'Free press under threat' from OFT reform

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The Independent Online

Britain's magazine publishers have warned the Government that proposals to shake up news distribution threaten the country's free press.

Britain's magazine publishers have warned the Government that proposals to shake up news distribution threaten the country's free press.

The Periodical Publishers Association (PPA), which counts IPC, Condé Nast and Emap as members, delivered the warning on Friday in a letter to Alan Milburn, Labour's chief election strategist.

The letter says that proposals by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to open the market for magazine distribution to competition represent a "potential threat to a free and diverse press". The reform will "undermine the secure route to market that newspapers and magazines currently enjoy".

The OFT said last month that newsagents and supermarkets could sign contracts with any wholesaler they liked, breaking the existing practice of territorial distribution. Magazine publishers fear this will make it uneconomic to deliver some magazines to newsagents in remote parts of the country.

The OFT also introduced new rules for newspaper distribution. However, these are not as stringent as the ones for magazines, leading to claims that the market will become distorted.

Sylvia Auton, the chief executive of IPC, publisher of Marie Claire, NME and Nuts, said: "The OFT is guilty of not fully understanding the impact of distribution. The backbone of the announcement is that magazines are not as time-sensitive as newspapers and therefore don't need the same protections. However, magazines are competing with newspapers for advertising revenues."

Ms Auton said that her company was assessing the impact the reform would have on it. But across the magazine industry, she warned, some 1,000 specialist titles could fold as a result of the OFT ruling.

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