BUSINESS PRESS: Financial

The feel-good factor is reappearing among financial titles after a year which, against all expectations, delivered a series of nasty shocks.

The feel-good factor is reappearing among financial titles after a year

which, against all expectations, delivered a series of nasty shocks.



The financial press had a bad year in 1995. A combination of

extraordinary factors conspired to thwart prospects in a sector that had

ridden roughshod over the worst years of the recession. But, then, a bad

year in the financial press isn’t necessarily a calamity - readership

figures were up in the majority of titles and already the market has

started 1996 in the same rude health that has characterised its romp

through most of the current decade. And as if to confirm the sector’s

brisk return to the best of health, next month should see two major

launches into different parts of the marketplace. The former Business

Age boss, Tom Rubython, is aiming for the mainstream with his proposed

Sunday Business title and the former City editor of the Mail on Sunday,

Clive Wolman, is to launch into the banking and capital markets area

with London Financial News.



‘In 1995, people were buying fewer financial products, there were a

series of endorsement scandals and independent financial advisers had to

disclose commission levels for the first time,’ Mark Van de Weyer, the

Financial Times Magazines managing director, explains. He publishes a

range of titles including the weeklies Money Management, Financial

Adviser and the Investor’s Chronicle.



‘What happened was that the public lost a little confidence in the

market,’ he says, ‘and lost confidence in the economy at large, so that

even the biggest companies like the Prudential and Legal and General

were selling fewer products. Naturally, this was reflected in the

advertising even though readership levels were stronger, helped by the

strength of the stock market.’



But if that was the broad picture across the financial market, the

perspective was hardly the same within individual parts of the overall

market; within the trade titles targeted at independent financial

advisers or financial companies, such as Money Marketing and Insurance

Age; within the personal finance titles such as Moneywise and Money

Observer; and within the general consumer-oriented magazines such as

Business Age or the Economist. The trade titles were, predictably, the

worst hit by the change in the disclosure rules in 1995 and the

restructuring operations undertaken by most of the big pension and

investment firms.



‘It was difficult last year, after a great year in 1994, but there

haven’t been any closures in the market since Money Week two years ago,

and confidence is definitely now returning to the market-place,’ Money

Marketing’s publisher, Tim Potter, says. ‘For the most part the pensions

and life companies have finished their internal reorganisations and are

starting to look outwards again, and remembering that unless you have a

strong identity in this marketplace, it is impossible to compete.’



For the personal finance titles the challenge was rather different.

Centaur launched Inside Money into the sector but failed to make an

impression on Moneywise - a dominant market leader that claims to sell

about as many copies as the three other personal finance magazines

combined - and closed within six months. Here, the real battle for the

advertising pound is with the expanded personal finance sections of the

national press, and increasingly with direct response ads on cable and

terrestrial TV. The publisher of Moneywise, Andy McQueen, says that the

ad market is very strong at the moment, as more and more private medical

insurance, private critical insurance and direct financial products

continue to launch.



‘There has been a lot of talk about new magazines launching into this

marketplace, and the BBC researched the market very carefully before

apparently deciding not to proceed. But I am sure that there is room for

another magazine, especially as we are starting to attract non-financial

advertisers for the first time,’ he says. McQueen restructured his sales

team in November last year in a bid to target general advertisers. So

far, the process has been an uphill one, he admits, although the title

has attracted advertisers as diverse as Motorola, Kuoni and Phones 4 U.



‘It’s always going to be the cream on the cake but I think we could

eventually build up non-financial advertising to something like 20 per

cent of revenue,’ he says. ‘It’s still difficult getting in to see

people in areas that don’t traditionally use our type of magazine, like

cars for example, but we have an excellent reader profile and most

importantly our readers are used to cutting up coupons and sending them

in. Glossy mags have glossy pictures and the ads can look great but

their readers are used to just looking, and increasingly advertisers

want some response element to their advertising.’



For the general business titles, the strength of the stock market has

helped shore up demand. Most publishers agree that demand will continue

to grow this year as the Government rushes through privatisation

legislation before the next election and the proceeds from the first

raft of five-year savings plans, Tessas, start to mature. ‘That sort of

thing can just turn a good year into a great one,’ Van de Weyer says,

‘especially as in addition to the Tessas, there are building society

windfalls and electricity bonuses. Some of this money will be spent but

most of it will be invested, which will be excellent news for the

sector.’



Financial publishers agree on something else as well - the importance of

the Internet. They just don’t know exactly how it will be important.



‘Any company or publisher of any sort of size at all that hasn’t got

Internet plans is making a fundamental error,’ Ian Bedwell, the

publisher of Business Age, reckons. ‘But there’s no point just

replicating the paper product online. What everyone is racking their

brains about is how to extract commercial value from it. All the VNU

titles are on the Net but we have really only scratched the surface of

it, it’s going to become central to people’s lives. It’s not going to

replace the paper product now, but if you ask me in about five years’

time then I wouldn’t be quite so sure.’



Publishing houses are looking closely at the possibilities of the

Internet and are acutely aware of the work that Conde Nast and the

Telegraph have already done in getting personal finance information

online.



‘There is certainly work to be done about our online provision, Bedwell

concedes, ‘ but there is a lot for financial publishers to be optimistic

about this year. Adspend is already running ahead of our projections and

I think we are beginning to see a feel-good factor return to

businessmen.’



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