The meteoric proliferation of consumer publications has supermarkets scrambling to find space on already tightly packed mainline and checkout displays.
While increasingly sophisticated category-management software and demographic studies are helping chains sift through the approximately 4,400 available titles to achieve the right mix, retailers and distributors agree that new magazines mean new sales opportunities, and so should be given a chance to catch on.
Just which new titles get that chance -- and for how long -- is the question.
"Everybody is coming out with a magazine, and specialty titles are especially growing as publishers try to hit every facet of the market," said Sonny Ellis, director of health and beauty care and general merchandise at Associated Grocers, Baton Rouge, La. Consumer demand for reading material seems to be strong and getting stronger, he said.
Ellis cited a surge in health consciousness and growing acceptance of the Internet, with an accompanying hunger for information of all kinds, as contributing factors. He added that aging Americans "have extended leisure time, and people have more time to read. Others want to know how to manage their finances, which has prompted the publication of titles like Money."
With new magazine titles constantly crossing wholesalers' desks, "retailers more than ever must rely on their magazine distributors for product direction," Ellis said. Giving tryouts to new titles is a major challenge, "especially in managing store-level racks to insure slower magazines aren't kept too long."
As magazine wholesalers have moved to become more efficient and have developed category-management software systems, "many base their sales on computer-generated sales data. But what bothers me is dealers bring in new titles as replacements for others that shoppers may still want," he said.
New-title trials are also done by computer, he said. "Deciding what titles to delete for new ones coming down the pike can be crucial to satisfying and keeping magazine customers."
Many chains, like Raley's Supermarkets, Sacramento, Calif., issue approved-title lists that news distributors are expected to follow closely in stocking reading racks. "In the future, you'll see more retailers going to a limited list because of the massive number of titles coming out," said Dan Black, Raley's managing buyer for drug and general merchandise.
The search for new marketing opportunities has resulted in the rapid rollout of many niche magazines, he said, "some of which do better than others."
Retailers must "rely more on demographics to decide what the store's niche is," said Charles Yahn, vice president of general merchandise at Associated Wholesalers, York, Pa.
"You can't possibly attempt to carry everything, or go in with a blanket [planogrammed] program anymore," he said. Though the number of new titles being launched may seem excessive to some, he said, "people are just information crazy, which is being fed by the Internet."
The sea of new magazines has made scan tracking more valuable than ever, he said. "Scan data can now reliably track how new titles are performing and if they need pulling. Before, you never knew what sold and what didn't, and were satisfied as long as you got your [display allowance] money."
While retailers and magazine suppliers regard mainline and checkout fixtures as premium store real estate, Yahn said, publishers are less sensitive to the value of these display areas, pressuring magazine distributors to build distribution for lesser titles on top of established, A-list publications.
"Because of this, new titles need monitoring more than in the past," Yahn said. "Although it's easy to sell top-line titles, publishers want to sell the secondary titles too."
David Parry, vice president and general manager of magazine wholesaler ETD-KroMar, Dallas, said the sheer number of titles now available "is making managing the list more difficult. Chains are also becoming more restrictive and more specific in what they carry."
Nonetheless, he said, "New titles and new categories keep the product alive. In any product area, it takes a lot of product introductions before you find some winners. That has been the case in our business more than any other."
Parry said changing interests, tastes and attitudes have prompted the explosion of new titles. "Magazines like Penthouse and Playboy at one time were an extraordinary new concept, but today they seem like old news."
Computer-related publications are ETD-KroMar's highest-growth category overall, Parry said. The rapid rise of the computer industry has provided fertile ground for magazine start-ups, he said. "It has blown up and advanced so quickly over the past 10 years. Electronics wizards are now building new and fancy systems that can almost think for you."
Other hot areas are sports and fitness, and teen-oriented magazines are "a category that is just exploding," he said.
Maxim, a new general-interest men's magazine, has done extremely well, with many supermarket chains adding it to their authorized lists, Parry said. "It pretty much has broad-based distribution, and it hasn't been a difficult process to get it approved."
Trials of new titles are somewhat of a subjective process developed by "both the retailer and by the distributor. I don't think there are any rigid time frames established for trial," he said.
"If it looks like a pretty good product, it's submitted to the retailer and is accepted if he thinks it will fit into the category. If the chain has a restriction on the number of titles, they may find something to replace it with on the list and give it an indefinite period of time to prove itself. That is the way Maxim has performed."