MEDIA: FORUM; Can the rash of magazine launches be justified?

Magazine launches are back in fashion, most notably at the younger end of the consumer spectrum. But are publishers right to feel optimistic these days? Are there lots of potential new readers and advertisers out there? Or are publishers hoping to hasten the decline of titles that can’t cut it any more? Alasdair Reid reports

Magazine launches are back in fashion, most notably at the younger end

of the consumer spectrum. But are publishers right to feel optimistic

these days? Are there lots of potential new readers and advertisers out

there? Or are publishers hoping to hasten the decline of titles that

can’t cut it any more? Alasdair Reid reports



It never rains, but it pours. Consumer magazine publishers have become

hyperactive again, especially with regard to the young. This month two

titles debut that seek to bridge the gap between teenage publications

and more grown-up women’s magazines: Emap’s Minx, which is aimed at 18-

to 24-year-old women, and Enjoy!, a Bauer magazine that will target a

slightly older audience. Young men haven’t been forgotten either. Last

week saw the launch of Eat Soup, which aims to be Loaded’s slightly

older brother.



As always, there is perhaps some defensive manoeuvring here. More new

titles are thought to be on the way this autumn and winter and, if

everyone else is launching magazines, you might as well retaliate as

soon as possible. Good portfolio management is another big factor - and

we’re discovering that brand franchises can be extended in more ways

than one. In fact, the obvious conclusion to the ‘big brother of’ trend

is that, by this time time next year, there will probably be a Loaded

title for bad-tempered, lecherous pensioners. Or, seen the other way

around, a teenage version of the Oldie, targeted at young fogeys.



But formulaic expansion strategies are only a small part of the story.

The truth is that the younger end of the consumer magazine market has

entered one of those inexplicable periods of great optimism and

confidence.



So do advertisers and agencies share this mood? Is there enough ad

revenue around to support all this activity? Surely with more highly

targeted satellite channels launching almost every week, the magazine

medium must eventually face up to the fact that it is increasingly old

fashioned.



Not so, Nigel Davidson, managing director of IPC’s Weeklies Group,

argues: ‘It could well be that people will continue to read more. A

highly competitive market tends to stimulate interest and these are

certainly exciting times in magazine publishing. My view is that

television is a saturated market. There may be more channels and more

choice but that doesn’t mean that people will watch more.’



Davidson says the real focus for revenue growth is the men’s market: ‘In

the young women’s market, some of the active players don’t make too big

a demand on advertisers, especially in the early days of a new title -

it isn’t a priority for them. As for the men’s market, there is

tremendous potential there. Compare what’s available for young women

with young men. There just isn’t a comparison - there’s certainly lots

of room for new ideas. Advertisers are dying to get in there because

it’s so difficult to reach young men.



‘But, as for the market as a whole, Christmas promises to be good, but

we are not expecting a bonanza for us or anyone else in the short to

medium term. Everyone is distracted by a general election looming on the

horizon and that tends to make advertisers nervous.’



Tim McCloskey, the deputy media director of BMP DDB, believes we will

see the emergence of a new generation of magazines in the young women’s

market. ‘Children are expecting glossier, more lively titles,’ he

comments. ‘The launches may end up replacing previously dominant titles,

without expanding the market. Having said that, any new readers that can

be attracted will be extremely welcome to advertisers.



‘The men’s market, however, is genuinely exciting. The new generation

doesn’t have any hang-ups about buying a men’s magazine and, in

readership terms, the market continues to expand. Advertisers are

responding. Before the evolution of this market, an advertiser would

have to use expensive national newspapers, or outdoor. Now they can have

a decent, focused campaign for a reasonable price.’



Neil Jones, a director of TMD Carat, agrees that magazine life-cycles

are getting shorter but points out that this sector’s circulation

potential is better than it has been for years. ‘This year, the number

of 11- to 19-year-olds will be back above 6.5 million for the first time

since 1991,’ he says. ‘They are very attractive to advertisers - it’s

the ‘get them young’ philosophy. And because they are light television

viewers, they are difficult to reach through other media.



‘The interesting category is, of course, men’s titles. They have started

to catch up with women’s magazines. They have discovered that sex sells

and some of them are almost indistinguishable from top-shelf

publications. They may find it difficult to maintain their momentum but

currently they are perfectly in tune with the times.



‘Publishers have followed the example of television and realised that if

you are niche and have a clear proposition, you can be successful with a

250,000 circulation - reasonable but not spectacular. In circulation

terms, the market may have grown slightly although, with more titles

around, the average per magazine may have gone down. Ad revenue is there

but, outside of a few particular sectors, it still isn’t growing as

quickly as other media such as radio.’



Dominic Owens, the marketing services manager of Mercury Communications

and the press advertising spokesman of the Incorporated Society of

British Advertisers, has a slightly different perspective. ‘I think the

problem isn’t so much whether the revenue is there but whether

advertisers have forgotten how to use press ads effectively. Many

advertisers have got into the habit of using magazines to supplement TV

ads, but they’re no longer using the weight of TV to justify this.

Advertisers need to learn to use press ads in isolation.



‘I’ve had very positive feedback from the major publishers that have

produced research on how press ads work. In contrast, we’ve yet to hear

anything from the newspaper publishers. It’s my impression that consumer

magazines - and the young end of the market in particular - are in good

shape and there is plenty of growth potential there.



‘The only problem we have is the fact that, with continuing segmentation

in the market, you might have to use 40 or 50 titles to reach a given

target these days. It’s a bit of a pain and the research just can’t cope

these days - but I suppose that’s another issue.’



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