A drop in pharmaceutical advertising has hit the medical press hard, but
the new-media opportunities available to it could bring new life.
The medical press is feeling a little under the weather. In fact,
according to the latest Business Barometer, the Periodical Publishers
Association’s regular analysis of business-to-business publishing
sectors, the medical press is experiencing one of the worst shortfalls
of all the business sectors.
The PPA study paints a pessimistic picture. Revenue from display
advertising is continuing to plummet while recruitment advertising is
not far behind on the downward slope. The volume of display advertising
in the medical press is expected to fall by around 7 per cent this year,
while forecasts suggest that the amount of recruitment advertising will
be down by about 5 per cent.
The gloomy figures hold few surprises. Medical publishers are well aware
of the pressures that their advertisers are increasingly subject to.
While many other sectors were depressed throughout the late 80s and
early 90s, the pharmaceutical industry was experiencing something of a
roll. Businesses were expanding rapidly and income and profits were
soaring. Many of the UK’s 400-plus medical titles rode along on the
crest of this success, carving out profitable businesses from the rich
pickings of these companies’ advertising budgets. The medical press was
able to offer a direct line to the medical practitioner hungry for
information and new product details, and the pharmaceutical companies
couldn’t get enough.
In recent years, however, the pharmaceutical industry - which provides
the medical press with virtually its only source of revenue - has been
tightening its collective belt. Consumer pressure groups have raised
their voices against prescription charges and against NHS cuts in
tangible areas such as the number of available beds and hospital
Squeezing the pharmaceutical industry has been one method of saving
money and a beleaguered Department of Health has taken an increasingly
active interest in the price of medicines in its drive to cut costs and
improve value. As Andy Thompson, the publisher of Miller Freeman’s Pulse
and the Practitioner, says, the government has been exerting pressure on
doctors to prescribe fewer and cheaper drugs. ‘This downward pressure on
the drugs companies has had an obvious knock-on effect on their
advertising,’ he explains.
The drugs companies have had to rein in their price increases and
monitor their charges. Labouring under such economic pressures,
marketing budgets are used more carefully than ever before. At the same
time, improvements in database marketing technology have provided drug
companies with an efficient alternative to above-the-line advertising in
their attempts to reach the GP market.
Add to this the number of medicines that are moving from prescription-
only to over-the-counter - and diverting their ad budgets into the
growing number of consumer health magazines, such as Top Sante, Marie
Claire Health and Beauty and Men’s Health - and it’s no wonder that the
medical press has caught something more than a little cold.
Thompson believes that things are looking up, however. ‘Clearly we’re
not going to see a dramatic improvement in advertising,’ he admits. ‘But
I think that we’re seeing the decline bottoming out. I don’t think it’s
time for us to be terribly optimistic, though.’
The weekly medical magazine market is dominated by four titles, the
British Medical Journal from the BMA, Reed Business Publishing’s Doctor,
Haymarket’s GP, and Miller Freeman’s Pulse magazine. According to the
latest Jicmars National Medical Readership Survey, which covers January
to December 1995, Pulse was the best-read weekly title, with an average
of 27,930 readers per issue, followed by GP on 26,400 and the BMJ on
24,120. The fortnightly market is dominated by the BMA’s News Review,
with 20,180 readers, followed by Miller Freeman’s Financial Pulse on
18,890 and Reed Healthcare’s Update.
All of the magazines have been hit to some degree, although the BMA
claims to have benefited from some of the economic squeeze facing the
medical profession. ‘With doctors coming under increasing pressure from
the NHS and its cost-cutting drive, they are looking to the BMA for
support and guidance more than ever,’ a BMA spokeswoman explains. ‘This
has helped boost our membership and therefore the number of readers to
Despite the high number of readers seeing each issue of the magazines,
Jicmars shows that many of the titles are not read in very much detail -
an important factor for drugs companies deciding how best to spend their
precious marketing budgets and considering the medical press. Of the
weekly magazines, Pulse and GP are read cover-to-cover by virtually half
of their readers, but more than 40 per cent of readers claim to read
less than half to very little of the BMJ. The fortnightlies attract even
worse attention levels from their readers.
The amount of time and effort doctors spend reading their business
magazines is also under threat from the growing number of computer
networks used by medical practitioners and the resulting media
In March 1996 the first electronic medical magazine will be launched.
Aimed at young GPs, Electronic Young Principal (eYP) replaces the
printed Young Principal. It is designed to run on a 386 Windows PC and
will be distributed monthly by controlled circulation to the youngest
principal in 10,000 practices across the country and to 2,000 GP
registrars. It will also be available through Network Medical Online,
the interactive medical information system run by Network Medical
Services, the company behind eYP.
Ben Moore, the 22-year-old editor of eYP, says that 85 per cent of GPs
now use a PC every day and that eYP will offer its readers and
advertisers a truly interactive magazine.
The BMA has also been exploring the publishing opportunities offered by
new media. A spokeswoman for the BMA says that the association is
already placing some of its editorial on the Internet, and offers an
online classified section.
Thompson is more cautious about the benefits of online publishing. ‘It’s
still early days,’ he says. ‘We don’t even know how or whether GPs are
using PCs, e-mail or the Internet. It’s something we’re researching,
Medical publishers remain unsure of whether their traditional
advertising base will recover. Few can afford to ignore new ways of
reaching their market. The Internet may prove a miracle cure.