Media Perspective: The supermarket milk has turned sour for publishers

Supermarkets are evil. Unless, like me, you spend an eighth of your wages on Quavers and they cost 27 pence in Tesco against 50 pence from the local shop.

Personally, I'd rather contribute to Tesco's profits (assuming my pension fund is an investor) than subsidise the local shopkeeper's dream of sending his son to public school.

Yet magazine owners have suddenly realised that supermarkets are the enemy. Or at least you got that impression from last week's PPA conference.

A man called Jim Bilton from a company called Wessenden Marketing unveiled some exciting findings under the banner of "Magazines in a Supermarket Economy". It emerges that supermarkets, especially Tesco, are evil because they (a) have the cheek to become media owners in their own right (Tesco launched its Tesco Media set-up last year and sells Tesco TV and other in-store opportunities for advertisers) and (b) dare to spend money on advertising their brands in magazines and therefore, in some people's opinion, may try to exert influence over publications' content and positioning.

Others are also concerned about supermarkets' contract publishing arms, increasing involvement in the subscriptions business and seemingly constant bids to censor magazine content.

Some of this is fair enough. Tesco, for instance, is so passionate about selling its in-store TV proposition to advertisers that it seems to me to border on undue pressure on brands trying to get the best shelf position.

But, seriously, how much does this harm magazines?

Is it really that much of a hardship for smut such as Nuts and Zoo to be moved a bit higher up the Tesco shelves?

(Last week, the supermarket reacted to complaints from people living sheltered lives that lads' mags - not jazz mags - were disturbing them.)

Magazine companies don't like being messed around like this. Yet, a few years ago, the industry was rubbing its hands at the prospect of supermarkets beginning to stock magazines. It entered into a Faustian pact with the supermarkets in a bid for sales growth and cheaper distribution.

No wonder, then, that the supermarkets have so much power in deciding what to stock and where it's positioned. But things have got a bit sticky recently with potential changes to the supply chain in magazine distribution.

Many publishers of niche titles have a lot to lose if the rules allowing for monopoly distribution in each local area are outlawed. This shouldn't be allowed to happen, but most major magazines haven't helped themselves.

Or, as a cleverer man than me put it: "Publishers are paying for years of suckling at the sweet teat of the supermarkets and are now learning that the milk has turned very sour."