An industry body for newsagents has warned of a need to reform the business of newspapers, amid an increasing number of shops opting not to stock the printed word.
The Convenience Stores and Newsagents Association (CSNA) said that it has recorded approximately 40 shops that have stopped selling papers in and around Dublin city centre.
It has also raised concerns over the “extremely high” cost of doing business for rural shops in particular, noting one recent case where a newsagent in a village in Munster was being asked to put down a €2,500 deposit with a supplier, despite “only selling about €60 worth of papers every week”.
While cautioning that “there hasn’t been a mass movement” of shops opting out of newspapers, CSNA chief executive Vincent Jennings said it has become “much less profitable” for retailers.
“There are places that traditionally sell a lot and are viable in their own right – but a phenomenal number are just barely washing their face,” Jennings told The Journal.
'Most Problematic Area'
Jennings said the “most problematic area” is the that newsagents must pay not one, but two, delivery charges for papers and magazines received each day.
It means an “overwhelming majority” of news retailers are being charged in excess of €6,500 per year just to receive papers and magazines, according to the CSNA.
This comes amid the falling sales facing the industry every year.
The bill for receiving newspapers and magazines from distributors is known in the industry as a ‘carriage charge’, the group added.
Recent weeks have seen various posts on social media from people, including Fianna Fáil senator Shane Cassells, discovering that several shops in Dublin city centre – where footfall is almost a constant – were no longer stocking newspapers.
Last March, the group, which represents 1,500 retailers big and small nationwide, told a Joint Oireachtas Committee that it was “genuinely fearful” that these commercial reasons will see many retailers no longer able to “stock any printed publications unless there are radical and targeted efforts” to halt the costs of selling papers.
The Journal is aware of a number of shops owned by MACE which have stopped stocking newspapers in recent months.
The company did not reply when contacted, but one industry source said MACE retailers are independent operators who, after franchising the store, are considered to be solely responsible for what is stocked in their own shop.
Séamus Dooley, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said he has noticed the trend affecting different stores in Dublin.
“It is noticeable in business /shopping areas such as Grafton Street and Dame Street. It has implications for consumer choice – many people still prefer what I call the dead wood edition and are adverse to online subscriptions,” Dooley said.
He said that it can have the effect of “restricting access to news”, with high distribution costs “militating against smaller, independent publications” as a result.
'Very Limited Competition'
Jennings said that he has intervened in recent disputes involving small newsagents who were faced with heavy bills for selling newspapers, one example which included a village with a population barely reaching treble figures.
“I had someone who bought a shop in a village in Munster and when they went to the distributor looking to begin stocking newspapers and magazines, they were told they were facing a deposit of €2,500 to open an account. That’s money you’ll never get back until you close the account.
“When I added up how many titles this man would be selling, it would come to the cost of €65 but then he’d have a carriage charge of €59 – leaving him with the princely sum of €7.
“This man may well wish there to be a presence of national papers, provincial papers and the likes of the Farmers Journal to be available to his local clientele, but it’s a very high price to pay.”
Dooley pointed to “very limited competition” in the distribution market as an additional factor facing newsagents.
Jennings agreed, noting that unlike the UK, his members are obliged to trade with two firms rather than a single company when stocking publications.
Two separate companies exist for this, covering a different range of daily and Sunday Irish and UK titles, but the newsagent must pay both distributors which are themselves faced with different transportation costs.
“The carriage charge is frequently multiplied by two if you want to stock a full range of Irish and UK papers and magazines,” Jennings outlined.
“That has to change. We would like customers to be able to access printed newspapers but if prices keep rising we can’t guarantee that will keep happening.”