The newstrade category

may not be one of the most profitable markets for retailers, but Jon Bunting, commercial director of WH Smith News, believes that it is one of the major categories driving footfall and boosting associated purchases in stores.

It doesn't bode well for independent retailers, then, that they are progressively losing their battle for market share of the newstrade category to the major ­supermarkets.

Bunting says: "Supermarkets and independent retailers have equal market share according to our figures, about 30% each.

"But if you look back to five years ago, supermarkets would have had about 20% and independents north

of 35%."

A key reason for the increase in sales among

the top multiples has been their efforts to increase space devoted to news-papers and magazines.

Stefan Wojciechowski, head of news and magazines at the NFRN, says: "Supermarkets cream the bestselling titles because they have historically invested in large swathes of space and in the ranges to fill it. Independents and smaller multiples get what's left."

Because supermarkets are able to buy in more volume, their track record on availability is better on a title-by-title basis, says Wojciechowski.

However, while the largest retailers may have been building their ranges a few years ago, the picture has been mixed recently. Bunting says: "Tesco has been looking at building range back into the ­magazine category by introducing more titles in areas of niche appeal, such as hobbies."

But Wojciechowski says: "During the past two years some supermarkets have been reducing their ranges. In the past year, we have seen them moving product to secondary ­spacing in many stores."

He argues that if publishers continue to deliver more copies to the supermarkets, they may find themselves increasingly held to ransom by their demands. "They exploit their market share by asking for overriders, display space payments and promotional payments."

The solution for both independents and publishers would be for publishers to recognise the continuing importance of independents and invest more in the sector, says John Lennon, MD of the Association of News Retailing.

"Publishers say they want to invest in independent retailers, then take copies away from them when supermarkets ask for more."

That said, independents can promote their cause on a shop level by exercising the best merchandising techniques they can. n