the Packer henchmen are spinning a good year to newsagents and ignoring what has been a stack of problems associated with the ill-advised 1st Fleet distribution deal, as Neville Newsagent explains.

It was an expansive, chatty Christmas letter to newsagents from Phil Parsons, the under pressure CEO of Network Services, the magazine distribution arm of Kerry Packer’s ACP Magazines and PBL empire.

Lots of new offers, lots of cheer, lots of talk about a wonderful year. And nothing about what’s been something of a bad year for everyone.

Certainly no mention of that greedy grab for more margin by taking the sub-agents distribution from some newsagents for the petrol stations and convenience stores owned by Caltex/Woolies, Coles, BP.

That was sneaky and greatly un-liked.

So ‘up’ was the Phil’s email missive that some agents felt a little put out that he hadn’t claimed credit for inventing the wheel.

Of course there was NO mention of the terrible year many agents in NSW and Victoria have had from the indifferent performance of the 1st Fleet contract, nor any mention of the problems that continue to bedevil the home delivery subscription service through the agents.

That’s directly attributable to not only Network and ACP but their mates over at Pacific Magazines and Gordon and Gotch.

Nor was much publicity given on the front page among the highlights to another collection of sneaky price rises, for New Weekly, Take Five and those grubby girlie mags, People and The Picture, both of which have had an indifferent year in circulation terms, but continue to do well under John Alexander favourite Peter Holder and his boss, Phil Scott.

All going up by a few cents here and there! NW is now $4.20 each issue bought through the shops!

Check out the full Chrissie newsletter for agents here.

Note that the solid, but steady Bulletin magazine is on sale for four weeks for the current Christmas-New Year edition. That’s been a normal thing now at ACP, but it’s a pretty lazy and arrogant way, of course, for the magazine that still claims to be the country’s premier news and current affairs magazine.

It is a cheap way of saving money by not printing when there are few ads and readers around. It also saves on staff by sending everyone on the magazine away for at least two, and in some cases four, weeks holidays.

There were lunches galore around Stocklands House and Park Street late last week on the eve of everyone ‘going away’. A group of high flying publishing and marketing girlies for example headed for Bondi for a long one late last week with the group CEO, Phil Scott, an inviteee. Don’t know if he attended though.

For the next fortnight ACP is basically shutdown with only the Network and the distribution and publishing people at the grindstone on the few working days.

And that’s somehow ironic as distribution remains the big problem for ACP, Network and their mates across the Sydney Harbour Bridge(Pacific Magazines, new name, same old Seven Network gang of slow thinkers) and their equally as baffling mates at Gordon and Gotch(G&G), the magazine distribution arm of PMP.

Looking back on the decision to appoint 1st Fleet 18 months ago, and comparing the hype with reality, it’s clear the transport company was totally unprepared for the reality of moving magaines in Victoria, and then NSW, the two main markets for magazines in this country.

And Network/ACP and G&G/Pacific were equally unprepared for the damage that 1st Fleet’s problems would cause to their businesses.

It is now apparent that for whatever reason 1st Fleet is out of its depth in distributing magazines. The transport neophyte was seduced into coming to terms with the duo of Network (ACP and G&G) who wanted to trim their own costs to the exclusion of the impact on 1st Fleet

Now there are suggestions that 1st Fleet may be finding it tough in regard to payments to contractors in the general freight division. There has been chatter on the truckie UHF and CB bands which again may be harmful to 1st Fleet.

Crikey has already reported extensively on problems at ACP as you can see here: http://www.crikey.com.au/media/2004/09/27-0009.html.

The point that still causes wonderment in the distribution industry is how 1st Fleet managed to snare this contract from a group of other operators with far more knowledge about the ins and outs of the magazine distribution business, but who refused to match 1st Fleet’s tender, said to be $1 million a year below the competition.

Some of these competitors ran ‘dead’ by pricing their tenders well above what was reasonable, perhaps to avoid getting into a beauty contest with Network/ACP and G&G.

ACP and Network are currently the ‘wicked’ fairy godmother in the industry, justifiably taking a lot of the flack for playing hardball over the problems newsagents are facing.

G&G seem to be standing back a touch. Perhaps there are some in the PMP distribution arm who are not true believers when it comes to the joint venture with Network and ACP?

As well some are wondering if the PBL owners, James Packer and his executive deputy chairman, Dad, are totally aware of the problems, or whether in their arrogance, they are leaving it to ACP and PBL chief, John Alexander and his hatchet man, Dave Gardiner, to run things.

But I wonder if 1st Fleet ever looked at a similar working magazine distribution system or a direct clone of one and if they did why didn’t they go down that proven track?

You would also think that questions would, should have been asked about compatibility of the existing invoicing software, pick, pack and
distribute software and account processing! All fairly simple, really!

The feed back from newsagents indicates they are not happy with G&G with the abundance of poor quality products they are sending out, and magazines copies are over the odds. Agents say that they sending back over fifty percent of some deliveries because their products don’t sell very well.

The advertisers using these magazines to flog their products are also being taken for a ride on the readership and other related matters.

Most people questioned at shopping centre complexes are feeding the data collectors with what they want to hear just to not upset them so that they may get on with the shopping. Next time, get a copy of the questions sheet and look at it carefully for double dipping.

So who audits the auditor? Remember when they brought in the ATR-Oztam rating system and associated People Meters for rating TV. Nine didn’t do so well in 2001 and Kerry Packer was upset and wanted to get rid of the new system. It’s one of the reasons why he sacked poor old Dave Leckie at New Year in 2002.

Brutal. So why is he continuing to tolerate the problems bedevilling the operations of his ACP division?

And finally, if the contract 1st Fleet has is so tough, why doesn’t 1st Fleet try and void it or quit it? But let’s be fair. If 1st Fleet didn’t ask the right questions they only have themselves to blame, don’t they?

Merry Christmas.

Just again, when are we getting the Women’s Weekly, and how? By Christmas and by whose sleigh?

Peter Fray

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