BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Wal-Mart Stores here may soon be selling an exclusive new consumer magazine published by Time Inc., New York.
While custom publishing is common among retailers, sources told SN the planned women's service magazine would be the biggest such effort to date. Because Wal-Mart controls between 15% and 20% of the magazine market, its sales could rival many existing publications, they said.
"This is equivalent in the magazine business to Kraft creating a product exclusively for Wal-Mart," said Bill Bishop, president, Willard Bishop Consulting, Barrington, Ill.
The magazine could launch later this year and would mark Time Inc.'s first publication produced exclusively for one retail outlet, according to published media reports. Wal-Mart confirmed that it is in discussions regarding exclusive rights to sell a low-priced women's service magazine delivered and merchandised in Wal-Mart stores, said Karen Burk, spokeswoman for the chain. At least one media report said a deal has been signed and that Time had code-named the project "Shannon."
The ramifications of a Wal-Mart/Time Inc. deal are far reaching, observers said.
While publishing in the United Kingdom has already moved toward quality, retailer-associated magazines, the trend in the United States has leaned more toward some custom publishing efforts by supermarkets that narrowly focus on food topics, Bishop said. There hasn't been a full-fledged magazine launch by a supermarket since the 1930s. In the early years of that decade, Family Circle and Woman's Day magazines started as free publications distributed through supermarket retailers. Both magazines later developed into full-scale women's service magazines published by outside publishing companies.
While Wal-Mart has tapped into the market of exclusive products in other categories, a magazine targeted to its own shoppers could appeal to the chain's suppliers as potential advertisers, said Art Turock, sales growth strategist with Art Turock and Associates, Kirkland, Wash. The retailer already runs Wal-Mart Television, an exclusive TV network with paid advertising from suppliers, in about 2,500 of its stores. With half of U.S. shoppers visiting a Wal-Mart store once a month, that makes up a very receptive audience, he added.
Suppliers would see advertising in such a magazine as a variation of the targeted marketing initiative, Turock said. "It's a positive for suppliers who are already in Wal-Mart, or for those who aspire to be."
One industry consultant, who wished to remain anonymous, said he doubted if a women's service magazine published exclusively for Wal-Mart could ever be a viable publication; even with Wal-Mart's large share of the retail business, the circulation wouldn't be enough to support a major publication.
"Over the last couple of years, other chains have developed giveaways or sold magazines. They were exclusive, and they haven't spread out beyond that," he said.
The content and advertising would have to be major factors in the success of such a magazine, Turock said. Wal-Mart's focus on middle-to-lower-income families looking to buy national brands at low prices would have to dictate the content.
"If the publication is targeted to the Wal-Mart shopper, then they have to think about articles that are appropriate to that Wal-Mart shopper," Turock said.
"At the end of the day, this is one more flare lighting up the fact that there is something important going on with magazines," Bishop said. "Some retailers are using them exclusively, some are using them to bring alive different sections or commitments of a store, and some people are frankly not sure what to do with them. But that flare is up there."
Now, it's up to the industry to decide if the light cast by that flare is something to run from or something to use to shed light on "what's cooking," Bishop said.