Magazine ABCs July-Dec 2006: Customer magazines

The popularity of customer magazines continues to increase, with customer titles now accounting for the top five magazines in the UK by circulation.

John Brown's Sky the Magazine was yet again at the top of the table, adding around 128,142 to its circulation. This growth reflects the investment that the broadcaster is making in its customer publishing, and the increase in subscriber levels.

However, from May, the title will be published by News Magazines, the News International division, dealing a major blow to John Brown.

Asda Magazine, which is published by Publicis Blueprint, also recorded a strong ABC result, with a significant increase of 19.3 per cent after the title upped its print run. This increase in circulation was in direct response to research that revealed customer magazines were effective at driving purchasing decisions.

Cineworld's magazine, Unlimited, also posted a strong ABC result, adding 138,200 copies, which gives it a total circulation of 524,600. Rare's The Somerfield Magazine jumped 17.6 per cent year on year to become the sixth-largest customer magazine. John Brown's Waitrose Food Illustrated increased its circulation and enhanced its reputation as a quality title. Its reach might be a long way behind the likes of Tesco Magazine, but its success is further evidence of retailers' commitment to the customer sector.

Following the ABC results, the customer publishing trade body, the APA, is predicting 16 per cent growth for the sector, which has seen 92 new brands enter the market over the past 12 months. These new brands include John Lewis, and Ikea, which last week launched Ikea Family Live in the UK through August Media.

According to Sally O'Sullivan, the chairman of August Media, the customer sector is in rude health, with six of the top ten magazines in the UK now customer titles.

She says: "Customer magazines now have production values and quality to match glossy consumer magazines, with many staffed by ex-consumer magazine journalists. Customer magazines are also sent directly to the reader's home, or are free to pick up in-store. Why would a consumer bother to queue up and spend £3 on a magazine these days, when they can get the same quality of content for free?"

The managing director of John Brown, Dean Fitzpatrick, says the activity shows no sign of abating, and the market is thriving with a lot of impending activity from brands about to launch a customer magazine: "I estimate about 50 or so brands will launch a customer magazine this year. It means that we are not all cannibalising each other's business; there is plenty of new business in the market."

The major driving force behind this growth in the market is the wealth of research into the effectiveness of customer magazines. Julia Hutchison, the chief operating officer of the APA, says research from the Direct Marketing Association and APA has provided advertisers with "compelling" insights, including the findings that customer magazines are consumers' preferred method of communication and that they can stimulate brand loyalty by as much as 32 per cent.

This research has helped to convince new advertisers from the financial services, government and public sectors to launch customer magazines. Another significant market trend is the use of customer magazines as part of an integrated marketing campaign, and, in particular, a way to drive customers online. The online clothes retailer has launched a title - which is not yet audited - in order to showcase its products and also provide its customers with an offline shopfront. Other brands, which include John Lewis, Woolworths and Mothercare, are using customer magazines to push customers online and to boost online sales.

"Hopefully, customer magazines can increasingly become part of marketing plans and they can begin to be seen as a mainstream media," Hutchison says. "Marketers seem busy, and there are lots of pitches. There's a strong indication of more growth going forward."

However, not everyone was celebrating circulation increases. The Saga Group's Saga Magazine, which is 97.2 per cent actively purchased, dropped an enormous 619,868 copies. Sainsbury's: The Magazine also lost 31,545 copies year on year, but it was 99.9 per cent actively purchased. However, it was better news for Sainsbury's Fresh Ideas, which increased its circulation by 2.9 per cent, and has the fifth-highest circulation in the UK.

Verdict The customer magazine market is attracting large numbers of new brands, resulting in new-business pitches, launches and even relaunches of existing titles. Greater integration of customer magazines within the marketing mix, particularly online, will help boost the market further. After a rather flat start to 2006, the market has picked up, and 2007 looks set to be a big one for customer magazines.

TITLE PUBLISHER Total ABC Period-on- Year-on-
period year
% change % change
Sky the Magazine John Brown 7,002,232 3.0 1.9
Asda Magazine Publicis
Blueprint 2,836,227 -4.7 19.3
Tesco Magazine Cedar
Communications 2,419,083 25.7 -3.0
The National The National
Trust Magazine Trust 1,709,112 n/a 2.6
Fresh Ideas Seven Publishing 1,473,800 3.6 2.9
The Somerfield
Magazine Rare 1,244,715 13.9 17.6
Debenhams Desire Publicis Blueprint 747,251 0.3 0.3
Saga Magazine The Saga Group 610,771 -44.7 -50.4
Unlimited BBC Magazines 524,600 -3.3 35.8
Norwich Union
Magazine Square One 499,876 n/a -0.4
Homebase Ideas Publicis Blueprint 422,875 -0.3 5.72
Sky the magazine
Ireland John Brown 413,683 4.1 13.4
Emma's Diary
Pregnancy Guide Lifecycle Marketing 408,235 -1.6 -1.2
Your Family Redwood 395,014 0.6 n/a
Legion Redactive Media 391,498 n/a -5.4
Sainsbury's: The
Magazine Seven Publishing 382,792 7.0 -7.6
The Garden RHS Publications 353,547 0.1 0.2
The Caravan Club
Magazine The Caravan Club 353,216 n/a 3.9
Motoring and
Leisure CSMA 337,254 n/a -9.2
Waitrose Food
Illustrated John Brown 315,211 0.2 1.2
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations, July-December 2006.

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