Handling Wal-Mart

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Magazines' contentious relationship with retail giant Wal-Mart was on display during an American Magazine Conference panel featuring top industry CEOs. David Pecker, chairman-CEO of American Media, said the retailer contacted him after the death of Nascar star Dale Earnhardt to place a significant order for a special commemorative issue the company planned-so long as none of his controversial autopsy photos were included. (Mr. Pecker said there were never plans to include such photos.)

Dan Brewster, president-CEO of Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing and exiting chairman of the Magazine Publishers of America, spoke of journeying to Bentonville, Ark., this summer to discuss broad issues about magazines with the retailer. Mr. Brewster did not mention his traveling companions, but accompanying him on a chartered jet to Bentonville were Nina Link, MPA's president-CEO, and Tom Ryder, chairman-CEO of Reader's Digest Association and incoming MPA chairman.

At the Wal-Mart headquarters, which Mr. Brewster likened to "Marines' barracks," Mr. Brewster said he was told by Don Harris, exec VP-general merchandise, Wal-Mart , that decisions to pull key titles off their racks-such as Dennis Publishing's Maxim and Stuff and Emap's FHM-was not made according to specific regional concerns. Instead, Mr. Brewster said, Mr. Harris told them the company made "common-sense" evaluations of what may be appropriate for all of its stores. Mr. Brewster said the process was "very centralized." A Wal-Mart spokesman did not return calls.

"They have a point-of-view about the customer," said Cathleen Black, president of Hearst Magazines, whose Cosmopolitan, Redbook and Marie Claire now have their coverlines obscured at Wal-Mart owing to concerns over racy content. "Some might say `censorship.' They say `customer-driven.' "

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