Special Report - Magazines: Top-dog consumer publishers

After last year's rash of launches and innovations, publishers' aims for 2005 are to consolidate and increase the magazine market's share of advertising spend, Emma Barns writes.

During the late 90s, magazine publishing was thought to be a sunset industry. But, five years on, the sun is still shining and magazines are still showing they can compete.

With the scramble for consumers' time intensifying, the top players have had to be on top form. Revamps have been prolific and, during the past 12 months, the big ten have launched 22 titles, ranging from the UK's first fashion weekly to a compact-size TV listings title.

It is working. The number of actively purchased consumer magazines rose more than 5 per cent in 2004; sales for the whole industry were up 4 per cent.

With circulation, sales and launches up, there is now a need for the industry to focus on its share of adspend. This fell in 2004 by less than 1 per cent (to 6.19 per cent) and it is an area that the Periodical Publishers Association is looking to concentrate on next year.

Following an aggressive programme of launches and acquisitions last year, BBC Magazines has kept a fairly low profile in 2005. The publisher's big story was the sale of Eve, its women's monthly, following a decision to concentrate on core BBC programme genres. The decision will confine the publisher to a much smaller arena and suggests growth and innovation are likely to be stunted. BBC Magazines is unlikely to retain the commercial muscle it had recently begun flexing.

Investment has gone into revamping existing titles such as BBC Good Food and, overall, BBC Magazines saw one of the highest year-on-year circulation increases - up 7 per cent.

The launch of Easy Living in March was a turning point for Conde Nast.

It was the first time the London office had developed and launched a title that had not previously appeared elsewhere in the Conde Nast stable. Designed to appeal to 30-plus women, its well-disguised advertorials and segmented content have proved a hit with advertisers. However, Glamour is still the jewel in Conde Nast's crown; with an ABC of 600,000, it is the UK's highest-circulating monthly.

Other titles performed solidly and spin-off titles, such as GQ Sport and GQ Style, provided editorial innovation and new routes for advertisers.

Conde Nast's contract publishing division continued to win business, with the division's turnover increasing to £7 million in 2004.

The big story for Dennis Publishing was the success of Maxim. In the face of competition from men's weeklies, it increased its circulation and leapfrogged Loaded to the highest position in its ten-year history. The revamp spearheaded by Greg Gutfeld, its new editor, was largely responsible.

After a flurry of activity and seven launches in 2004, the £5 million launch of Test Drive was Dennis' focus this year. A solid debut ABC and signs that the title has affected other publishers' sales suggest it was money well spent.

Dennis closed its A5 men's monthly, Jack, having failed to make the title commercially viable since it bought it last year. It also sold Erotic Review. Despite divesting two titles, it enjoyed a 10 per cent rise in year-on-year circulation, while the ad team held steady.

Emap's £16 million launch of the weekly glossy Grazia was arguably one of the biggest editorial innovations of recent years. However, to date, the title (which is on licence from the Italian publisher Mondadori) has received a mixed response and has failed to attract upmarket advertisers.

The majority of Emap's other titles fared well, with the success of its lifestyle division in particular driving an overall circulation increase of 5.5 per cent. On the advertising side, there was considerable upheaval with the departures of Dave King, the managing director of Emap Advertising, and his deputy, Tim Bleakley. Earlier this month, Marcus Rich was made the division's new managing director. Emap bolstered its creative offering, too, hiring a head of magazine creativity.

Future Publishing has followed an aggressive strategy of acquisition and growth this year. It bought A&S Publishing in a deal worth £6 million.

In addition to A&S's 11 titles, Future also acquired six titles and launched six. It extended its portfolio into wedding and property, and shored up its position in computing.

Future's most significant move was acquiring 38 titles from Highbury House, after a deal to buy the whole company was scuppered by the Office of Fair Trading in March. The acquisition turns Future into the UK's third-largest consumer magazine publisher. The focus on new areas meant some of its flagship titles, including Total Film and Official PlayStation 2, took circulation knocks. Overall circulation was down 2 per cent year on year.

Hachette Filipacchi hired its first editorial director, Francois Vincens, last year as part of a drive to expand its UK portfolio. However, the publisher, set up in 2002, has yet to launch a title in the UK. Instead, it has focused on its existing stable - investment in Red and B saw circulation rises, with Red launching in the US in April. Having secured its bases, Hachette needs launches in 2005. A version of the French title Psychologies is expected in the autumn.

It was all change in Hachette's ad department; the sales director, Tim Kirkman, left after less than a year and was replaced by the publisher of The National Magazine Company's Good Housekeeping, Tony Long. Since his arrival, Long has overseen a departmental restructure.

H Bauer has traditionally been a secretive outfit and one that shuns the ad community. However, this year its new managing director, David Goodchild, looks keen to raise its profile. Bauer seems willing to innovate in more advertiser-led market sectors, which suggests a step change in its positioning. Admittedly, to date such innovations have been unsuccessful and the high-profile launch and then closure of the men's weekly Cut showed a disastrous misjudgment of its target market. Its foray into the women's lifestyle market, with the fortnightly title Real, also ended badly this year and Bauer was lucky to sell it. The fortunes of its high-volume, low-cost titles were mixed, with around half of its ten titles experiencing circulation growth. Its flagship TV Choice was up 8.5 per cent year on year. On the editorial front, Bauer lost staff to the new Hubert Burda Media, headed by the ex-Bauer chief Alan Urry.

2004 saw Haymarket venturing into new territory; its acquisition of Eve marked its first foray into the women's sector. It will now try to make inroads and plans to use Eve as the foundation for a new women's interest group called Haymarket Style.

It also launched into the music market with Rip & Burn. Up against some established players, it was received badly and the May issue will be its last.

Circulation across the group was down 1.8 per cent, although its core motoring titles did not perform strongly. On the commercial side, Haymarket capitalised on the male orientation of its 12 core consumer titles, setting up a central sales function across Haymarket Magazines to let it to sell across titles including Stuff and What Car? and give advertisers access to a larger male audience.

Following the success of its men's weekly Nuts, IPC kept a low profile on the launch front last year. Instead, it invested in existing titles.

Beneficiaries included Marie Claire and Loaded, both having been hit by new players in their markets. IPC did rear its head again in January with the weekly Pick Me Up and began a TV listings sector price war by reducing What's on TV by 10p. TV Easy's arrival is also likely to shake up the sector.

Its ad department spent most of the year without a head after Georgina Crace left to join Trinity Mirror, with Caroline McDevitt only appointed in March. In the interim, the department was decentralised - the ignite!, SouthBank and classified divisions will not fall under McDevitt's remit.

This year, NatMags has diversified: joint ventures with Australia Consolidated Press and Rodale International have enabled it to make inroads into new markets. Headed by Colin Morrison, ACP-NatMag made its first foray into the weekly sector with Reveal.

NatMag-Rodale's new managing director, Rita Lewis, a former publishing director of IPC Media's women's group, has fuelled speculation that its first launch will be into the women's health market. Flagship NatMags titles performed well, with Cosmopolitan recording its highest ABC in 24 years. Good Housekeeping was up, too, but its publishing director, Chris Hughes, defected to launch Easy Living.

NatMags saw overall year-on-year circulation growth of 2.9 per cent and, to make its figures more transparent for advertisers, made the unprecedented move of releasing monthly circulation figures for all its titles. This received a mixed response and the PPA is not endorsing the practice.

HOW WE RATE THE UK'S TOP CONSUMER PUBLISHERS

Publisher Total Net number Innovation Innovation Strength of

score of launches rating: rating: overall

sales editorial brand

BBC Magazines 15 4* 2 3 3

Future 15 6 2 4 3

Conde Nast 14 1 3 5 5

Emap 14 1 4 5 4

IPC 12 2 4 3 3

NatMags 12 1 3 4 4

Haymarket 11 1 3 3 3

H Bauer 9 0 2 3 3

Dennis 8 0 2 2 3

Hachette Filipacchi 8 0 2 2 4

Innovation and brand strength ratings are scored out of five

*figure includes three one-off publications.

THE UK'S TEN MAJOR CONSUMER PUBLISHERS

- Haymarket ventured into the women's market, buying Eve from BBC Magazines, but its music title Rip & Burn failed to find a niche

- IPC consolidated after the success of Nuts last year, although it did kick off a price war in the TV listings sector and launched TV Easy

- Conde Nast enjoyed solid performances from most titles and in Glamour it can boast the UK's highest-circulation monthly magazine

- Emap put £16 million behind the launch of Grazia, although it has yet to establish itself. Emap Advertising has only recently hired a managing director

- Dennis Publishing's Maxim was the biggest success; under its editor, Greg Gutfeld, the title was redesigned and increased its circulation

- H Bauer had a mixed year; attempts to innovate generally failed, but its flagship TV Choice posted an 8.5 per cent year-on-year circulation increase

- Future Publishing bought A&S and 38 titles from Highbury House, but this came at the expense of existing titles such as Total Film

- BBC Magazines decided to focus on core programme genres, revamping BBC Good Food and seeing an overall circulation increase of 7 per cent

- Hachette Filipacchi is yet to launch a magazine and spent the year so far investing in existing titles, a tactic that saw Red's and B's circulation grow

- The National Magazine Company formed joint ventures with overseas publishers and saw Cosmopolitan post its best ABC figure in 24 years.