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International sales: 5 minutes with… Richard Salsbury

The quality of British magazines means that they are in high demand overseas. We grab five minutes with Marketforce’s Richard Salsbury to find out how publishers can take advantage of international opportunities.

By Richard Salsbury

International sales: 5 minutes with… Richard Salsbury

Q: Where, geographically, are there growth opportunities for UK publishers?

A: The beauty of international distribution is that growth opportunities can present themselves from pretty much anywhere in the world. The key is to deliver great content to an engaged audience in a compelling package. 79% of Marketforce’s international sales are made in English speaking territories, so these countries do over index in terms of potential for growth. However, publishers should not discount territories where English is not a native language.

North America is regularly high up on publishers’ target lists for export. The size and scale of this market make it a compelling region for newsstand sales. Bookstores are a natural home for imported titles in the US and Canada, with overall US bookstore sales performing well. Barnes & Noble, the largest bookseller in the US, is forecasting stable year on year revenues for the newsstand in 2022, driven in no small part by import titles and the vibrant range of content they deliver.

The pandemic has also opened up opportunities in other channels besides bookstores for UK publishers, allowing some import titles to reach new audiences via the grocery channel in particular.

Right now, we are also witnessing a return of sales via travel points around the world as consumers are taking to the skies regularly again following the restrictions of Covid. Travel points are a key retail channel for import titles and these retailers are showing significant growth in 2022.

I think that having good quality dialogue about product development and content opportunities with your distributor and locally based agents is key. The local market knowledge that these teams can tap into to identify exciting sales opportunities is truly powerful.

Q: What types of title typically do well in international markets?

A: Titles that perform best in international markets have one thing in common: hard to replicate content. Publishing in many international markets is not as broad as it is in the UK. This can mean some sectors are potentially underserved by domestic publishers, allowing imports to thrive.

As a result, we often see strongest performance internationally from more specialist sectors of the market. For many specialist titles, export markets can generate as many sales as the UK market. Music titles are a prime example. Music publishing is dominated by UK publishers with minimal domestic competition in most markets. As a result, UK music titles command strong global sales, exploiting demand for music content.

Bookazines continue to go from strength to strength internationally, providing exciting and diverse content for consumers and driving strong revenues throughout the supply chain.

This format is particularly adept at exploiting trend and event-based publishing. The success of the multitude of Harry Styles products over the past few years bears testament to the potential bookazines and one shots can unlock with trend based content.

More recently, we’ve seen a consistent increase in demand for children’s titles. This category is regularly reported as being one of the strongest performers with limited domestic product to compete with, which of course is encouraging for the sector as a whole!

Q: What factors should UK publishers be aware of when trying to sell overseas?

A: It sounds obvious, but distance and time are the main factors that publishers will find the most different in international markets.

In most instances, these factors won’t have a material impact on sales, but it does affect the speed with which sales performance is confirmed; even with over 65% of sales covered by epos and early claims reporting. This can hinder the speed with which publishers can react to sales trends - both good and bad!

Publishers also need to be aware that sales efficiencies are, in most cases but not all, usually a little lower than in the UK market; driven by the specialist nature of imports and the higher sales volatility experienced as a result.

Improvements have been made in recent years across all these elements through enhanced data feeds, with further enhancements continuing to be made. However, publishers do need to be aware of these factors when planning for export.

Q: How can publishers increase their international sales?

A: Think global, act local. One of the most consistent ways publishers can drive international sales and revenues is through looking at how they can adapt their core content for their top global markets. This doesn’t mean having to set up international brand licence agreements across a portfolio; small editorial tweaks can make a big difference to overall performance.

For example, plate changes calling out content specific to a certain territory can drive sales and increase distribution. These callouts give local distributors and retailers an extra reason to really shout about a brand and encourage consumers to pick up a copy off the newsstand. It can often also drive retention to benefit subsequent issues. Really thinking about your content and how it can resonate with local audiences pays dividends delivering material sales uplifts over non localised issues.

Taking this one step further, local language products unlock a very different scale of distribution in some markets, yielding materially higher sales and improved efficiency. We find that working closely with our agents to highlight the gaps in local markets that can be served by translated products allows us to identify the right titles to invest in for local language translation.

Q: How should publishers price their product in overseas markets?

A: Our publishers are looking for us to ensure that they are priced to deliver profitable sales in international markets. It is vital that international newsstand sales return profit, and a lot of time is spent analysing the latest data and market pricing to make sure that our portfolios are priced correctly for the market.

Import titles are traditionally more expensive than domestic products and in most markets, consumers are used to more expensive import titles sitting alongside domestic products; far more so than in the UK. What helps the UK press command higher pricing internationally is the production quality that is offered compared to products from other countries. So long as consumers can see and feel the value of what they are buying, then price sensitivity in overseas markets can be overcome. The key is to make sure that production quality is maintained as prices rise, which we all know is a big challenge in the current climate.

This doesn’t mean that publishers can charge whatever they like for their titles internationally. Particularly when testing expansion into new channels, there are often certain price thresholds that need to be respected in each market. We work very closely with our local agents to understand these limits when modelling distribution expansions to ensure the best chances of success.

Q: What promotional strategies typically work well overseas?

A: When publishers are considering promoting internationally, we encourage them to look at strategic and tactical options.

In the light of what we have just spoken about regarding price, tactical promotions that deliver enhanced value to consumers are those that have the best impact overseas. This can be in the form of added value, value packs or tactical price promotions. These types of promotions resonate well with consumers and provide a clear reason to purchase one title over another.

Strategic promotions focus on the long-term opportunity they can unlock for a title. In many instances, promotional investment to unlock new retail authorisations will not return a positive return on investment on the promoted issue. However, when the sales revenue for subsequent issues is considered, this type of investment will deliver the best return of all.

Q: What’s in the pipeline from Marketforce?

A: Our clients are all facing unprecedented pressures on their businesses, and they are looking to us to drive sales and manage their cost base effectively. As we head into 2023, we are firmly focused on ensuring that we optimise our distributions and local pricing to protect revenues and improve efficiency. To do this, we are continually working with our agents to improve our distribution analysis and market data to ensure the right decisions are made at the right time.

But as I have mentioned, getting the right product into the right consumers’ hands is core, so alongside managing effective distribution, we will continue to focus on bringing the latest trends and opportunities from international markets to our publishers. Who knows, we may even discover the next Harry Styles!

About us

With more than 30 years of experience, Marketforce leads the way in global sales, marketing and distribution for a wide range of publishing and media businesses. Owned by Future PLC, we are backed by one of Europe’s largest and fastest-growing media companies.

We are the #1 independent publisher newsstand distributor. Distribution is our core service, but our focus is also on helping publishers build their businesses through adding value. We aid product development, help determine optimal pricing and deliver customer marketing for brands that grows sales. If you would like to hear why more publishers are choosing Marketforce, call us for a chat about getting the distribution you need.



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