For many New Yorkers, news that Wal-Mart is opening a store in Queens in 2008 came as something of a shock. This isn’t the stylish big-boxer Target, with its Todd Oldham togs. So soon after the election, and already the Red (America) Army is setting up its grim retail garrison?
But in fact, we’ve been part of the Wal-Mart Imperium for years. New Yorkers in the media business have long been dealing with Wal-Mart—and not on the kind of terms they like. The Bentonville, Arkansas–based behemoth sells about 20 percent of all recorded music, an even larger share of DVD films, and moves enough magazines that Time Inc. puts out a title exclusively for it.
And Wal-Mart isn’t shy about taking sides in the culture wars. It banned America (The Book), the best-seller by Jon Stewart, because of (faked) naked pictures of the Supreme Court justices. “We were really disappointed,” says Jamie Raab, publisher of Warner Books. “I would like to think that people in Queens would enjoy it as much as everyone else.” Also verboten: FHM and Maxim. Not to mention Jenna Jameson’s autobiography.
Just as radio giant Clear Channel focuses only on hit songs, Wal-Mart stocks mainly the big sellers. It also doesn’t carry anything with a parental-advisory sticker, so “nine times out of ten,” labels make cleaned-up versions, says music retail consultant Clark Benson. At the same time, Wal-Mart is pressuring labels to drop their wholesale prices so it can sell albums for under $10 without losing money.
But Bella Price, the editor of Time Inc.’s Wal-Mart-only All You (cover line: GIFTS FROM $3), says to give it a chance. “When you experience shopping at Wal-Mart, as opposed to reading about it, you’ll have a very different take on it.”