ABC: Motoring Magazines

BBC Magazines' Top Gear has overtaken Emap's Max Power, changing the leadership of the motoring sector for the first time in years.

Max Power's sales fell after a misdirected redesign last autumn. Steve Prentic, the title's publishing director, explains that the magazine was focusing too much on the type of content found in the men's weeklies and monthlies. "It became a bit too risque," he says. As a result, its sales dropped 19 per cent period on period to 154,503 copies.

Adam Waddell, the publishing director of Top Gear, says: "Max Power took a real hit from the men's weekly sector. The tits-and-ass section of the title wasn't needed any more because the people who wanted that sort of content could now buy Nuts or Zoo on a cheaper, weekly basis."

Max Power has now started to reassess its editorial content. "We have moved back from that positioning and we are now concentrating on the cars again. This is what our readers want. We have gone back to celebrating the fact that we are a monthly read," Prentic says.

Max Power's mistake has put Top Gear in pole position - its circulation grew by 0.8 per cent period on period to 166,720 copies.

"We are continuing to point in the right direction and are constantly working to keep the editorial focused on our core readership," Waddell says. However, some in the industry believe the BBC still has an unfair advantage over the rest of the titles. "You have to remember that Top Gear gets a half-hour television ad every week," James Burnay, the publishing director of Test Drive, says.

His magazine, a newcomer from Dennis Publishing, was another title to suffer a decline in circulation. Test Drive, which posted only its second ABC, saw sales drop by a massive 38.9 per cent period on period.

The title's owner, the publishing maverick Felix Dennis, said in a recent magazine interview that Test Drive's editorial content at launch had completely missed the point - a comment Burnay describes as "a little rude".

Explaining the decline, he says: "You have to remember that a lot of the results from the last period were taken while we were still backed by the launch budget, so they were bound to be unnaturally high."

However, Waddell believes Test Drive is actually in a worse situation than these results suggest. "Included in its circulation results are 20,000 bulks. If you take them out, Test Drive is the smallest-selling magazine in the sector," he says.

The repairs are already under way and Burnay is confident that the next set of results will show substantial growth. "We need to make ourselves more accessible and concentrate on car testing and buying advice," he says.

What Car? and Car showed circulation declines over the period, with What Car? posting a big drop of 7.7 per cent. However, given the depressed car market, the publishers are not unduly worried and most in the industry believe the sector is stable.

Auto Express and Fast Car were also affected by the slump in the automotive market. The former recorded a period-on-period decline of 2.4 per cent, while the latter showed a 12 per cent fall in sales over the same period.

The niche titles Redline and Evo both showed minor increases period on period.

Verdict: The market is set for growth now that the major player Max Power is returning to a more tried-and-tested format and Top Gear continues to forge ahead.

MOTORING TITLE PUBLISHER Total ABC Period-on- Year-on- period year % change % change BBC Top Gear BBC Magazines 166,720 0.8 9.6 Max Power Emap 154,503 -19.1 -24.7 What Car? Haymarket 126,220 -7.7 -15.5 Fast Car Highbury Leisure 103,261 -12.0 -17.8 Car Emap 95,537 -7.5 -12.1 Auto Express Dennis 91,029 -2.4 -9.9 Classic & Sports Car Haymarket 80,577 -0.7 0.7 Redline Future 73,881 0.1 2.0 Evo Dennis 72,630 0.2 -0.4 Test Drive Dennis 67,190 -38.9 n/a Autocar Haymarket 66,245 -0.6 -2.0 Practical Classics & Car Restorer Emap 62,731 -3.7 -7.3 Source Audit Bureau of Circulations, January-June 2005.