WH Smith relents on `top-shelf' magazines

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The Independent Online
LOUISE JURY

WH Smith's wholesale arm is giving newsagents the option to refuse to stock "adult" magazines after a campaign against the top-shelf sales by some retailers.

The high street chain's wholesale division will ask newsagents to "opt in" to the sales in future after complaints that soft porn material was being forced on retailers who did not want it.

WH Smith News distributes magazines and newspapers in a "box-out" system, under which a pre-packed selection of items is sent to 20,000 independent customers.

Although newsagents can elect not to receive adult magazines, some claimed their wishes were not being respected and Hamdy Shahein launched a protest campaign from his shop in Stoke Newington, north London. At its peak, the opposition claimed support from 500 other shops.

The company, one of three wholesalers dominating the market, said yesterday it hoped the modification to the distribution procedure would meet the objections.

A spokeswoman said: "There's been a lot of criticism weighed against us. We thought we'd clarify the matter once and for all to make sure we don't inflict these magazines on people who don't want them." Other magazines would be selected and sent to the newsagents instead, she said.

Mr Shahein welcomed the move as a "step forward" but said pressure was being still placed upon newsagents to accept the top-shelf material.

He accused WH Smith of stressing the good profits to be made, up 10 per cent on last year, in order to persuade retailers to accept some of nearly 90 adult magazines on the company's lists.

"We're looking for total freedom of choice so that if the retailer doesn't want these magazines he doesn't have to have them. It's been proved that these magazines are harmful and degrading to women and not good for children."

Mr Shahein, whose business has folded since he began his protest six years ago, but plans to continue the campaign, said newsagents were left with no choice because only one wholesaler covered any particular area of the country. He claimed it was not possible to deal with anyone other than WH Smith in north London.

Brigitte Faubert, legislative officer of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, said that although individual newsagents were supposed to have the right to refuse material, in practice they had limited negotiating rights.

The wholesaler "boxed out" to the retailers a selection that they had to accept or risk losing the supply. This left newsagents paying for magazines which in some cases they knew they could not sell, would return a month later and have to wait at least a further month before getting their money back.

"The top-shelf magazines are an additional problem. They have to pay for this material which is against their beliefs and it makes them a front line target for anybody coming in and asking they are displaying this filth," she said.

The federation has asked the Monopolies and Mergers Commission to investigate the grip on the wholesale market by WH Smith, John Menzies and Surridge Dawson.

Censoring top shelf, page 19

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