For magazine retailers, January is partwork season, the time when the bulk of the year's new series are launched ­ invariably with free gifts and discounted cover prices ­ and promoted with heavyweight advertising. Partworks are serialised publications that stem from the days when encyclopaedias were sold in sections, and many still retain an educational or self-improvement element. However, today's partworks are highly targeted at the modern consumer. Steve Cripwell, marketing director at distributor Comag, explains: "Partworks have evolved into immensely novel, exciting and high quality collectible products. Some of the latest launches are based on well-known brands such as Sabrina, James Bond, Barbie and Rugrats. Partworks also have high cover prices and so are good revenue earners for the retailer." Indeed, the rewards for retailers can be exceptional. Sally Edwards, UK marketing manager at Eaglemoss ­ which has four partwork launches coming up over the next couple of months ­ says: "Our most recent launch of Ultimate Real Robots has had huge success. We are estimating that it will provide £6.12m in total retailer revenue over the life of the title." The extremely competitive nature of this market makes publishers reluctant to reveal the circulations of current titles ­ which they are not obliged to publish. However, James Franks, marketing manager at de Agostini, says: "We find that we usually sell many more copies with issue one than the best selling news stand title on a given subject. "For example, when we first launched Learning Land, the sale of part one was much bigger than the ABC of the leading computer title on the shelf. And with our Teddy Bear partwork, issue one sold 700,000 copies, while the leading magazine on the subject sells between 20,000 and 40,000." But in order to reap the benefits of these high circulations, retailers must approach the sector in a slightly different way to regular magazines. Eaglemoss' Edwards says: "Partworks require a small element of management over the lifecycle. If this is in place the customer is very happy and the retailer has a regular income from high volume sales." The first thing to understand about partworks is the importance of the launch period, which is crucial to the success of the series because it brings in the readers. This is why publishers often spend millions of pounds on heavyweight television advertising for each title they launch. De Agostini's Franks says: "We will do TV advertising for the first issue of a partwork, spending £1m-£1.5m over a 10-day, two-week period ­ that's around 2,000-3,000 ads. "The whole point is to get people to buy issue one. Immediately we will get 300,000 to a million copies for issue one. Some readers will then drop out but the ones that stay will stay for much of the course, and become regular purchasers." And Eaglemoss' Edwards says: "At the launch stage we spend in excess of £1.2m per national launch on TV in promoting the title." She adds: "TV advertising drives customers into the shops and there is regular repeat footfall from customers returning to continue their collection. Our partworks are also changing and carrying a higher cover price, which means a greater marginal revenue for the retailers." Franks agrees. He says: "Our research tells us that 50% of people who buy a partwork regularly buy at least one other thing when in the shop, especially confectionery or lottery tickets." And these incremental sales can be achieved on a regular basis with the readers who sign up to the partwork and come back to the shop to pick it up on a regular basis. GE Fabbri's marketing director Huw Thomas says: "The local retailer allows the customer to collect a partwork week by week which perhaps otherwise they may not be able to ­ I think it's a great service and also brings customers back into the shop on a regular basis. For example, our longest running title Star Trek started in 1996 and is still going now." And de Agostini's Franks says: "It can go on for years. We have partworks into their 200-plus issues. Of those 200 issues, retailers only need display the first few issues, then they can keep it out the back or whatever ­ people will be ordering it in. "It is a major retail advantage that partworks mean regular purchasers and retailers only need to display the titles for the first few issues, because after that the consumers will have signed up for regular purchase." But while regular sales can be achieved without the space taken up on shelf, retailers need to put the work into the displays at the crucial launch period. Comag's Cripwell says: "Retailers can make the most of partworks by displaying them prominently in the store especially throughout the TV advertising campaigns. Encouraging all customers to place a regular order to collect the partwork ­ converting them into regular purchasers. "This is especially important with those who buy the launch issues. A regular customer order can generate a steady income for over a year!" And Franks says: "We have found that display units can double or triple the sale achieved without them, in all categories. And again you just need that for the first few issues, so it's worth making the effort for a sustained return." He says that while different retailers have different demands, de Agostini supplies display units, posters, shelf wobblers, T-shirts etc via the wholesaler. "If a retailer thinks he will sell more copies with a display unit, we will give him one," he says. Because the marketing spend needs to be so high, partworks are highly targeted publications that are meticulously researched. Franks says: "We tend to get the demand right as they are so carefully researched. We do regional testing prior to a national launch and consumer research. Because the television advertising is so costly we make sure it will be well received." And Thomas says: "Testing partworks is a vital process. It is important to everyone in the supply chain that we are able to provide customers with the right product and optimise what we can sell­ our ultimate aim is to introduce good, strong products that will benefit the whole supply chain, from publisher through to retail newsagent. Just ask your local wholesaler how successful Sabrina's Secrets has been this year!" Because the partworks are tested so rigorously, the publishers often offer sale or return only for the first, say, half dozen issues ­ as is the case with Build the Titanic and Learning Land. GE Fabbri's Thomas explains: "The SoR point for GE Fabbri titles is something that we have looked carefully at, using the test information and years of historical data. "The models we have in the system tell us the optimum time to move from SoR to firm sale. We have tested extending the SoR point in the past and it is something we continue to pay close attention to­retailers do have the option to change or cancel firm sale orders right up until the day before the issue is due on sale. "In this light, the risk' to the retailer is limited to a couple of copies of one issue that a customer has failed to cancel or collect balanced against possible thousands of copies for a publisher," he concludes. {{CTN }}