ABC Magazines: Motoring magazines

If you'd listened carefully last Thursday, when the ABC figures were released, you might just have been able to detect the collective sigh of relief from publishers in the motoring sector.

After a couple of periods of stalling, it looked as if the market was about to break down completely, but this period's results hint at a resurgence in fortunes as the sector begins to stabilise.

Period on period, outside the "modding" sector, almost every magazine posted an increase, with only What Car? and Auto Express seeing sales fall marginally, by 1.5 per cent and 0.7 per cent respectively.

Adam Waddell, the publishing director of BBC Top Gear, says: "It seemed for a while that the sector was in freefall, but it's good to see some stability."

The surprise package of this set of results is definitely Emap's Car, which posted a period-on-period increase of 8.9 per cent, which the company puts down to the success of its website,

As a monthly format, the title now puts all its news on the website, while devoting much more space and attention to features in the paper product - this has led to an increase in readers in both formats. Phil McNamara, the editor of Car, says: "We have implemented a successful publishing model for the digital age, by confidently tailoring our content to the platform where it will have the most impact and best serve the consumer."

Another magazine enjoying a circulation rise is Haymarket's Autocar, which reaped almost instant rewards from a format change at the end of 2006. Since moving up a page size and changing the binding, the title posted a 4.2 per cent period-on-period change.

Jim Foster, the publishing manager of Autocar, says: "We wanted Autocar to stand out more effectively, look like a more modern, energetic weekly and deliver its proposition more clearly. We rethought the cover treatment and invested heavily in the editorial content, particularly our trademark road tests, to reinforce Autocar's brand image of being the definitive motoring magazine."

However, despite the apparent stability, there is one magazine that continues to put on huge growth no matter how the sector fairs.

Top Gear saw its ninth consecutive period growth and posted an 8.8 per cent increase in year-on-year sales this time around, the biggest in the sector, taking it to 195,000 copies a month.

Last year, its success story was that it overtook Loaded in the overall consumer magazine standings and, geed up by its further growth this time, Waddell is bristling with confidence and gunning for other established magazines. He says: "The men's lifestyle sector had some tough results and we're really making up ground on them. In advertising terms, we want to be thought of in the same terms as FHM and Men's Health. We can definitely be a suitable home for lifestyle advertising."

The notable absentee from this period's race is last time's real struggler Max Power, which is now only posting an annual ABC. A spokeswoman at Emap says: "The title has recently moved to serve a more mature, affluent and aspirational consumer whose passion is extreme automobilia."

She adds: "There are two reasons we are moving to an annual ABC. First, to further cement the gulf in consumer and customer propositions between Max Power and the rest of the performance-tuning market. Second, because there is almost zero seasonal fluctuation in the market Max Power currently serves."

Verdict Far from sounding the death-knell of the sector, it looks as if the internet is building interest in motoring titles and will help to keep the market stable. It also seems as if Top Gear's charge to take over the entire industry, not just its sector, will continue apace.

on-period on-year
% change % change
BBC Top Gear BBC Magazines 195,404 2.8 8.8
What Car? Haymarket 109,372 -1.5 -9.1
Auto Express Dennis 85,374 -0.7 -1.9
Classic & Sports
Car Haymarket 81,898 0.2 2.3
Car Emap 80,312 8.9 1.9
Evo Dennis 76,814 1.7 4.0
Practical Classics
& Car Restorer Emap 60,012 0.0 -0.7
Autocar Haymarket 59,427 4.2 -2.5
Fast Car Future 49,298 -10.0 -30.3
Classic Cars Emap 38,268 -10.2 -9.1
Redline Future 36,388 -15.8 -33.7