There were 120 customer magazine launches in the first half of the year, according to the Association of Publishing Agencies. Although these have yet to be properly reflected in the ABC figures, some launches have already made their presence felt.
The most prominent examples were the two new magazines from the broadcaster Sky: Sky Sports Magazine and Sky Movies Magazine. These titles, which are distributed to sports and movie subscribers, are intended to complement Sky's top customer title, Sky the magazine (which will be relaunched as skymag in September).
Sky's newly segmented customer strategy has seen a shake-up in its customer publishing roster, with the contract for Sky the magazine moving from John Brown to News International's News Magazines division. Haymarket Network picked up the contract to publish the new sports title, while Future is handling the film title.
Observers say that Sky's audience segmentation strategy is typical of an industry trend where marketers are looking to target specific groups within their broader audience. The APA cites Waitrose as a well- established user of customer publishing. It is evolving its approach by introducing Thirst, a magazine covering the drinks sector, which will sit alongside Waitrose Food Illustrated.
Julia Hutchison, the chief operating officer of the APA, says: "Products are becoming more sophisticated as marketers invest more in customer publishing. Many of the titles (that report ABCs) are mass volume, but clients are segmenting and producing more targeted content accordingly."
Brands that have launched new customer magazines in the first half of the year include Butlins, Center Parcs, Shell, Sony, Blockbuster and Emirates. Categories that are especially strong for customer publishing include sports and cooking and kitchen, where five of the top titles are customer titles. Women's interest and motoring are also growth areas for customer publishing.
New appearances in the ABC rankings, which saw customer titles take the top six places in the overall consumer titles rankings, included Ikea Family Live, published by August Media, which has the 24th-largest circulation among all consumer magazines, and is distributed to a little under half-a-million readers. Mark Lonergan, the managing director of August, says: "The customer magazines sector is booming. This is owing to the channel's ability to use consumer magazine techniques such as creative execution and top-notch editorial to build strong reader relationships with the title. Given that customer titles occupy the top six spots by circulation, this proves the titles will continue to play an important role in readers' media intake."
While the ABCs offer a useful indication of the growth of the customer sector, there is a great deal of change within the industry that is not reflected in the figures. This includes the evolution of many customer publishing companies from magazine producers to more general content providers.
Keith Grainger, the chief executive of Redwood, which publishes titles for clients that include Boots, Land Rover and Marks & Spencer, says that while many of its titles do not feature in the ABC report, since it tends to favour readership figures, business is still booming: "We're seeing new launches, pitches and the growth of customer magazines and the growth of online content. We're not now trading one against the other, but are creating rich media such as mini-movies for the likes of Land Rover and Volvo."
Grainger says the growth in customer publishing is partly explained by marketers' increased interest in branded content, and the expertise that resides in customer publishers to create this: "What is significant is the growing recognition by the marketing community that customer publishing is the oldest profession in the world in terms of branded content. We've been doing it since 1985."
Industry experts also believe that customer publishing is benefiting from the general rise of "free media" recently, whether this is online content or free consumer magazines such as Sport. This has left consumers more predisposed to recognise quality content in customer magazines, Hutchison argues. He says: "Customer titles engage people for an average of 25 minutes. In our fragmented culture of advertising avoidance, this is vital to the marketer. The ABCs offer a transparent trading currency, allowing customer magazines to stand up and be counted next to their rivals."
Verdict Customer magazines will continue to thrive owing to demand from clients for targeted communications that can help them retain existing customers. Growth is expected to be driven by sectors such as retail, motoring and home interest.
TITLE PUBLISHER Total ABC Period- Year-
% change % change
Sky the magazine News Magazines 7,034,310 0.5 3.5
Sky Sports Magazine Haymarket Network 4,362,228 n/a n/a
Sky Movies Magazine Future 3,767,906 n/a n/a
Asda Magazine Publicis
Blueprint 2,805,052 2.3 -5.7
Tesco Magazine Cedar
Communications 1,943,767 -19.6 1.0
Fresh Ideas Seven Publishing 1,507,766 2.3 6.0
Magazine Rare 1,201,700 0.3 0.3
Debenhams Desire Publicis Blueprint 747,251 0.0 0.3
Sky Kids John Brown 745,779 n/a n/a
Saga Magazine Saga Group 659,104 7.9 -40.4
Unlimited BBC Magazines 500,700 -4.6 -7.7
Ikea Family Live August Media 487,815 n/a n/a
Sky the magazine
Ireland News Magazines 430,143 4.0 8.2
Homebase Ideas Publicis Blueprint 417,505 -0.2 -1.5
Pregnancy Guide Lifestyle Marketing 409,383 0.3 -1.3
Village Life Center Parcs 400,002 n/a n/a
Your Family Redwood 392,950 -0.5 0.1
The Garden RHS Publications 351,487 -0.6 -0.5
BMW Magazine UK Hoffman und
Campe Verlag 321,899 5.7 n/a
Illustrated John Brown 315,861 0.2 0.4