Issue 38 / London
The saga of finding a new Monocle headquarters continues and while we’ve been dreaming about what our home will look like, we’ve also been thinking about our next retail venture and noticing a gaping hole in the newsstand market, writes Tyler Brûlé.
We were hoping this issue would go to press with a spanking new HQ address at the bottom of the masthead but sadly we’re teetering on the edge of our seats waiting for the deal to go through. I’m not quite sure why the rental process is quite so complicated in the UK but I believe it has something to do with keeping a grand alliance of lawyers, surveyors, technical consultants and civil servants in employment. Job creation aside, the good news is that there is a new building for about 80 of us (this includes our sister company Winkreative) and we’ve spent the last few weeks shuttling back and forth measuring, admiring and scheming about how we want the new digs to function and how a solid 1960s office block is going to transform the way we work and communicate.
I don’t want to say too much as I might jinx the whole thing but, all going to plan, it will feature a wonderful space for entertaining and if you’re a London-based subscriber expect an invite in the run-up to our fourth anniversary – if not sooner.
Not far from the potential new HQ there’s a little newsstand that we’re hoping might make a nice addition to the retail portfolio, as we reckon there’s room to expand both the range of media we offer and the trading hours. Residents and regular visitors to London will know that it’s near impossible to find a decent selection of magazines and books late in the evening. What’s part of the rhythm of a night in New York, Paris or Tokyo is almost inconceivable in London these days. Rewind 20 years and you could pop into Tower Records at Piccadilly Circus to snatch up underground US and Japanese magazines up till midnight, but the Tower brand has vanished from the UK and no one has seized the opportunity to open a literary alternative to sitting in a pub.
The business of retailing printed matter continues to go astray and there are few managing directors (or even consultants) who seem capable of getting big brands and smaller operators back on track. In London, Daunt Books seems to have a pretty clear idea of what it’s doing and New York’s McNally Jackson is also delivering on what a bookstore is supposed to be – particularly in the face of discounters, web retailers and the plague of shrinking attention spans.
The situation for the news trade is even more acute as many retailers seem to have forgotten what their mission is. At this year’s major distribution jamboree in Hamburg it was clear that many retailers are almost exclusively focused on how they can combat all things digital while doing little to keep an eye on the shop floor or embracing the opportunities offered by a physical environment versus a virtual one. Anyone who travels through UK and US transport hubs will know that rather than focusing on selling magazines and newspapers, the kiosk operators are more keen to up-sell customers on a party pack of Smarties or a metre-long bar of Toblerone. Never mind that I went into their premises looking for some of my favourite magazines and perhaps some new titles, why on earth would I want a triangular bar of chocolate at 07.00 or a bucket of candy-covered chocolates?
In a drive for efficiencies, retailers are denying consumers the opportunity of discovery. Interesting launches don’t stand a chance of muscling onto the newsstand if they don’t have a fat promotional budget, and even if they do make it as far as a middle shelf they’ll be placed in the wrong section (I’m amazed where Monocle ends up sometimes – the cycling section seems to be a favourite; perhaps they think it’s “Monocycle”) and then never sell. It’s tough when you’re a Korean global affairs journal and you’ve been placed among bird-keeping magazines.
The news trade needs to take some swift and drastic action if it’s going to continue to support printed media and survive on a diet beyond chocolate bars and super-size packets of Extra chewing gum. It seems clear that if you offer a better, broader range of magazines then you stand a good chance of generating more sales if you have a more eclectic, surprising selection. Add some decent lighting, some well-designed display units, enthusiastic staff and you might even see the value of your average transaction skyrocket. If the traditional operators in this category don’t set about overhauling their broken model then media brands will have to step in to improve the consumer experience and re-ignite the market.
If you have any thoughts on the state of airport newsstands, story tips or want to sign up as a charter resident in Monocle’s new apartment project (we had many readers interested in our thoughts on a residential project from last month’s column) then drop me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or my assistant Alexander (email@example.com) a note. Cheers.
For more from our editor-in-chief, read his column in the FT Weekend.