GT Newsworld – “It was the talk of the trade and attracted all the major publishers to look at ventures which broke new ground in its field.”

GT Newsworld, Chapel Walk, Sheffield. Image: Keith Farnsworth

They say that print has no future. This is the case with newspapers that are in terminal decline. These days, we choose to get our news from a mobile phone instead. Magazines have fared a little better, but even these will go the same way.

A few months ago, a mate of mine asked me where he could buy a copy of The Grocer, the long-time voice of the food industry. I couldn’t answer that one, but there was a solution. This turned out to be an expensive online subscription that quickly got the thumbs down.

And then, last week I was browsing the magazine section in WH Smith and there it was. A solitary copy of The Grocer sandwiched between The Oldie and The Week. “We shouldn’t have it,” said the shop assistant, “It came by mistake, and we certainly won’t be stocking it again.”

So, where do we buy magazines these days?

According to the Periodical Publishers Association there are about 8,000 titles published in the UK, with a quarter of this made up by consumer magazines, the ones that we might buy in a newsagent or supermarket.

The biggest retailer is still WH Smith, but the supermarkets took a big chunk of its market share. and now the choice of magazines has shrunk and take up less and less selling space.

It has become a subscription world, where material is available online, or a glossy copy of your favourite magazine arrives through your letter box.  

But it wasn’t always this way, and in 1984, long before a digital world existed, a shop opened on busy Chapel Walk that threatened the monopoly of WH Smith.

GT Newsworld opened on Friday 2 March and was distinctive in that it became the first outlet in the country to sell nothing but news, offering a range of nearly 2,000 titles, with 1,000 displayed full face.

It was part of the George Turner Group, established in 1891, and better known in Sheffield as GT News.

Keith Farnsworth, the local writer, wrote a marvellous book about the history of the company in 1991, and it probably contains the only account anywhere about this rebellious undertaking.

“It was the talk of the trade and attracted all the major publishers and others to look at ventures which broke new ground in its field.”

GT Newsworld. Image: Keith Farnsworth

No.20 Chapel Walk had been a jeweller and its 800 square foot selling space had become available. Initially, the company had thought of using it as a GT Sports outlet, but Ashley Turner, had reminded his fellow directors that it was the ideal spot for a specialist magazine shop.

And so, the shop was refitted at a cost of £25,000, incorporating a computer system in which every title was barcoded, to ensure that sales and stock were constantly updated to keep the full range of titles on view.

It appeared to be a success, with customers milling around all day choosing every type of magazine available, including those imported from the United States. And it was easy to part with a tidy sum of cash and leave with a stack of reading material that never got read. But was it just a reading room where people spent an hour or so browsing magazines before leaving empty-handed?

At any rate, it seems to have lasted until the 1990s before closing, and we haven’t seen anything like it since.

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