With a few notable exceptions, there was scant cheer to be found in the teenage lifestyle and entertainment market.
Many titles suffered from declining ABCs, perhaps reflecting a fall in interest in the "find-a-star" TV shows that briefly buoyed the market.
An exception is The National Magazine Company's two-year-old CosmoGirl, which continued to increase its circulation despite the tough climate.
Jan Adcock, the group publishing director at NatMags, attributes the growth to the strength of the editorial content. "It's packaged in a way that makes the readership feel special. The editorial content is about grown-up emotions - about real things that challenge teenagers," she says.
Adcock concedes that extensive covermounting has helped recruit new readers and that the challenge now is to maintain their loyalty and continue the momentum.
The older titles have experienced the biggest declines with Smash Hits suffering particularly. "The Smash Hits readership seems to have been cannibalised to some extent by Emap Performance's other teen title Sneak," Ian Tournes, the press director at Starcom MediaVest, says.
Stephen Palmer, the managing director of pop at Emap Performance, is putting on a brave face. "Recently, the exciting music has fallen outside of the teen world, but the music market is cyclical and we anticipate the resurgence of Smash Hits as we work to grow the title at the centre of Britain's biggest multimedia pop brand."
Lysanne Currie, the editorial director of the teen group at Hachette Filipacchi, is also stoical. She says: "Sugar remains the unchallenged leader with a lead of 32,000 over its nearest rival. It has enjoyed ten years' market leadership and, while we'll never be complacent, we are delighted that no other title in the sector offers such value to readers and advertisers."
Verdict The "traditional" teen press is in trouble. Teenage girls used to be voracious consumers of entertainment magazines but they seem increasingly to be getting this information from websites. Without extensive marketing activity and an altered editorial direction, it will be difficult to stem the decline.
TITLE PUBLISHER Total ABC Period Year
on period on year
% change % change
Sugar Hachette Filipacchi 291,794 -10.50 -9.20
More! Emap 259,550 3.50 5.40
Bliss Emap 241,664 -3.50 -7.10
Top of the Pops BBC Magazines 230,493 -8.70 -5.60
CosmoGirl NatMags 198,324 5.40 39.60
J-17 Emap 134,650 0.20 -6.00
TV Hits Hachette Filipacchi 130,164 -9.50 -15.10
It's Hot BBC Magazines 116,515 1.20 12.00
Smash Hits Emap Performance 114,383 -23.80 -21.20
Sneak Emap Performance 104,174 4.10 20.40
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations, July - December 2003.