MEDIA: PERSPECTIVE; How smaller titles can learn to stand up for themselves

Publishers of small and specialist magazines ought to be in a state of blind funk, or so readers of the authoritative Wessenden Marketing Circulation Review might conclude after their latest six-month study.

Publishers of small and specialist magazines ought to be in a state of

blind funk, or so readers of the authoritative Wessenden Marketing

Circulation Review might conclude after their latest six-month study.



Indeed, it is easy to see why they might come to such a conclusion.

First, when you take out launches and closure figures from the overall

picture, cumulative circulation of all established titles fell by 3.3

per cent year on year, the biggest drop since 1992.



And if you look at the specialist sector, things are even worse. Sales

losses among magazines with circulations of less than 100,000 are

greater, and the lower the circulation, the greater the percentage loss.



But that’s not all. Under margin pressure, the big retailers are cutting

back on specialist titles - which means that smaller titles catering,

for example, to koi carp fanciers or people into coal bunkering (yes,

it’s true) won’t get stocked.



Of course, those people who have been into a W. H. Smith recently might

cheer, seeing as how it is virtually impossible to find the magazine of

your dreams but, because it threatens to remove choice, it is obviously

potentially serious for advertisers and media owners.



To my mind, however, a much more interesting statistic is that, if you

include launches overall circulations actually rose by 3.5 per cent year

on year. In the period in question (June to December 1995) there were 45

ABC-audited launches, and God alone knows how many non-audited launches.

And that’s the beauty of the magazine business: the entry costs are so

low that anybody can launch anything, and if it doesn’t work, you shut

it down and try again with something different. Nor does this spate of

launches show any sign of tailing off. If you don’t believe me, take a

look at any of Brad’s ‘Births and Deaths’ listings columns. What is this

business if it is not about launches?



There’s more cheer, too. This overall sales boost was achieved without

cutting cover prices: in fact, they rose by more than 7 per cent.

Compare this with the newspaper world where first, it’s static in terms

of launches (let’s leave Tom Rubython’s joke paper out of this); and

second, despite cutting cover prices and spending zillions on promotion,

the trend in the cumulative sales graph is still down. Not too good, I

think.



Nevertheless, it would be a fool who ignored the threats to magazines

from the distribution and retail trades. But there’s no need to panic.

First, it might encourage magazines to spend more time on their

subscriptions - which is what they should have done ages ago - and

actually build a up a proper reader database (also something they should

have tackled before). Second, spend more time getting the magazine into

the right retail environment - ie specialist shops. And third, use the

Internet. After all, what is it if not a way to recruit subscribers and

beat delisting threats?



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