronger value proposition.

FIPP London takes place from 10-11 May. With only two weeks to go, you should sign up here as time for booking your place is now running out.

Participants in Jim’s panel discussion are from the Canada, France, Germany and the UK, all with experience across multiple developed and emerging markets around the world giving the discussion a truly global feel. Here Jim provides a brief glimpse of some of what’s to be discussed.

Publishers are now developing multi-layer strategies to reach consumers across all manner of channels and devices. How far along that journey are we?

I think we are well down that journey, but we’re still very siloed as an industry. We did some consumer research for PPA* (the UK publishers association) last year, and it’s clear that the consumer simply doesn’t think in terms of siloes or channels – they just want certain things. Most still want print and they’re happy to get that from retail, but I don’t think publishers have caught up with that reality in terms of joining all the dots together into a proper audience strategy.  The consumer finds the magazine subscription a bit boring, while retail provides more of the theatre and excitement that you get from subscribing to something like Netflix – which is discovery and new titles and the unexpected. The subscription finds it difficult to deliver that electricity in the same kind of way.

Of course, there are some digital newsstand developments, where you get ‘all you can eat’ packages. But bricks & mortar retail remains interesting for two reasons.

One is that it’s a channel in its own right for magazine media publishers, which a lot of senior publishing executives have switched off to – they think retail is a slow-motion car crash and they’re shifting money out of retail into subscriptions. That’s highly dangerous because the consumer still likes retail. If they don’t want to commit to a subscription they can browse in a shop, which is why there are particular retail channels, such as travel retail, which are relatively buoyant. When people are going off on a journey they like to browse and see what’s out there.

The other element is that the major retailers are a lot smarter than publishers at multichannel. That’s partly down to the fact they’ve got so much invested in all their routes to market, and therefore they have to be.  But it’s also because they know that multichannel is what consumers want. I think we’re still a bit binary in publishing.  The old “print or digital” debate is long dead, but “subs or retail” is still very much a live issue.  But it’s not “either/or”…. it’s “and /and”.  Also, we’re still very siloed in magazines in terms of departmental structures organisation and budgets. 

In addition, one of the things that the PPA research showed is that print, even among Millennials, is still regarded as the real thing.

Print clearly still plays a key role within that multi-layer strategy. Is that more the case in retail than in other sectors, given the historic relationship that retail consumers have had with print?

I suppose, yes. If you look at the major retailers and you look at eTailers such as Net-a-Porter and Asos where both have got their own titles, their own print magazines. In fashion retail, print gives real class and depth and colour to the online shopping experience, which can be a bit skinny in digital. Clearly,  digital has its own strengths and characteristics, but people still want to browse and touch and feel. Take Amazon – it has just opened two physical bookshops in the States, despite what it has done in decimating the book shop industry. So the physical shop still has a real place, just as print does. Of course, you can manage with a much smaller retail estate than you used to be able to in the past, just as you can manage with a much smaller print circulation. But it’s still there, it’s still the real thing, it’s still part of multichannel and the consumer still wants it.

How is this changing the role of the traditional magazine media company and its role?

Its role is clearly under threat. People like Virgin Media or Red Bull are really smart publishers in their own right now. And then you go on to distributed content on social platforms and that raises the question of what a publisher ‘with a capital P’ is now. It’s really open to debate.

In your FIPP London panel discussion, you will talk about merging deep insight for close customer relationships, and online retailing providing the theatre of the physical shopping experience. Who is doing that really well at the moment?

Well, as an example, there are two potentially massive deals brewing in retail in the UK, with the big one being Sainsbury’s and Argos. Pulling together their logistics, bricks & mortar and online operations would be a leap forward for both Sainsbury’s and Argos. Sainsbury’s is clearly under pressure and Argos was a basket case two years ago, but with a very smart digital strategy. This deal would be good for both of them.

The other trend here is the reimagining of what retail actually is and the whole area of “in-store theatre”. In books and music, there are retailers such as HMV, Foyles and Waterstones who have all moved down this route of ‘creating a browsing coffee shop’ in a more relaxed environment. You could also say that’s what Apple Stores are about as well.

What differences are we seeing in different markets? Is everybody moving at the same pace?

We’ve done a lot of work on this for Distripress, the international press distribution organisation.  I think everybody’s going in the same direction, but moving at different speeds across the different markets.  For example, India is still incredibly print based. South America is going to digital and mobile very quickly and is leap-frogging over landlines and PC and so on. But there is lots of innovation in most markets. For example, in the UK there’s an app which uses your smartphone to link up to sales data, which is refreshed each week. So, if you’re wandering around the streets and think…. I’m not going to commit to a subscription to Vogue.  I don’t want a digital edition, but I’d like a print copy now, your app will show you when you’re walking past a shop that’s got ten Vogue issues in it and, by the way, if you go in and buy it now you can get 25 per cent off with this barcode. So, that’s the kind of technology that the publishers need to stitch everything together – some kind of digital purchase engine. And it’s all doable; the technology is all there already.

Tell us a bit about your background and what Wessenden Marketing does…

I’ve been running Wessenden Marketing for almost 25 years. We are a data-driven consultancy – applied insight. A lot of our work is the production of reports and market maps as well as research – both consumer and B2B.  We look at the end-user, but also at the supply chains delivering content to the end-user, the different links in the chain, and what people want from the whole chain – both digital and physical.  We work from data to create practical audience plans for publishers.

Join Jim and some 50 other speakers at FIPP London from 10-11 May. FIPP London includes four channels around which to customise your FIPP London experience. The channels are:

FIPP Mobile

Focused on a key opportunity of our time, FIPP Mobile brings together experts in a channel dedicated to bringing mobile insights, case studies and innovations from around the world together in one place.


FIPP Tech is a channel dedicated to the intersection of media and technology, not only from the perspective of what is available today, but also developments to prepare for soon (if not immediately). This is where Jim’s retail panel discussion will take place.

Worldwide Media Marketplace

WMM brings media execs together to meet face-to-face and talk business opportunities. To make the most of WMM; use the FIPP London online diary to schedule meetings. Register for FIPP London to begin setting up meetings.

FIPP Innovation

Sign up to one of our FIPP Innovation masterclasses for a small additional fee. Innovation Media Consulting’s John Wilpers, who also edits FIPP’s annual Innovation World Report, will host the masterclasses. You’ll be inspired!

* FIPP London delegates also qualify for a 20 per cent discount on tickets for the PPA Festival on 12 May 2016, the day after FIPP London. For more details please contact Claire Jones.

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