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Supermarket free distribution: 5 minutes with… Andy Barker

Rising costs have prompted publishers to fine tune their free supermarket distribution strategies. We grab five minutes with Self Select Distribution’s Andy Barker to find out how publishers can make their free distribution work harder.

By Andy Barker

Supermarket free distribution: 5 minutes with… Andy Barker

Q: What trends are you seeing at the moment in supermarket free distribution?

A: The large cost increases in paper and energy has forced publishers to remodel their free publications to make them economically viable in a challenging advertising market. Publishers have trimmed paginations and paper quality to ensure they remain profitable. Generally, printed volumes have fallen, so publishers are focused on ensuring that copies are in the correct stores / postcodes and that the supply levels are tight to ensure that every copy works as hard as possible to deliver advertising response. Some publishers are changing distribution stores each month in order to ensure specific key advertisers get local response and brand awareness.

The travel and holiday brochure market has seen a major resurgence this year after a difficult period due to covid. The continued consumer appetite for holidays and short breaks has been surprising with the ongoing cost of living crisis seemingly not affecting bookings and response. Volumes have increased and response levels have been great, with travel operators reprinting extra copies to meet demand.

We have seen a trend towards more information driven publications which aren’t focused on advertising. A recent nationwide campaign for the UK Government simply offered shoppers information on the resources and advice available as part of the ‘Help for Households’ campaign.

Councils are also using our services more to offer publications containing local information on resources and services. Historically this kind of information may have been delivered via door drops en masse, but councils are now trimming print volumes and are turning to supermarkets to ensure residents have access to a copy if they want one but in a more sustainable model

Q: How does front cover design impact pick-up rates?

A: The design and imagery on the cover is a key component as it has to clearly convey what the publication is about and why the shopper should pick it up. Bright, bold and simple designs seem to work best. Sometimes designers try to be clever and use subtle imagery which tends not to work as well. On regular jobs, it’s best to change colours by rotation, so shoppers can see at a glance its distinctly different to the last copy they picked up. Competitions on the front cover or a great low-price offer are also a good idea to grab shoppers’ attention and trigger that conscious choice to select the title from others on the display stands. Publishers using a well-known celebrity or sports person on the front cover also work well in relevant markets.

The British public are still very polite and sometimes reticent to pick up a high-end glossy magazine which looks as good as many paid-for publications, so we always suggest that ‘Free’ or ‘Free copy’ is added to the front cover to avoid any possible confusion.

Q: What can publishers do to minimise copy wastage?

A: As the price of paper and printing has increased by 50%, publishers are wanting to make sure each copy works as hard as possible to deliver its objective. We provide two reports to ABC accredited standard to help publishers. The first is a proof of delivery document showing the time, date, signature with a clear photo of the copies on display. The second is a pickup report which shows the supply, restocks and any returns at the end of each issue. As part of the service, we tweak the supplies for the following edition by increasing or decreasing supply by store. We are actively targeting returns of less than 5% whilst trying to ensure a few residual copies in the stands to ensure customer availability over the period. Some publishers are requesting wastage levels of maximum 1% which does result in supplies running out before the next edition is delivered in.

Q: How should publishers be promoting their availability within supermarkets?

A: Social media is a key tool for publishers to regularly promote their distribution channels and, in particular, when a new edition is out for delivery. We supply publishers with photos on the day of delivery so they can show the new copy on display in our stands with digital time stamp. Publishers also use house ads with a map in the actual publication showing where copies are available to pick up from. Some publishers also have a specific distribution section on their websites with an updated list of exactly where copies are available from. From an advertiser’s perspective, the supermarket distribution brands like Tesco and Sainsburys add credibility and assurance of local availability as they can easily visit their local store and see shoppers actively picking up a copy from the displays stands.

Q: What are the common characteristics of titles that perform well on the pick-up racks?

A: The first key to performance is ensuring the stores selected are a good match to the market and target audience. We have a large database of stats and customer profile data for each store which we can help guide publishers with.

A4 magazines remain ever popular in terms of display and pick up demand, although smaller cut down A4 to A5 still perform well in the stands. In terms of demand by shoppers, it’s generally weekly local newspapers that drive the highest volumes with up to 1,500 copies being picked up in each store. Often, these newspapers were previously paid or distributed via doors and have a long brand heritage with customers viewing them as the key source for local news, features and information in their local towns and villages. We receive calls from stores asking when they are due into stores if they are late as customers visit on specific days to ensure they can pick up a copy.

Full colour glossy aspirational lifestyle titles that replicate the same quality as magazines you may buy or subscribe to perform well as shoppers really like the quality and editorial driven features but in a free format.

Q: What can publishers do to optimise their return on investment in supermarket free-distribution?

A: The challenge is to produce a quality publication that has appeal to both advertisers and the target readership but within a budget structure that can drive profitability. Many of our clients are reliant on paid advertising to sustain and drive the business. There is a fine balance which needs to be managed carefully in terms of print volumes and distribution costs to ensure ROI is sustainable. A local or regional market may easily have demand for 25,000 copies but 10,000-12,000 copies of a carefully managed free title is often enough to drive good levels of advertising response and satisfy initial shopper demand. Publishers can increase or decrease copies depending on specific campaigns and revenue achieved which helps keep them sustainable for the long term. The most successful publishers combine an excellently designed publication with a well-presented website with a digital copy always available. Social media is another key factor that helps build and sustain brand awareness and keep the title relevant locally.

Q: What’s in the pipeline from Self Select Distribution?

A: We have considered the UK opportunities in retail store distribution and feel we currently have a great mix of store brands and geographical locations to offer publishers with our five current main retail partners. Inevitably, publishers would like access to brand X or Y which we don’t currently offer, so if the opportunity arose on good commercial terms, we would consider further expansion.

We have recently expanded over into Spain with a good structure of major supermarkets and smaller points across the Costa Blanca. Demand was strong for door to door leaflets in this area so we have expanded in that method which has worked really well for clients. Southerly expansion into the Costa del Sol to target the premium markets around Marbella has worked very well with several large repeat campaigns booked.

About us

Self Select Distribution (SSD) offers publishers of free magazines and newspapers a distribution service into the UK’s leading supermarkets including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrison’s and Co-op.

Supermarkets offer a high weekly footfall of local shoppers as the majority of consumers still visit a major store at least once per week. Every free copy is taken by conscious choice by discerning shoppers from a range of free titles which helps to deliver good quality response to advertisers. Publishers can either target by socio-economic profile, by postcode, by town or by region depending on their individual strategy.

Tel: 01204 667123