Tuesday, 19 October 2010


Sometimes the world of marketing just depresses, especially as the sunshine fades away and the cold grey clouds settle in for the foreseeable future. Winter brings out the worst of our house - it's holes seem to treble in size and the cold wind comes through like it owns the place.

Today we’re talking free gifts on magazines, and they grate. On the face of it, a free gift is just a bit of a nuisance to us (and when I say us, I mean everyone involved in the distribution and retail of magazines). Noone likes a pointless cardboard box, whether you are an anti packaging warrior or a village newsagent (not mutually exclusive, by the way). Add to this Newsstand’s additional task of posting out each magazine individually, and you get the picture.

Having said that, our overwhelming dislike of covermounted gifts is not based around the logistics, but perhaps more the marketing behind it and the landfill that it leaves behind.

We like to think that if you make a magazine good enough, then it should sell based on its magazine qualities (design, editorial etc etc), not because you’ve strapped a football to the front of it. We’ve seen bicycle pumps, cereal bowls, mudguards, cat food, condoms, daffodil bulbs and all manner of other unwanted products stuck onto magazines over the years. The larger of which we always greet with cries of amazement, followed by tears of disbelief. BTW, when we upload a magazine front cover to the Newsstand site, we always remove the gift beforehand in a vain attempt to increase the focus on the magazine itself. We still send all free gifts out to customers, unless (and this is extremely rare) the publisher has excelled itself and attached something that wouldn't fit through a post box in a month of Sundays.

Then there are the children’s magazines, where the gift quality, if not size, plummets to new lows. I’m not going to pretend I know where these toys are manufactured, but I’m pretty sure their airmiles are going to be quite impressive. They are invariably plastic, poorly made and have a useable lifespan of less than a few hours. Certainly the clock is well and truly ticking by the time little Billy has got his mits on them. Marketing to the kids, they excite and then deflate in quick succession. They are often, in a word, crap. If you want to sell toys, please, go and sell toys.

So we don’t need to have looked at the numbers to know they must put sales figures up enormously, I mean it’s not all done for fun, surely? And with this one thought, so the onus is nudged fiendishly back to the consumer, who obviously thinks far better of these little sweeteners than we do. "As long as you continue buying them, we'll keep glueing them on…” is the cry.

So, everyone’s happy? China – tick, Publisher – tick, Distributors – whatever, Parent – tick, Billy – tick. Perhaps other industries are missing a turn on all of this – how can it be that only magazines and Kellogs have cottoned on to this unbelieveable success story? It’s so obvious we should be sticking toys to books, trousers, first class railway tickets and sandwiches at once. Plus let’s get that log fire alight and enjoy a wee dram now the cosy nights are drawing in ‘til Christmas..

(One mission for early 2011 at Newsstand, will be to allow our customers to abstain from receiving free gifts with their magazines as they purchase online - the thought being that we'll get a good idea of how "wanted" they actually are. What we'll be able to achieve with that information is not entirely clear, but we will make sure the gifts removed go to where they are wanted.)

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