Fizz kid loads his magazines and sets off in search of Eden: Margaret Farrall on a new chapter in the war to be waged at petrol pumps

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The Independent Online
A MARKETING man who has helped to put the sales crunch into crisps, the bite into Worcester sauce and the fizz into Grand Metropolitan's brewing division is bent on stirring up the publishing industry.

On Monday, Keith Eden, managing director of Retail Revolution, launches 32 new magazines to be sold exclusively at petrol stations.

It is the biggest single collection of titles to reach the market; and the distribution through garages, cutting out traditional wholesalers, is also revolutionary.

Petrol stations will benefit from distribution savings and receive a share of the revenue from advertising - a new idea within the industry.

For each magazine sold at pounds 1.95, garages will receive 22.5 per cent of the cover price and an equal percentage of the advertising revenue, which which will be audited by the Petrol Retailers' Association.

The consumer magazines, covering everything from health and women's titles to motoring and special-interest subjects, will be sold in the independent garage market first. Retail Revolution hopes to expand to the larger petrol companies later.

Mr Eden is viewed as a maverick in the industry, where many doubt the viability of such an ambitious operation. 'He is known as a man with firm views and great determination who came into the industry from outside and wanted to change it,' says one insider.

His last appointment, on the IPC board, gave him an insight into the magazine industry. He describes it as: 'Luddite, conservative and slow to adopt technology and modern work practices.'

He says the nature of the labour market today offers more flexibility. 'You don't need large numbers of permanently employed people. By tapping into these resources you can take a sizeable chunk from your costs.

'The notion of contract-printed didn't exist 10 years ago. Now you can go along as the publisher managing the editorial content while commissioning the printer to arrange its production.'

Mr Eden says that even supermarkets find it difficult to cut magazine prices because they risk having supplies curtailed by wholesalers, which want a nationally maintained, across-the-board price structure.

The aim is very much the mass market. 'We recognise that we are not breaking new frontiers in terms of creativity. Half the public never go to WH Smith or John Menzies and we think we may capture some of these people.'

With Retail Revolution's potential to supply 6,000 independent petrol stations, the publishing world waits to see how it goes.

A spokesman for WH Smith, Britain's leading wholesaler, said: 'From our point of view there isn't a real problem. They are supplying mainly independent garage outlets which would not be supplied by us anyway, so it is not in direct conflict.'

Ian Locks, chief executive of the Periodical Publishers' Association representing 180 publishers of 1,600 magazine titles, says: 'People are rightly interested in anything which is possibly new. The thing about magazines is their amazing flexibility and the ability for people to produce them wherever they find a distribution outlet.

'I can't see it as an unhealthy move, but whether it is successful is another matter. There are very good reasons the retail distribution system operates as it does. It has served the industry well over many years, and by industry I mean all parts of that chain. If someone feels they have found a better way, it's interesting, that is all.'

Sally Cartwright, publishing director at Hello] magazine, has seen two of the products being produced for Retail Revolution.

'I don't think they are very good quality products and I doubt they will sell well,' she says. 'Also the advertising is downmarket. It is the sort for which little money is paid and which I think would produce limited revenue for the publishers. If it is the intention to pass on any of the revenue to the garages, I can't believe that it would be any significant amount.'

Bob Frost, chief executive of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents with 28,000 members, warns that, because someone identifies garages as a distribution area, they cannot automatically assume that people will want to buy the new products supplied.

Although the publishing industry's reaction has been restrained, Mr Eden, 50, believes Retail Revolution's marketing moves have 'clearly put the wholesaling industry in turmoil'.

He started his management life with Procter & Gamble, graduating to appointments as sales and marketing director of Golden Wonder crisps, managing director at Lee and Perrin and to the board of Grand Metropolitan's brewing division.

(Photograph omitted)

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