Publishers ask soap star to take the fight to Wh Smith

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The Independent Online

This man could become the secret weapon in a bitter war between Britain's newspaper publishers and WH Smith over the distribution of magazines.

This man could become the secret weapon in a bitter war between Britain's newspaper publishers and WH Smith over the distribution of magazines.

The two parties have been at loggerheads for six months since WH Smith tore up the rules on distribution. It has led to legal threats, secret ministerial briefings and public slanging matches.

In the latest extraordinary twist, the Newspaper Society is planning to recruit characters from TV soap Emmerdale Farm to help fight its corner.

The group, which represents local and regional newspapers, is about to write to Clive Hornby, who plays the feisty Jack Sugden, to garner his support. The Newspaper Society, which has also written to TV presenter Carol Vorderman, wants the celebrities to lend their names to articles in the local and regional press in which it will spell out reasons for blocking WH Smith's plan.

The society will tomorrow publish a report outlining its arguments. The report is written by Professor Paul Dobson of Loughborough University - who in an earlier report claimed that ,if WH Smith extended its distribution plan to newspapers, it could lead to the closure of 12,000 local newsagents.

WH Smith revealed last week it had taken a financial hit from the introduction of its national distribution scheme. While pre-tax profits were 5 per cent up for the whole group, its wholesale business suffered a 3 per cent fall.

Earlier this month, the German publishing house Bauer launched legal action against WH Smith and its new distribution system. Wholesaler John Menzies is also considering legal action. The Periodical Publishers Association, which represents magazine publishers, will next week reveal its alternative to WH Smith's plan.

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