The women's lifestyle sector, traditionally the glamour girl of
magazine publishing, has experienced a whirlwind start to the new
Women's monthlies were handed a tough set of ABCs in February, that
signalled depressing slides for several key titles. But if that took
some of the lustre off the marketplace, the shine was restored by a
first quarter of launches that matched anything previously seen for the
amount of attention it pulled towards the sector. With Conde Nast
believed to have shifted more than 500,000 copies of Glamour's launch
issue, and Time Inc said to have posted more than 300,000 in sales of
InStyle, it's not just trade journalists who have been getting
'I personally think it's a really exciting time,' Suzanne Grover, the
director of women's magazines at Emap Advertising, says. 'High-profile
launches mean people talk about magazines again. It drives readers to
the news-stand so if a title is at the top of its game editorially, it
can really benefit. If you have strong covers, people will buy you.'
However, it's unlikely that a dramatic shake-up of the market will mean
such good news for everyone. At the end of the day, the 800,000 readers
picking up copies of new magazines this spring have to come from
somewhere. 'You're always hurting someone, somewhere along the line,'
the publisher of Vogue, Steven Quinn, says. 'We were nervous about the
turbulence but we've been measuring it and we're about on par with last
year, so very happy.'
The fact remains, though, that the number of women's monthlies has
increased substantially over the past few years and this has inevitably
begun to bite. 'There have been loads of launches over the past few
years,' MediaCom's press director, Steve Goodman, says. 'But very few
women's magazines have folded so far. There's Aura, Options and Frank,
but the list is fairly limited.'
If pressure within the market is reaching a critical point, then women's
glossies need only take a sideways glance at the home interest market to
see what the future holds. The past few years of sustained growth will
inevitably mean lower circulations for titles across the board. Glamour
and InStyle, despite their great start, are themselves likely to settle
down a few hundred thousand below their current estimated
A positive spin will inevitably be placed on many of these circulation
slides. Publishers can claim that women's glossies today are far more
precisely targeted than they have been in the past. 'What constitutes a
women's glossy to one reader doesn't to another,' MindShare's press
director, Paul Thomas, says. 'What's beneficial is that all magazines
are now touching separate parts of the women's market,' Goodman
However, the more worrying view is that magazines are being reduced to
short-term tactical solutions in a bid to prop up dwindling
Over the past few years, sampling techniques have been so extended that
covermounts are now a regular monthly occurrence for many titles. In
such circumstances, it becomes increasingly difficult to build a loyal
readership, attracted to a magazine's brand rather than a free gift.
IPC Media's decision to cut back on covermounting for Woman's Journal
over the past six-month period led to a crushing 14.8 per cent
year-on-year decline in February's ABCs. Despite this reverse, IPC's
chief executive, Sly Bailey, promised a reduction in covermounting and
an increase in brand-building advertising for the publisher's women's
titles. She wasn't the only one sounding such a message. The deputy
managing editor of The National Magazine Company, Duncan Edwards, was
quick to point out that Company's substantial circulation increase came
because it was a genuine 'brand, rather than a product'.
Such rhetoric is intended to counter the impression that circulation
figures are losing meaning as covermounting increases. It's hard to
convince advertisers to buy space inside a title if the main reason for
a reader's purchase is the pair of sandals that comes in a plastic bag
on the cover.
And since approximately 75 per cent of the income of a women's monthly's
income comes from advertising, this is a crucial point to make. Unlike
women's weeklies, the glossies can live with circulation declines
provided they do not result in a drastic loss of advertising revenue. To
prevent this they must convince advertisers and their buying agencies
that their ABC figure represents 'good value' circulation - readers who
wait impatiently for their magazine each month and pore through the
pages in detail when it arrives. Conde Nast has traditionally set out
its stall in this area and its titles arguably enjoy a more credible
brand than those of its rivals. However, other publishers are
increasingly looking to take a leaf from the book of Nicholas Coleridge
and company. Foremost among these is NatMags, with its Conde Nast-facing
Affluent division, headed by the former Hanover Square stalwart Tess
There is no doubt that the magazine industry as a whole has been
enjoying an advertising boom of late. But there are serious concerns
over whether the increases in ad revenue can be sustained. 'The number
of magazines is increasing but the budgets of clients are static,'
Carat's director of press, Tim Kirkman, says. 'The market will get more
competitive and all titles are going to come in for a squeeze.
Publishers will try to negotiate their way into positions of greater
share and volume and only the very strongest will be able to achieve
IPC Southbank's managing director, Tim Brooks, agrees: 'We've been
through a boom and a lot of titles have launched into growth markets but
we're not going to get more ad revenue and so the rate of launches will
slow and publishers will look closely at underperformers. In a growth
market they can live off crumbs from the big boys but not now.'
A cull of the sector's underperformers is just one consequence of a
probable ad revenue squeeze. The sector is also likely to see titles
being drawn into a round of acquisitions as we enter a period of
With ad revenue under greater pressure, publishers will attempt to
leverage wider portfolios to appeal to media agencies' margins.
'These days media agencies have to be efficient and buy efficiently so
consolidation conforms to their needs because they can achieve coverage
with fewer points of contact,' Brooks says. 'IPC is unique in having
weeklies and monthlies, mass market and glossy, so we're able to offer a
whole menu. But if you look at the recent behaviour of our competitors,
they're mindful of that. Conde Nast launched into the mass market with
Emap couldn't sell frequency so they launched Heat and put out Red to
give them a stronger position in women's monthlies. NatMags' acquisition
of Gruner & Jahr was about adding more mass market to a relatively
upmarket stable and taking them into the weekly market for the first
Publishers could choose to stretch their portfolios still further as
they look at new ways of drawing in advertisers. H Bauer's introduction
of the fortnightly Real could herald a new fortnightly territory for the
glossy market - as well as dragging that publisher's own portfolio
Meanwhile, Glamour's A5 size and initial pounds 1.50 cover price could
well inspire imitators aimed at convincing readers and advertisers that
their magazine offers something different.
However, the expansion of publishing giants' portfolios does not
necessarily mean the disappearance of their smaller rivals. Goodman, for
one, believes that the increasingly niche-oriented make-up of the
women's market could result in more ad revenue being made available for
closely targeted products.
'I can't see why it isn't feasible for small publishing companies to
launch specific magazines,' he says. 'I can actually see potential to
launch magazines at even more tightly targeted groups than they
currently are, with even smaller circulations. In the long-term future,
you could have a circulation under 50,000 and still be commercially
In the end, the future shape of the women's monthly market will be
decided by what advertisers decide the minimum circulation of the titles
should be. 'Upscale advertisers look at whether a title is classy,
glamorous and smart and being read by affluent people, and so they can
be forgiving on the circulation figures,' Quinn says of the formula for
his own sector.
'However, their buying partners are ready to tell them what the norm is
and that's where you start hitting problems with rates. It will be a
problem for a magazine such as Nova if it shakes down at under 60,000.
That's not an acceptable figure for an upmarket fashion glossy when
you're familiar with others over 80,000.'
The search for demographically attractive and yet sustainable
circulations has had something of a twin focus of late. Publishers'
attentions have been drawn simultaneously towards both teenagers and
more mature women readers. BBC Worldwide's Eve has drawn a bead on the
'middle youth' demographic that Red has mapped out, while plans have
been drawn up for a Cosmo Girl as well as a teen version of Elle.
The initial signs are somewhat less than positive for both potential
markets. The teen sector already seems to be wobbling in the face of
market conditions, with the launch of both Cosmo Girl and the Elle youth
brand pushed back several months from their initial dates. 'The idea of
having brand extensions touching into a younger market and introducing
them to a parent publication seems quite a good idea,' Goodman says.
'But obviously the market isn't as buoyant as it was when they were
conceived, so it seems they're waiting for it to turn around again.'
If the teen glossy market is biding its time, then it's tempting to
imagine that mature readers' time has already come and gone. Red
suffered a 14 per cent year-on-year drop in February's ABCs while
Parkhill's similarly targeted Aura has disappeared and Eve's
circulation, independently audited at 129,711, is the subject of sniping
from its competitors.
Still, the feeling among publishers is that the grey sector's best years
are yet to come. 'The reality is that there is far more spending power,
particularly on personal items, in the over-40s,' Brooks says. 'That
group has changed profoundly. They are completely unlike their mothers
were at that age and are much closer to their daughters. We sell a lot
to them with a lot of material about how they look and what they should
wear, yet time and again fashionable advertisers target the 24- to
34-year-old range and cut off at that point. It's odd that women buy
editorial of that nature but advertisers think they're not interested.
Over time that gap will close.'
When you consider that Red itself is estimated to have an average reader
age of around 30, it's clear that there is still much empty territory to
be explored in the mature women's sector. 'No-one's really done much in
the grey area,' Thomas says. 'We are a country with a rapidly ageing
population and these people have got an inordinate amount of cash.'
Thomas concedes that one barrier to exploiting this potential is the
apathy of advertisers. 'The advertising industry is a very young
industry and therefore it tends to target younger relevance all the
time,' he says. 'Everyone seems to think around young ABC1s.'
In this sense, the publishers of women's monthlies may have to change
advertisers' perceptions of glamour in order to move the sector
WOMEN'S LIFESTYLE/FASHION MAGAZINES
Magazine Publisher Total average Total
net circulation adspend(pounds)
1 Cosmopolitan NatMags 460,086 18,112,852
2 Good Housekeeping NatMags 404,476 12,528,889
3 Marie Claire IPC Media 400,543 15,472,059
4 Prima NatMags 395,164 7,830,340
5 New Woman Emap Elan 281,828 4,565,881
6 Woman & Home IPC Media 269,401 3,733,364
7 Company NatMags 260,646 4,459,756
8 Essentials IPC Media 234,727 3,591,873
9 Elle (UK) Emap Elan 224,355 8,927,822
10 B Attic Futura 216,620 2,723,125
11 She NatMags 213,216 5,637,482
12 Family Circle IPC Media 203,159 3,436,465
13 Vogue Conde Nast 202,694 15,584,680
14 Red Emap Elan 155,083 7,023,459
15 Woman's Journal IPC Media 113,719 2,689,396
16 PS Magazine Dennis Publishing 100,446 561,594
17 Harpers & Queen Nat Mags 87,495 6,313,441
18 Vanity Fair Conde Nast 82,185 2,637,673
19 Tatler Conde Nast 82,071 5,194,284
20 Nova IPC Media 75,142 3,105,000
Sources: The Audit Bureau of Circulations (July-December 2000)/AC
Nielsen MMS (July-December 2000).