ABC Intro: Innovate to survive

Established titles are adapting in a bid to stand their ground as a flurry of launches swamps the market.

A year of launch and counter-launch has kept the publishers on their toes. They have done well, innovating existing titles to be in the best possible shape as the newcomers arrive in their markets.

This has driven impressive organic growth in many sectors. Women's monthlies, soon to face high-profile launches from Emap and Conde Nast, are up around 5 per cent year on year. Innovations in women's weeklies, ahead of competition from ACP-NatMag, IPC Media and Northern & Shell, also helped the sector record a solid increase.

In the men's lifestyle market, IPC's Nuts and Emap's Zoo are still fuelling healthy growth. However, H Bauer's attempt to harness some of this action - its weekly, Cut, closed after four months - should serve as a warning to publishers that the launch frenzy is a risky and expensive business.

All the major magazine publishers turned in good overall results and Hachette Filipacchi, which has lost sales over the past few years, recorded a 2 per cent year-on-year increase.

Despite offloading its strong women's monthly, Eve, BBC Magazines enjoyed strong growth - up 7 per cent year on year, while Emap came in a close second, up 5 per cent.

These figures translated to a good performance from the industry as a whole, with total sales up 4.12 per cent year on year and the number of copies actively purchased up 5.32 per cent. However, the fear is that growth could be stunted by an Office of Fair Trading recommendation that could reduce the number of distribution outlets.

The customer magazine sector continued to perform well and launches such as Debenhams Desire show the medium has become a useful tool for the wider retail market, not just the supermarkets. Paid-for titles, such as Sainsbury's: The Magazine and Waitrose Food Illustrated, put in good results, showing that customer titles are now better regarded by consumers.

For IPC Media, which is still the biggest-selling consumer publisher, the revamped Marie Claire recorded a robust increase, while Now retained its top slot in the celebrity market. InStyle and Woman & Home both did well and Chat continued to take market share from its rivals.

Early indications are that IPC's new weekly, Pick Me Up, launched in January, is also doing well. Sales of Nuts were down slightly in the second half of the year, yet the title is selling more than 275,000 copies a week and leading the market it co-created.

Sylvia Auton, IPC's chief executive, says: "In the three most hotly contested sectors - men's weeklies, celebrity and TV listings - we have, again, taken the top spots. The icing on the cake is that Pick Me Up's sales are brilliant."

IPC's biggest disappointment was Loaded. Overtaken by its rival Maxim, it lost 16.4 per cent of its circulation year on year. Woman, Woman's Own and the teen title Mizz also continued their declines.

Emap, the number-two consumer magazine publisher, saw strong performances from most divisions, although seven of its eight automotive titles took knocks. Its main story was a big overall increase in its lifestyle division, driven by Zoo - up 20 per cent period on period, it has narrowed the gap on its IPC rival, Nuts, from 90,000 to 35,000. Arena, Bliss and More! also gave decent showings and FHM weathered the weeklies storm.

In the celebrity market, Closer had another double-digit increase. But, with the launch of its weekly glossy Grazia taking centre stage in the women's portfolio, New Woman suffered and was one of the few women's monthlies that were down. Paul Keenan, Emap Consumer Media's chief executive, is confident about the investment behind Grazia and says: "2005 is shaping up to be the biggest year the industry has ever seen and we are confident Grazia will come to be judged its most significant event."

BBC Magazines faced an uncertain year and, with its parent corporation heading into charter review, it has already had to re-evaluate its remit and sell off its successful monthly Eve.

The publisher is now briefed only to produce magazines that relate to the BBC's core genres. However, Peter Phippen, the managing director of BBC Magazines, says: "I'm confident we will continue to grow in many other markets throughout 2005." BBC titles did well in the face of this uncertainty and core magazines such as BBC Top Gear and BBC Good Homes enjoyed healthy increases, as did the recently launched Olive and What to Wear. Radio Times and Top of the Pops did not fare so well.

The National Magazine Company had a busy year. Most of its titles posted increases, and it has negotiated two joint ventures. The first saw a tie-up with Rodale International to publish Men's Health and Runner's World and the second, a partnership with Australia Consolidated Press, created ACP-NatMag to develop weekly magazines. Its first launch was the celebrity title Reveal in October.

The flagship titles Cosmopolitan, Esquire and Good Housekeeping all did well. She, Best and Prima were its only magazines down year on year.

Duncan Edwards, NatMags' managing director, says: "The group has delivered super results and Reveal has made a striking debut."

Conde Nast performed strongly and eight of its nine titles were up. Glamour, still the jewel in its crown, recorded increases yet again. With March's launch of Easy Living, the industry will want to see whether Conde Nast can replicate Glamour's success with a new spin on a women's monthly.

Nicholas Coleridge, the Conde Nast managing director, says: "The upmarket is rock solid and Glamour has extended its lead. There is bunting all round Vogue House."

Hachette Filipacchi had a quiet 2004 and, despite talk of launches, none has yet materialised. However, growth was in evidence across the group.

Red put in a strong performance and Elle improved sales. B and Sugar did well in their markets, while the declines of All About Soap and Inside Soap can be explained by their change in frequency. Hachette's chairman, Kevin Hand, says: "We have sold more magazines over the past six months than ever before."

Launching is still the name of the game, but a second growth trend is emerging: consolidation. With NatMags' joint ventures and Future's multimillion-pound acquisition of Highbury this month, combining forces could be the way for smaller players to start making their impact on the industry.

PUBLISHERS

Publisher Total ABC Period-on-period Year-on-year

% change % change

IPC Media 9,758,973 27.6 0.3

Emap 6,689,889 23.1 5.5

H Bauer 4,219,451 10.5 3.6

BBC Magazines 4,047,568 0.9 7.0

NatMags 3,205,294 5.7 2.9

Future 1,816,285 114.4 -2.1

Conde Nast 1,492,293 5.7 2.9

Hachette Filipacchi 1,385,922 10.5 2.0

Dennis Publishing 1,206,859 25.6 10.8

Northern & Shell 1,137,122 0.4 20.4

Haymarket 1,055,931 30.3 -1.8

Highbury 873,610 36.7 8.0