Wal-Mart cuts the long tail

According to the New York Post, noted by Bo-Sacks, Wal-Mart is cutting 1,000 magazine titles from its range of stocked items. Since Wal-Mart delivers about 15% of US magazine retail sales that is a big bite out of the long-tail. Major business titles, including The Economist, BusinessWeek, Forbes and Fortune, are trimmed in the cull.

The clear message for those publishers in the long tail (you have to have a very short tale to put The Economist and BusinessWeek in a long tail) must be to get their magazines onto a digital platform, preferably one that is scaleable and essentially immune to tail diseases. According to Bo-Sacks “industry sources with knowledge of Wal-Mart’s plans, the company’s Sustainability Committee-and its commitment to reducing waste-played a key role in its decision.”

Would that really be the reason for Wal-Mart’s decision to chop its magazine tail? Conceivably yes, the slowest selling newstand magazines are very wasteful in generating returns (magazines that are shipped 2 ways and then pulped are hugely wasteful, and such returns can reach 50% on the most specialist titles). Oddly enough the leading theorist of the Long Tail Chris Anderson (editor of the magazine Wired) has recently suggested that the printed magazine is less ecologically damaging than its digital equivalent. His arguments are stretched and the conclusion only stands up on a very wobbly leg, if you think that the magazine industry carbon deserves credit for the existence of primeval forests. Perhaps Chris needs to have a word with Wal-Mart?