Media: Forum - Are new titles crippling mainstream magazines?/If last week’s ABC figures prove anything at all, it is that fragmentation is accelerating in the magazine market. More magazines are chasing a limited pool of readers - and this year i

If you are after evidence of fragmentation in the consumer magazine market, the obvious place to start is the TV listings sector. According to the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations figures, published last week, almost all the paid-for titles in this category lost sales except for H Bauer’s TV Choice, which launched in September and now has an estimated circulation figure of 700,000.

If you are after evidence of fragmentation in the consumer magazine

market, the obvious place to start is the TV listings sector. According

to the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations figures, published last week,

almost all the paid-for titles in this category lost sales except for H

Bauer’s TV Choice, which launched in September and now has an estimated

circulation figure of 700,000.



The newcomer has grabbed some impressive territory; the rest have

retreated.



To put it another way: the same pie (or almost the same; actually, total

circulation across the sector was slightly down), divided into more

bits. A classic fragmentation case.



Of course there are all sorts of reasons why you shouldn’t attempt to

draw wider conclusions from anything that happens in the TV listings

market.



It peddles value-added lists of data - which is one of the few things

that the internet is already good at. Then there’s the slow but steady

growth in the use of electronic programme guides on cable and digital

satellite TV.



But we can see accelerating fragmentation in other sectors too. Mature

sectors seem to offer no new growth. Some are buoyed up by one or two

strongly performing titles; others are cannibalised by new entrants -

and we’re due to see even more launch activity this year across all

sectors.



Have we reached a point where ’me-too’ means less? Do publishers not

believe they can grow the market in any way? Or have they been seized by

ITV syndrome - the big players fighting among themselves for market

share while the market as a whole declines? Is fragmentation of concern

to advertisers and agencies?



Paul Keenan, the chief executive of Emap Lifestyle Group, maintains that

the market picture conveyed by the trade press last week was

unrecognisable to him. He says: ’There is a lot of movement in all

sectors of the market. This has always been a dynamic industry and it’s

particularly dynamic at present. The reader will give a magazine no time

if it drops off the pace. What we are seeing are more brands with more

personalisation - but that isn’t new nor is it a phenomenon confined to

magazine publishing.’



Keenan points out that it’s not impossible to be mass market - FHM, he

says, proves that - but he concedes that it’s tough. He believes that

we’re seeing publishers acknowledging the specific nature of people’s

interests. They’re going narrow and deep rather than broad and shallow.

We’re seeing the creation of new markets and new positions. He adds:

’We’re seeing publishers opening up niches that may previously have been

unprofitable, offering tightly targeted and defined audiences. The story

is less about numbers and more about relevance. These days, if an

advertiser wants to get its product message across it has to achieve

cut-through. You use a medium that has real authority and expertise and

context and is absolutely spot on.’



However, there are those on the other side of the fence who believe that

the magazine world is less intellectually dynamic than it would like to

believe. Nigel Conway, the client services director of MediaVest, thinks

that the big publishers are more obsessed than ever with market

share.



He says: ’Publishers in recent years have put more effort into looking

at their portfolio of titles with a view to launching into gaps in this

portfolio. Did Emap want to lose older Elle readers to She?



Of course not - so it launched Red. The strategy is probably to maintain

share by publishing group and I’d guess that this continues to remain

stable over the years, give or take the odd newcomers that succeed in

taking a few nibbles out around the edges.’



Focus. Fragmentation. What’s in a name? But does it benefit advertisers?

Conway says it needn’t be a bad thing. ’The end result is that

advertiser strategies have to evolve. Many of us were brought up to

believe that big was beautiful. Now the numbers are getting smaller but

the trade-off is that you get a more focused product. There are obvious

benefits for targeting and it allows for greater and more involved

partnerships between advertisers and magazines. Advertisers will rethink

which titles they want to support and when they do enter into a

relationship it will involve everything from sponsorship, reader

promotions, exhibitions and licensing agreements. That’s where the

opportunities lie.’



Other media specialists are slightly more sceptical. Chris Shaw, the

joint managing director of Universal McCann, says: ’The really clever

publishers realise that consumers increasingly collect content from a

number of sources. One response publishers have is to extend into

distribution channels such as the internet. This touches all publishers

and is driven by forces beyond them. I think they recognise that

consumers are not prepared to consume more than they already do.



’I believe we are seeing publishers trying to capitalise on the

successes developed by rival companies. We’re seeing market sectors

polarising into very successful titles and those that really struggle.

From an advertising point of view, this fragmentation can be helpful for

those who want to narrowcast, but for others it’s a problem. It makes

reaching the same number of people more expensive. For publishers,

operating costs can start to outweigh revenues. When that happens, the

quality of the product suffers.’



But Steve Goodman, the director of press at MediaCom TMB, believes that

there was too much negativity around last week: ’There are lots of great

individual performances out there, most of them proving that if you

invest money in a title and give it a new breath of life, people will

flock back to it. The underlying trends are good, with total

circulations level or up.



’Fragmentation is a good thing from my point of view. It’s better for

readers and it offers better pinpointing opportunities for

advertisers.



These days it’s possible to run an economical operation on lower print

runs and it’s great that a whole new wave of magazines is coming along

too. It’s far from doom and gloom; I’ve never been more excited about

what’s happening in the publishing business.’



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