Some supermarket chains have taken a stand against tabloid publications that sensationalize shocking events like the death of Princess Diana and the murder of Jon Benet Ramsey.
Gooding's Supermarkets, a 13-store upscale chain in Altamonte Springs, Fla., refuses to sell tabloids altogether since the death of Princess Diana, and 12-store Gelson's Markets, Encino, Calif., placed laminated cards in racks to hide tabloid covers.
"Gelson's Markets recognizes the sensitivity of the tabloid issue to our customers. Our management has given this topic much thought and feels that we do not have the right to censor products based on our own standards of what is appropriate. Therefore, we will continue to offer tabloids for sale. However, we will cover the front of the magazines so that potentially objectionable photos or headlines will not be visible," according to a message on the cards.
The cards have been in place since tabloids published crime scene photos after the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, according to John Thoe, sales manager at SNC-Arrowmark, a book and magazine distributor in Burbank, Calif.
Any retailer that covers magazines or tabloids faces a significant sales drop, according to Thoe. "The cover is what sells the magazine," he said.
Gelson's Markets did not return phone calls from SN. Goodings confirmed tabloids have been pulled from its racks due to the public disapproval of the Diana coverage.
Another upscale chain, Ralph's Grocery Co., Compton, Calif., is temporarily selling tabloids at the magazine racks only. But not because chain executives believe material is "objectionable," according to Victoria Borgatta, acount executive at SCN-Arrowmark. The chain is adding larger racks at checkouts to display tabloids. In fact, executives at Ralph's want to get tabloids back on the shelves as soon as possible. "We've noticed a great drop-off in sales. Customers are not accustomed to look for tabloids back at the magazine racks," Borgatta said. Ralph's will occasionally pull a tabloid if the cover or editorial is "offensive," but only after officials receive several "legitimate" complaints, Borgatta says. The last time she remembers Ralph's pulling an issue was after Princess Diana's death.
The death of Diana, Princess of Wales, proved one of the most challenging periods for tabloid executives, facing the public's anti-paparazzi sentiment. They hurried to change the minds of supermarket officials who declared they would not carry tabloids with photos from the crash scene, and some chains like Ralph's temporarily stopped their sale. Tabloid representatives were able to convince retailers that their Diana coverage was fairly tame, and tabloids appeared back on the shelves in a short time. "They sent copies of their stories [on Princess Diana's death] along with those of Time, People and other magazines, and showed them there was very little difference. The [retailers'] perception was worse than it was," said John Harrington, publisher of The New Single Copy, a publication for magazine publishers and distributors in Norwalk, Conn.
Tabloid and magazine executives are quick to point out that these are isolated cases and supermarket executives have been mostly quiet about the "tabloid issue."
Lawrence Gunn, president and chief executive officer of Globe Marketing Services, Boca Raton, Fla., is aware of only Gooding's and Gelson's restricting sales. And the Gelson's move does not affect The Globe's profits because the publication is "not displayed there anyway," according to Gunn. "This is not a universal problem, and by and large sales are strong," he said.
However, Harrington says that tabloid sales are "soft" this year. Although recent magazine and tabloid sales are not available, 1997 showed significant single-copy sales drops for the National Enquirer, Star, Weekly World News and National Examiner from 1996, according to data from the MPA. During the same time period, single-copy sales of TV Guide dropped about 20%, and Family Circle, Woman's Day and other popular magazines showed decreases.
"Tabloids are declining in general, yes, but last year was an exceedingly good year for sales, now we're just back," Gunn said. Magazine sales are "unpredictable" after distributor consolidation, according to Jeanine Moss, vice president of communications for the MPA. "What has affected magazine sales more is distribution and their placement on the aisles. It has not been sensationalism on covers or anything," she said.
Even when they do not pull issues, retailers know they can preview magazine and tabloid covers when they are concerned about coverage of certain issues. And magazine publishers will often give retailers a "heads up" if they think chain executives might find certain wording and photos on covers offensive. This prevents time and expense when retailers remove items from the shelves.
A case in point is Winn-Dixie Stores, Jacksonville, Fla., which pulled the March 1997 issue of Cosmopolitan from checkout stands in all of its 1,180 stores. The objectionable headlines on Cosmo's cover included: "His & Her Orgasms: How to Slow Him Down and Speed You Up." Wal-Mart executives also decided not to sell the issue at checkouts, but their stores had not yet placed the magazine at checkouts.