Wal-Mart & magazines

Wal-Mart & magazines: It’s hard for my friends who live in New York City to understand Wal-Mart. For example, I had lunch recently with a well-known name in the magazine world who claimed with some pride never to have been inside a Wal-Mart or Sam’s. I’ve followed Wal-Mart through the years, primarily in the context of their impact on small businesses. I have known people (regular visitors to this weblog) whose multi-generational businesses have ended due to Wal-Mart’s entry into their market area. I have heard horror stories from anyone I’ve ever talked with who sells their products through the Wal-Mart channel, including one friend who is CEO of a business whose largest customer, by far, is Wal-Mart. It ain’t pretty.

But I blog not here to bash Wal-Mart; just to point out that they are well beyond 800-lb. gorilla size in every product that is sold via their channel, and that means magazines, too. According to a piece today by the always scoopifying Keith Kelly, Wal-Mart reportedly controls 15% of the newsstand market. Kelly reports Time Inc. discussing with the chain what they would like to see in a new Wal-Mart-friendly women’s magazine. Time apparently is seeking information on price-point and content preferences and obviously will get a clear understanding of what types of cover pictures will not be covered.

Time Inc. obviously gets the whole Wal-Mart thing.

I’m sure there will be much hang-wringing and commentary about how awful this Time, Inc. – Wal-Mart discussion is, but I think it is business as usual. Time is a manufacturer of mass magazines for the mass consumer market. Wal-Mart is the dominant (to say the least) mass merchant of magazines for the masses. One of them is the largest corporation in the world. The other is the largest media conglomerate in the world. They are in business for one reason only, to make lots of money (which only one of them does well). Time Inc. would be remiss if they didn’t go to Wal-Mart and say, “What kind of womens magazine do you think the gazillion women coming to your stores each week would like to purchase and at what price will they purchase it?” (Hey, in the UK, retail chains are even doing private label magazines, so get ready.)

Time Inc., to many people, is the great satan. Wal-Mart, to many people, is the great satan. Shouldn’t they at least be coordinating with one another?

As for me (who, remember, is comfortable with paradox), I will continue to cheer for and support the small publisher and the independent merchant and choose, whenever possible, to put my money where my mouth is. However, I will refuse to be shocked when giant corporations try to make more money by giving consumers what they want even if it’s not what I want.

But I’ll confess, also, to the cheap and childlike streak in me that draws me to the nearby Super Wal-Mart and Sam’s on a regular basis. I rarely buy, but I still marvel at who and what is there. To not understand Wal-Mart is to not understand America.