Katherine Levy: Print circulations are down, yet hope springs eternal

By Katherine Levy, campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 23 August 2012 08:00AM

The latest set of consumer magazine results from the Audit Bureau of Circulations may make for depressing reading.

Katherine Levy: Print circulations are down, yet hope springs eternal

But if you take the figures at face value, then you risk misunderstanding how the magazine industry is faring.

Yes, the men's lifestyle and women's lifestyle sectors are both down overall; yes, a number of big special-interest brands (BBC Top Gear and BBC Good Food) are suffering double-digit losses; and yes, the women's weekly market is also haemorrhaging circulation, down 11 per cent overall.

But it is no longer viable to just look at the print figures when considering how healthy a magazine brand is. If you comb through the latest ABC report, you will find a section towards the back of the document (section 12 of 18), positioned with the care and thought of an after-dinner sugared almond you might not have room for.

Yet this almond is the kernel of something big for the magazine industry. Because while we dredge through the ABC figures and shock ourselves with the news that big, successful brands are suffering in print - Cosmopolitan is down 8.6 per cent year on year in the UK, while Grazia has declined 13.5 per cent - we are choosing to ignore that this is an industry in the midst of revolutionary transition.

It becomes all the more obvious when you look at section 12. Here, you will see that Cosmopolitan, the biggest magazine brand in the world, retains its number-one position with an average monthly digital edition circulation of 13,298. Men's Health, the most successful paid-for men's magazine, is the second-most successful magazine currently reporting digital editions, with an average monthly circulation of 12,142.

Considering how nascent this market is, these numbers are huge. When Cosmopolitan first reported its digital editions this time last year, it only had 259 a month. Imagine where the brand can go once affordable tablets are as ubiquitous as smartphones; and, in the youth market, they aren't just the province of privileged teenagers.

It is true that, in the digital age, some magazine titles will die altogether, but those backed by shrewd publishers can thrive on a multiplatform strategy, where the brand is kept alive on the tablet, online, on mobile and - if it pays dividends - in print too.

In six months' time, hopefully we will see more than just 61 magazines reporting their digital editions and, even better, embracing the ABC's sparkling new multiplatform certificate, which enables publishers to report pretty much everything, including Twitter followers. We are gradually moving towards a time when press buyers can look up a brand and see the holistic picture of how successful it is across all platforms. Until then, don't forget section 12.

katherine.levy@haymarket.com

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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