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Wal-Mart redesign cuts magazine aisle in half

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Last week I wrote about Wal-Mart’s next-generation store design (Magazines: kick ’em when they’re down), which moves the magazine rack to the back of the store near music, electronic games, DVD’s and books.

Wal-Mart’s pretty good at figuring out how to maximize the sales of every square foot of space, so while the move is a symbolic kick in the pants to an industry that is suffering from all sorts of afflictions — not the least of which is a big drop in newsstand sales — it was hard to know if the move would really have an impact on the media business.

Well, apparently it does. According to AudienceDevelopment.com, the new store layout will also reduce the length of the magazine rack by 20 feet — approximately 50 percent. That means something on the order of half the magazines you can buy at Wal-Mart today will be unavailable there after each store is remodeled.

Wal-Mart isn’t saying which magazines will get the boot, and according to AudienceDevelopment.com, that decision hasn’t yet been addressed. But, consistent with all of its in-store activities, Wal-Mart officials (not a talkative bunch in the first place) are blunt in saying they’ll keep only the magazines that sell the fastest. Because that’s what Wal-Mart is all about.

It’s good for earnings and it’s good for the publishers that make the cut. But shoppers looking for titles with slightly narrower focus will simply have to go elsewhere.

Because that’s the downside of Wal-Mart and the Big Boxification of retail: Only the most mainstream items in any category – from lumber to breakfast cereal to music to magazines – get shelf space. Wal-Mart is bad for variety.

And in this case, it’s bad for the magazine business. The likely in-store survivors — usual suspects like Cosmo, Maxim, Better Homes & Garden and, (going out on a limb) Guns & Ammo — may see an increase in sales due to the new location, improved merchandising and reduced category competition. But I can’t imagine that the bump will be enough to offset the 20 feet of shelf-space that’s being given to some other retail category.

Face the fact: At the world’s largest store, magazines have just been put within site of the back door.

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About the Author:

Bob Rosenbaum is founder and principal of The MarketFarm, a content-oriented strategic communications firm.

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