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The 2012 Olympics and London

Winning the right to hold the 2012 Olympics was a cause of much celebration in London on 6th July – and despair in Paris. What impact, if any, will hosting the games have on the publishing industry? Chris Collins looks into the future to predict the likely winners and losers.

By Christopher Collins

London’s victory, against stiff opposition from Madrid and Paris, in winning the 2012 Olympic Games has been greeted with mixed feelings. Many people, perhaps even most, in London and the South-East appear to be pleased with the decision, whilst others feel that the London Olympics will prove to be somewhere between a disappointment and a disaster. The bombings of 7th July appear to have confirmed in some people’s minds that it would have been better if the Games had gone elsewhere.

Remember Montreal?

The staging of the Olympic Games has done some wonderful things for many cities in recent years, Sydney (2000) and Barcelona (1992) being two examples. However, for other cities they have brought little but strife and debt as was the case with Montreal (1976) and Atlanta (1996). Montreal is probably the most extreme example, as it is estimated by some that the city is still in effect bankrupt as a result of the Games. Atlanta is another example of a city, perhaps, wishing its bid had proved unsuccessful. This is not because of any sporting misfortune but as a result of a terrorist bomb and transport and logistical inadequacies. I suspect the jury is still out with respect to Athens. Whilst the 2004 Games did wonderful, and sorely needed, things to the infrastructure of the city (roads, mass transit systems, stadia and so on) the true costs of staging the Games are only now beginning to emerge. Indeed, Athenians are beginning to realise that they will be paying for the 2004 Games for many years to come. Having said that, the Athens Olympics brought an immense amount of national pride to Greece. But, having been unfortunate enough to follow the hugely successful Sydney Games no stone (almost literally) was left unturned in trying to emulate their feat. An achievement which merits acknowledgement but not one without cost.

But what of the impact that the Olympic Games will have on our industry - publishing, distribution and retailing - and particularly on the sales of newspapers and magazines?

Well, recent history indicates that the story is a mixed one. Some publications, notably those linked to participating sports such as athletics, swimming, boxing etc are likely to benefit, particularly in the run-up to the Games. Athletics and other specialist sports magazines traditionally do well as readers are keen to learn about the favourites, who is in form, who is likely to win and to read the views of the experts. Undoubtedly there will be new launches in advance of the Games, related perhaps to Olympic history or particular sports. It is almost certain that some publishers will launch part-works in 2012 or before.

As to non-sporting titles in the run-up to the Games, these are unlikely to be unduly affected by the event, either in a positive or negative way, unless editorially they change their slant to incorporate Olympic stories. Many of them surely will. One can envisage lifestyle magazines writing about Olympic athletes’ fashion choices; food magazines writing about their diets and car magazines about their choice of motor! The list is potentially endless. And in this lies a real problem. The problem of ‘overkill’.

Depending upon when the London Olympics’ hype starts (many would say it already has) may well indicate the rate at which the reader, and listener / viewer (for this will affect electronic media as well) starts to turn off, literally and metaphorically. In the run-up to the Games it is likely that every aspect of the Games will be considered, analysed and regurgitated, from our medal prospects through to the progress of the multitude of construction sites. It is quite possible that people will reach a ‘fed-up’ factor before the Games even begin if the coverage becomes too intense.

Effect on reading habits

But what of the period of the Games itself? How will they affect the reading habits of newspaper and magazine purchasers? Clearly sports fans are likely to scour the back pages of their favourite newspapers to establish whether, or rejoice that, Seb Coe’s modern day stand-in won the 1,500 metres or Steve Redgraves’ the coxless fours. This should be good for many newspaper publishers. Unless, of course, heaven forbid, the Brits under perform (surely an impossibility on home soil).

However, recent Games notably Atlanta, Barcelona, Sydney and most significantly Athens have, perhaps surprisingly to many, shown that the Games do not, in general, bring great joy to publishers. There are a number of reasons for this.

Firstly, overkill, as stated above. Secondly, many visitors to the Games, wherever they are held, are on holiday. They are attending a great world sporting event and they are there to have fun. When people are on holiday many cease to read their ‘usual’ titles, associating them perhaps with what needs to be read for work or what they usually read at home. In other words routine! Travellers to the Olympic Games and other great sporting events often either cease to read newspapers or magazines altogether, preferring in their spare time away from the sporting events to explore what, to many, will be a new and interesting city, or to change their reading habits altogether. Whatever happens most of the visitors are likely to read less.

This, however, is less true of books. Most of us tend to read more books on holiday than normally. So, book publishers might benefit. However, before getting too excited it should be noted that the majority of people tend to bring books with them rather than purchase them whilst away, so the benefits to the London book publishing and retail businesses may be limited.

Imports up

Another factor affecting newspaper and magazine purchase is language. Of the tens of thousands of visitors to London for the Games a fair number will not read English at all and many will only read it poorly. This is hardly going to benefit many English language titles. It will, however, encourage overseas publishers to supply more of their titles to London, although, as stated earlier, people on holiday do not always want to read their usual dailies or weeklies. After all, one of the reasons for going away is that one is not constantly reminded of what is going on back home! Nevertheless, it is likely that Londoners will see more foreign titles on sale than usual as publishers increase the supply of a multitude of foreign newspapers and magazines.

Another factor that can, and probably will, affect sales is, what could be called the ‘lets get the hell out of here’ factor. Whether Rugby World Cups, Football World Cups, Cricket World Cups or the Olympic Games; when these come to town, a fair number of people leave. Many of those not interested in the Olympics, and there are a surprising number of them, would prefer to be somewhere else. This will be true of London as well. Perhaps because of the crowds, the inevitable rising costs (as London does what every other Olympic city has done in recent times), the blanket media coverage or even, in some cases, the opportunity to rent their property, some would rather be sunning themselves along the shores of the Mediterranean or on Florida’s golden beaches than be in London. This will have an impact on press sales.

Enough of this gloom I hear you say. There must be some bright spots for the publishing industry when the Olympics come to town. Well, yes there will be some.

Travel retailers

One likely beneficiary will be our airport retailers and associated services. There will be tens, maybe hundreds of thousands (athletes, officials, spectators and media) of extra visitors travelling to and through London for the Olympics to say nothing of the Olympic myopics fleeing our shores for sunnier climes. The majority of those will travel through our airports. Consequently sales of newspapers and magazines, particularly on departure are likely to be buoyant. Publishers should benefit.

Similarly, those travelling to London by train from Europe, and there will be many of them, are likely to purchase newspapers and magazines for their trip. Some mainline station retail outlets could also see handsome sales increases as some Olympic events are being held outside London. The sailing events, being held in the West Country, could prove a boon, albeit a short-term one, to some London mainline retailers.

As to hotels, many will have high occupancy levels during the Games and it is certain that some enterprising publishers and their suppliers will ensure that copies of their newspapers and magazines will be available, possibly in quantity, in selected ones so there should be some benefits to be had there.

Infrastructure improvements

The other benefits to the publishing world of the Olympics coming to London in 2012 are likely to be more medium to long-term. As infrastructure in London improves - underground, overground and road - in the run up to the event there should be improvements to distribution and supply. The benefits may take a while to come but they should be there. Similarly as the East End of London is developed for the main Olympic sites, new news outlets will be established which should help bring new long-term benefits to a previously under-developed part of London and consequent benefits to publishers and retailers alike.

So, overall what will the Olympics do for our industry? In many ways 2012 is a long way off and much can change between now and then. For the shrewd publisher who plans, targets and markets well there will undoubtedly be wins to be had. For those who see a bandwagon that simply needs to be jumped on there will be disappointments. With all the visitors who will come to London for the Olympics the retail sector in general will benefit. After all London is one of the shopping capitals of the world! As regards the publishing world, as with most aspects of business, there will be more losers than winners. Let the fun, and games, begin!