I was in WH Smiths on Waterloo station on Friday evening and noticed that they had Playboy on sale for the first time in many years. WH Smiths is Britain's biggest and oldest (established 1792) newsagents but banned the sale of adult magazines such as Playboy, after pressure from feminists, in 1997. WH Smith's wouldn't admit this, of course, and just said it was due to reduced demand. However, this was only in its 550 High Street shops; in its 187 airport and railway station (Smiths opened its first railway station shop in 1848) shops the magazines continued on sale. Three years later they announced they would be re-introducing them in the high street before campaigners forced a u-turn. This didn't effect profits though, because in their role as Britain's biggest magazine producer, with 45% of the market, they distributed 80 adult titles to independent newsagents and received 17% of the cover price for doing so. The retail and distribution arms were de-merged in 2006.
Recently Smiths has given in to campaigners (they were holding out in 2011 when the Co-op was pushing for covers on lads' mags) and put covers on its adult magazines. Better this than not selling them and I think this may actually boost sales. Interestingly, I was in a branch of WH Smiths in Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport last week and there were no covers on their adult magazines. Whether this will come or whether they will treat airport shops differently remains to be seen. Certainly, it has got to be good for Playboy's sales given the difficulty of finding anywhere that sold it in the UK. Latterly, the only adult magazines on sale in Smith's airport and railway station shops were those published by Paul Raymond Publications, such as Mayfair and Men Only. Playboy had been dropped. This made it very difficult to get the magazine in Britain. Triple P only knew of one small newsagents in St Martin's Lane in London and the nearby Cinema Store which stocked it regularly. Now we have to decide whether to support WH Smith's for re-stocking it or continue to support the independent shops we bought it from before.