Newsagency businesses are struggling against decreasing sales of traditional products

DOES the traditional newsagency business have a future? Sales of newspapers, magazines, stationery and greeting cards are all in decline, and Hawkesbury newsagents are feeling the pinch.

While the stores of yesteryear were shrines to print, many these days are selling much more than news to get people through the door. 

Gift products like hand creams and novelties, along with electronic gift cards and mobile phone data packs are all helping businesses make up for the decline.

Indeed, a study by newsagency software company Tower Systems found across 173 Australian newsagencies, gift revenue was up 13 per cent, toy sales were up 12 per cent and plush (or luxury) products rose 14 per cent during the July-September 2017 quarter.

During the same period, magazine unit sales were down 13.5 per cent, newspapers dropped 12 per cent, stationery 11 per cent, and greeting cards 4 per cent compared to the previous year.  

Two Hawkesbury newsagencies have closed down in recent years, and locals have felt the sting. Kurrajong shut its doors in 2015 after being owned by the one family for a decade, and Richmond Newsagency closed last year after nearly a century of news sales at the Windsor Street site.

There are now only a little over a handful left in the district, and of these, many are diversifying. 

Like in any other industry, businesses that fail to embrace market changes could be taking a huge risk.

Diversify or die

Two years ago, Pitt Town couple Karen and John Cossu’s Windsor Riverview News business was struggling.

The duo were battling to pay the shop’s rent and with eight employees and their own livelihoods to think about they made the decision to move to a smaller premises, cutting their floor space by half.

The following year, they went on to record a massive 50 per cent decrease in newspaper sales and a 35 per cent drop in magazines.

But this wasn’t a surprise: the couple had done their research, and rather than sit on their hands, they had embraced change. 

“We reinvented ourselves,” Mrs Cossu told the Gazette. “We cut our stationery products by around 50 per cent, and our magazines by about 40 per cent, and we added different gift lines. The way we designed this shop, we were able to make the best out of a small space.”

The shop still has all the usual suspects - newspapers at the front, lotto terminals at the counter, rows of magazines and a selection of greeting cards - but on the back wall are racks of gift products.

Mrs Cossu said the traditional newsagency had no future, so they had to diversify in order to survive.

This included introducing a range of MOR boutique products and expanding their ‘occasions’ gift range - things like birthday mugs. 

They regularly attend gift fairs and newsagents conferences, and they even introduced their very own line of cushions, aprons and tea-towels screen-printed with Hawkesbury suburb names.

“We sell lots to local businesses and we also got our customers involved to pick suburb names. We just took off with this product and I can’t tell you how much it’s helped us in terms of being a battling newsagent with not much revenue,” she said.

“At the other shop [before we moved] things were not looking good at all. We wouldn’t have been able to sustain ourselves in business for more than another six months.”

Only a few left

Co-owner of O’Briens Newsagency in Richmond Mall, Thuy Tran, said many customers of the old Richmond Newsagency are now shopping with her. 

She said her newspaper and magazine sales had fallen 20 per cent over the past five years, and gift cards were also declining as more people shopped online.

She has had the shop for 17 years, and said the location helps with business. She added many of her customers are aged over 35, and value being able to do all their shopping in the one arcade.

“We’ve always had a lot of locals who know we’re here, and we have a lot of repeat customers,” she said.

She thought the trend towards online news meant less young people were shopping at the store.

Magazines for niche markets were still selling well: “Magazines for the younger markets like Frankie are doing ok, and so are the weeklies like Woman's Day, New Idea, Better Homes and Gardens, and That’s Life.”

Sticking it out

Richmond Marketplace Newsagency owner Ash Botrous said lotto is the biggest draw-card for the store.

“It’s the main thing we have that others [in the Marketplace] don’t have,” he said.

“Most of our customers are the older generation, and we help them with their questions, explain the products, and we tell them about special offers and make the customer aware of the best deals.”

He said younger people still bought scratchies: “They have no other reason to come in as they’re doing everything online.”

During the 12 years Mr Botrous has owned the business, newspaper sales have halved and stationery products have also dropped significantly, he said, adding that this is mostly due to competition from supermarkets and specialist chains.

He said at his age, he was happy to keep plodding along: “At the moment it’s ok - I’m not sure for how long though, as rents and wages are constantly increasing,” he said.

“But we try to keep going. I think it depends on your age and situation. I’m just surviving and working and happy to keep going.”