By Anne Cassidy and Ian Darby, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 21 August 2009 12:00AM
The latest Audit Bureau of Circulations figures were never going to be a feel-good summer read. But while consumer magazines emerged down, they're not out. The disastrous figures that some were bracing themselves for didn't quite appear, though it was no picnic.
Men's titles, which have already seen some casualties this year with the closure of Maxim and Arena, took a big hit and women's glossies also bore a few battle scars.
The right cover star and that all-important exclusive can still pull in the readers, as the weekly sector showed, with OK!'s coverage of celebrities such as Jade Goody boosting period-on-period sales.
Specialist, current affairs and business titles also performed well, with Dennis Publishing's The Week increasing circulation by 10 per cent and titles including The Economist, MoneyWeek and Private Eye also doing well. This self-improvement doesn't just extend to the mind, as positive results from fitness titles proved, with Men's Health capturing the top spot in the men's market after increasing its circulation by 2.1 per cent amid trouble in the men's sector.
PPA figures showed a market decline in actively purchased sales of 3.9 per cent on last year and 1.9 per cent on the previous period. Customer magazines dropped 15 per cent on the previous period, according to the Association of Publishing Agencies.
But it must be noted that some of the top customer magazines only report their figures annually and so haven't appeared in the latest ABCs. Also, some major publishers, including Future Publishing and Haymarket, did not publish ABCs for some of their key titles.
Andy Taylor, the head of magazines at Carat, believes that figures for quite a few titles, especially in the men's sector, are benefiting from sticking plasters and that the release of individual monthly figures for titles will reveal their true performance.
And he notes some worrying signs when it comes to subscriptions, which are down 3.35 per cent period on period across the consumer magazine market, according to Mintel. This, despite many publishers talking up their performance on building subscriptions of their key titles.
Taylor warns: "People are looking at their outgoing direct debits at the start of the year and dropping their magazine subscriptions. To see some green shoots, publishers have to invest in their subs."
IPC faced a challenging market and, while there were some bright patches, losses in readership were hefty for some titles. Men's titles were squarely in the firing line, with Nuts and Loaded seeing big falls.
Other sectors that proved tough for IPC were music, homes and TV listings. NME was one of the biggest casualties of the music sector, with a 27.2 per cent drop in circulation on last year. Ideal Home took a hit, as did Homes and Gardens.
But there were positives: Woman & Home bucked the trend in a tough women's market with a 4 per cent rise in circulation, while InStyle recorded a 1.2 per cent lift. TV listings titles took a hit but Soaplife saw a boost to its circulation. Look fared well in the women's market but Now, which underwent a relaunch last month, saw a sharp fall of 14 per cent in its circulation.
Despite the recession, IPC, under the chief executive, Evelyn Webster, has invested heavily in both print and online.
Its flagship women's glossy Marie Claire, which suffered a 9.9 per cent fall in circulation, was relaunched last month under its new editor, Trish Halpin, in an attempt to reconnect with readers. Pick Me Up underwent a redesign and Look received a heavy marketing push with a £2.5 million TV campaign. The company also produced a one-off cookery title, Dinner Tonight, which could become a regular monthly magazine.
Reinforcing a brand's presence across several platforms continues to be a priority, with NME Radio launching a new iPhone application, an online football game being unveiled on Nuts' website, and a relaunch for womanandhome.com.
IPC plans to recruit a managing director of advertising after deciding against including the role in Webster's remit, and the company has also reorganised its advertising operation (the ad teams for Now and Look were moved into its weeklies trading team in May).
Despite the largest circulation decline of any major publisher, Webster is confident about the strength of individual brands.
She says: "We've seen some fantastic individual performances like Look, Woman & Home, InStyle, Essentials and Soaplife, which shows that with the right magazine in the right market, consumers will continue to engage with their favourite, trusted brands. And they're doing that online too, as IPC is also growing its reach of UK consumers across platforms."
Bauer Consumer Media also found the going tough in the past six months. In March it took the decision to close Arena, and reports last month that it was to cut 30 jobs from its commercial and editorial teams showed that market conditions weren't becoming any easier.
However, in dark times there were chinks of light in the ABC figures. The publisher's top-selling title, Closer, boosted its circulation, albeit only by 0.6 per cent, to 530,371 in a competitive weekly market. The film magazine Empire celebrated its 20th anniversary with a special edition edited by Steven Spielberg and a 3.6 per cent increase in sales to 194,016.
Grazia outperformed the women's market with a 0.7 per cent increase in circulation, while More!, the young women's title that a year ago was seemingly living a charmed life, increased its circulation by 17.3 per cent to 190,708. However, last month, the title had to contend with the departure of its editor, Lisa Smosarski, who has left to edit the new free title Stylist. Continuity has been ensured with the appointment of her deputy, Chantelle Horton, to the role.
On the downside, Heat's circulation tumbled by 5.3 per cent to 445,192 and Bauer's men's titles, FHM and Zoo, managed to spectacularly outperform the general collapse in the men's market. FHM's circulation slid by 16.2 per cent to 235,027 as it lost its crown of top-selling men's title to Men's Health, while Zoo slumped 31.2 per cent to 111,012. The music weekly Kerrang! saw its circulation fall by 28.3 per cent to 43,253.
That said, Bauer's investment in taking its brands into other channels is starting to pay off. Its heatworld.com site attracted a record 642,000 unique users in July and has 19,000 Twitter followers, while Heat Radio has a record audience of 570,000.
Paul Keenan, the chief executive of Bauer Consumer Media, comments: "Despite the wider economic meltdown, with other media groups lamenting giving away their high-value content, magazines stand tall - offering huge reach, and scores of strong, robust, reliable and relevant titles which entertain high-value audiences, enthusiasts and passionate consumers."
In the weeklies division, H Bauer was hit by declines in the TV listings sector but its TV Choice title remains the top-selling UK magazine despite its circulation falling 4.2 per cent to 1,335,894.
Take a Break continues to lead the women's weekly market, though its sales fell by 6.3 per cent to 920,060. And Bella was the top performer in the UK mag market, with a 27.4 per cent year-on-year increase and a circulation of 243,991, a performance Bauer attributes to the "need for escapism in these tough economic times".
The National Magazine Company
The first six months of the year brought management upheaval at NatMag with the chief executive, Duncan Edwards, departing for a Hearst job in New York. He was replaced by Arnaud de Puyfontaine, previously the president of Group Mondadori in France.
However, with de Puyfontaine supported by the managing director, Jessica Burley, NatMag can claim to have outperformed its major rivals in the first half of 2009, with an overall circulation decline of 4.3 per cent better than most.
Two mags posted impressive sales growth. The NatMag-Rodale title Men's Health took number one in the men's market from FHM with a 2.1 per cent sales increase to 250,247. The women's weekly title Reveal, redesigned last year and backed by a major TV campaign, posted a 14 per cent year-on-year circulation increase to reach an average figure of 315,660.
Otherwise, NatMag was hit by a downturn in sales of glossy magazines aimed at older women. Good Housekeeping's circulation was down 4.9 per cent to 410,011, though NatMag says that an autumn relaunch of the title could have an impact in boosting circulation, while sales of She fell by 14.1 per cent to 148,860.
The flagship women's monthly Cosmopolitan fell by 6.2 per cent to 441,663 but it retained second position in the women's lifestyle market. And Harpers Bazaar maintained its circulation with a 0.5 per cent increase to reach a circulation of 109,646.
The upmarket men's title Esquire found the going tough, even after the closure of the rival title Arena, and its circulation fell by 9.3 per cent to 52,705.
NatMag's recent strategy has focused on building subscriptions, which has paid off with Country Living, where they account for 42 per cent of total circulation, Prima, with 112,000 subscriptions from a total circulation of 274,063, and Good Housekeeping, which has more than 215,000 paid subscribers, 53 per cent of total circulation.
De Puyfontaine described the set of results as "encouraging and they indicate that the public is still buying magazines for escapism and entertainment and continue to view them as an affordable luxury".
While some BBC Worldwide titles were able to cash in on their specialist appeal and continued to buck the trend, the publisher saw big losses in its children's sector, which hit its overall performance.
Top Gear Magazine, which will soon see the arrival of its new editor, Conor McNicholas, held firm to its strong position, remaining relatively flat and selling 200,761 copies on average. However, the TV listings brand Radio Times, which has also just appointed a new editor, saw a fall on last year with its sales dropping below one million.
The cookery title Olive reported a yearly rise, but Good Food didn't fare so well with a 5 per cent drop on the year. Good Homes, which was saved from closure after the BBC managed to sell it to Kelsey Publishing in May, took a big hit.
But children's titles fared the worst, with Doctor Who Adventures seeing a massive 39.2 per cent drop on last year.
The difficulties in this market meant titles including Tweenies, Balamory and Amy were axed this year. The children's division also faced up to 30 redundancies in an attempt to lower costs.
BBC Worldwide continued to extend its brands across platforms. Radio Times was the first TV listings title to launch its own iPhone application this year, and its success is prompting the publisher to test apps for other publications.
The company also saw some risks pay off. Lonely Planet magazine, which it launched last year after acquiring the Lonely Planet guidebooks business, beat its target circulation figure of 40,000 and the BBC is now looking to increase Lonely Planet's global presence; it was recently licensed in Brazil. Top Gear Magazine saw an extension of its brand with the launch of a travel-sized edition and a children's-oriented offshoot.
Subscriptions continue to be a big focus and the publisher claims a significant rise in subs for its brands this year. Peter Phippen, the managing director of BBC Worldwide, says: "I am very pleased with the performance of several of our quality titles, which have bucked the trend with strong results, including a solid debut from Lonely Planet, demonstrating that readers recognise the quality, distinctiveness and value of our brands."
The fanfare early this year surrounded Conde Nast's launch title Wired, which hit the market in April after months of development. While there is no ABC figure for the title, the publisher is aiming for a settle-down circulation of 50,000. A second launch, the bi-annual fashion title Love, also hit the market as Conde Nast stuck to its guns despite the downturn.
Fortunes for Conde Nast's more established titles over the first six months of the year show that glossy titles are certainly not immune to the effects of the downturn, with total circulation at Conde Nast down by 5.8 per cent. Vanity Fair, which posted a record ABC, was the only Conde Nast title to show circulation growth across both the period and year on year; with a 0.5 per cent increase, its average circulation was 101,698.
There were positives for the luxury publisher as Glamour easily held on to its number one spot in the women's lifestyle sector. Despite a 4.6 per cent slide in circulation to 526,145, the title outperformed Cosmopolitan in pure circulation terms, year on year.
A fall in circulation at GQ of 7.7 per cent is a sure sign that conditions are difficult in the men's market, as the title usually manages to maintain or build its sales. GQ's circulation fell to 120,019, more than twice that of Esquire, its main rival at the quality end of the men's market following the demise of Arena.
Easy Living endured a 10.5 per cent fall in circulation as tough conditions at the more mature end of the women's glossy market hit the majority of titles. Its circulation now stands at 180,034, though Conde Nast says that subscription levels have risen by 4.1 per cent.
The fashion bible Vogue saw its circulation fall by 4.8 per cent to 210,435, while Tatler was down 5.6 per cent to 85,064. However, Conde Nast says that Tatler, marking its 300th anniversary, increased UK newsstand sales by 0.4 per cent period on period.
Home titles were even harder hit with House & Garden falling 8.3 per cent to 130,692 and World of Interiors by 8.2 per cent to 62,016.
Nicholas Coleridge, the managing director of Conde Nast, says: "It is reassuring that glossy magazines are still selling in considerable numbers. It is noticeable the high end of the monthly market is outperforming the mass market and weeklies, as readers prioritise quality journalism and sophistication."
PUBLISHERS RANKED BY THEIR TOTAL ABCS
Publisher Total ABC Period-on- Yr-on-yr
period % change
IPC Media 5,935,548 -5.6 -8.9
H Bauer 3,200,308 -3.1 -4.9
The National Magazine Company 3,008,796 -1.5 -4.3
Bauer Consumer Media 2,989,476 -3.3 -6.1
BBC Worldwide 2,709,766 -4.3 -8.5
Conde Nast 1,497,617 -4.0 -5.8
Northern & Shell 1,317,976 8.0 -0.8
Hachette Filipacchi 1,032,190 -4.3 -6.0
DC Thomson 836,838 -6.3 -9.8
Egmont Magazines 676,166 3.1 27.8
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations, January-June 2009
THE UPS AND DOWNS OF FIVE TOP TITLES
Circulation June 2009: 599,847
Circulation June 2008: 607,048
Year-on-year % change: -1.2
Northern & Shell's OK! had a strong first six months of the year as its series of Jade Goody exclusives helped it to beat the opposition. Its period-on-period increase of 18 per cent gave it leadership of the "celebrity" sector.
Circulation June 2009: 250,247
Circulation June 2008: 245,212
Year-on-year % change: +2.1
The NatMag-Rodale fitness title became the best-selling men's title in the UK after its increase in sales took it beyond Bauer's FHM, which lost a large swathe of its circulation. An indication that Men's Health's offer seems more forward-thinking than its rivals.
Circulation June 2009: 243,991
Circulation June 2008: 191,547
Year-on-year % change: +27.4
Bella, the H Bauer weekly, is the magazine with the strongest circulation growth in percentage terms in the whole of the ABCs. While its publisher has updated its formula, Bauer puts its success down to a desire for "escapism" during the recession.
Circulation June 2009: 228,694
Circulation June 2008: 227,102
Year-on-year % change: +0.7
The glossy Bauer Consumer Media weekly outperformed the women's market and continues to provide advertisers with a strong upmarket women's weekly. How seriously its sales will be challenged by the freesheet Stylist remains to be seen.
Circulation June 2009: 165,609
Circulation June 2008: 150,099
Year-on-year % change: +10.3
Dennis Publishing's title continues to go from strength to strength as a £1 million marketing effort led to a 22nd consecutive ABC increase. And rival publishers might envy The Week's business model as 146,000 of its sales is subscriber-based.
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk