Media Perspective: Ads boost brings a new confidence to magazine business

Recent months have been characterised by media agency irritation at the behaviour of the consumer magazine sector.

The medium has been accused by some of behaving like a beautiful girlfriend blowing hot then cold. Demanding hours of attention but then not turning up when arranged.

First, agencies flipped at the issue of multi-bagging, an apparently desperate attempt by some publishers to massage circulation of under-performing titles by bundling with other titles in their portfolios. Then there were others who accused the trade body, the Periodical Publishers Association, of providing little in the way of marketing leadership.

This situation became so bad that, in May, Carat announced the launch of its own magazine marketing initiative called MagazineWorks. Andy Taylor, the head of magazines at Carat, said at the time: "There is a lot of talk but little in the way of real support and investment to champion the channel from the industry's representative body."

Publishers appear to have been stung into action and there are signs that the PPA, under its recently appointed chief executive, Barry McIlheney, will be more dynamic in future. And there are other encouraging signs that the consumer magazine medium is recovering its confidence.

ABC figures for the first six months of 2010 are released this week. Though only part of the picture now magazine publishers see themselves as cross-platform content businesses, they will provide some pockets of cheer after 2009 saw eight of the top ten publishers - the exceptions were NatMag and Northern & Shell - record overall circulation declines.

And major publishers are, once again, considering serious magazine launches. As an example, Bauer is said to be exploring new opportunities in the men's market. After talking up the value of male audiences with its "4D Man" research, it would be good to see the publisher put its money where its mouth is with a launch.

Meanwhile, news and current affairs titles, notably The Economist and The Week, are proving that there is life alongside the internet for titles providing weekly news round-ups and analysis. And, as Campaign reported last week, ad pages have returned to the September issues of the fashion titles. This was vital; another fallow autumn would have been about as welcome as a blood diamond at a charity dinner.

The fact that the fashion titles appear less anorexic this year is an important barometer of the industry's health but I still reckon the magazine sector has a long way to go in marketing its medium with a rigour that moves beyond the usual appeals to emotion and tradition. That said, the autumn looks exciting for a magazine sector that is hoping for a sustained recovery.

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