ABC Report: Year of the launch

A satisfactory year for the major publishers, soured only by Hachette Filipacchi's year-on-year decline, as launch fever gripped the industry. Emma Barns reports. Launch fever has gripped the magazine market over the past six months, with the top publishers announcing new titles or rumoured to be in the planning stages.

This has already brought considerable changes to the magazine landscape and the launch of men's weeklies, arguably the biggest magazine innovation in years, has reinvigorated a static sector, adding more than two million sales a month.

Conde Nast, The National Magazine Company and Dennis Publishing have all been working on plans to inject new vibrancy into various sectors, while H Bauer and Northern & Shell are also fired up for launch action.

However, despite their focus on new areas, the top publishers - with the exception of Hachette Filipacchi - have managed to increase their share of total magazine sales since January.

The industry as a whole performed well, up 2.4 per cent year on year in terms of volume and 6.6 per cent year on year in the number of copies actively purchased.

Paul Keenan, the chief executive of Emap Consumer Media, argues that the active purchase number is the true indication of the health of magazines.

Therefore, in a move designed to provide more transparency for advertisers, Emap has chosen to record only active purchase on its ABC certificates, stripping out bulks.

The customer magazine sector continued to perform healthily in 2004, with the top three titles (the Sky, Asda and Boots magazines) all recording increases. But the Safeway magazine was pulled by its new owner, Morrison, and the publisher of the AA titles, Forward, decided not to record ABC figures.

IPC Media, the largest consumer publisher by number of sales, experienced a series of sales declines this period. Mizz, Woman, Woman's Own and Loaded were among those hardest hit. However, it weathered the storm, recording a small overall sales increase, largely off the back of its hugely successful men's weekly, Nuts, which jumped into second place in the men's market, beating its Emap rival Zoo by more than 90,000 copies.

Sylvia Auton, IPC's chief executive, says the company is still committed to creating and launching into new sectors, especially following the success of Nuts. "Nuts has sold more copies at a higher cover price with less marketing spend than Zoo. And it continues to outsell the competition. IPC is justifiably proud of creating this new genre," she says.

Other highlights included increases for Marie Claire and InStyle, while Now remains the number-one celebrity title.

Emap, IPC's main rival, saw growth in most of its divisions, with the launch of Zoo contributing to double-digit growth in sales of its lifestyle titles. FHM was down only marginally compared with some of its rivals, while Arena, New Woman and Bliss were up. This reflects Emap's increased investment in its core titles after its decision to close two magazines, The Face and J17, earlier this year.

In the weekly market, Heat's long ascendancy was halted by its first decline in a number of periods, but its sister title Closer posted an impressive 43.5 per cent year-on-year rise.

Keenan says that the success of Closer and Zoo builds on Emap's reputation as a serial launcher and contributes toward its aim of becoming the fastest-growing publisher in the UK. "We are committed to identifying new opportunities on the newsstands, reinventing existing titles, innovating in the sectors we operate in and growing our market share," he says.

While other publishers are at the start of launch programmes, BBC Magazines is coming to the end of its; now it's time to bed them in. It acquired the Bristol-based Origin, which publishes Your Hair and Unlimited, the UGC Cinemas magazine. First ABCs for the new titles Olive, Easy Cook and What to Wear all exceeded launch expectations.

Peter Phippen, the BBC Magazines managing director, says: "This is a spectacular result by any measure. Generic growth of 8 per cent, or 13 per cent with Origin titles."

Eve was a storming success in the women's market, while Good Homes saw increases after a relaunch in May. However, Radio Times lost sales and the teen titles suffered with Top of the Pops, It's Hot and Girl Talk all experiencing considerable knocks. Dare closed earlier this month before posting its first ABC.

NatMags again suffered in the women's lifestyle market at the hands of Conde Nast's Glamour - its flagship Cosmopolitan title was down slightly.

Esquire and She both saw falls in sales. However, Cosmo Girl!, Good Housekeeping and Zest all performed strongly.

The launch of a weekly title, Reveal, is a big focus for the future and Duncan Edwards, NatMags' managing director, says: "The challenge over the next few years is to ensure growth is delivered via great editorial content and innovation."

Conde Nast saw all of its titles increase sales. Glamour continues to be the big success story in the women's market, comfortably holding on to its lead and passing the 600,000 sales mark. GQ also recorded a slight increase.

Nicholas Coleridge, the Conde Nast managing director, is satisfied its portfolio is performing solidly and particularly flags up Glamour for overtaking FHM to become the UK's top-selling monthly. He says: "Glamour is magazine Viagra. We get it up every time and this time we've even shafted the men with it."

Hachette Filipacchi suffered, with its sales down period on period and year on year. Its TV titles were hit by new entrants to the market but Inside Soap and All About Soap's double-digit drops can be largely explained by their increase in frequency. Elle and Red saw successes, while its teen title, Sugar, experienced a period-on-period rise.

Kevin Hand, Hachette's UK chairman, says it will look to increase its portfolio in the coming months and will focus on improving the editorial content of existing titles. "Although we shall continue to make use of cost-effective promotional spend, editorial content will remain our strategy, as a company publishes magazines for profit rather than reasons of corporate vanity," he says.

Overall, the bar has been set high for launches with the success of Nuts and Zoo. If the influx of new titles can ape this success and differentiate themselves from existing magazines, the industry looks set for continued growth.

PUBLISHERS

Publisher Total ABC Period-on-period Year-on-year

% change % change

IPC Media 7,646,077 0.10 -0.60

Emap (group total) 5,167,770 6.11 7.14

BBC Magazines* 4,358,056 8.40 12.00

H Bauer 4,023,538 2.40 5.00

NatMags 3,033,060 0.40 1.90

Conde Nast 1,411,186 2.00 3.10

Hachette Filipacchi 1,254,667 -7.60 -13.00

Dennis Publishing 1,059,299 -0.40 -1.90

Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations, January - June 2004 *excluding BBC

Origin.

- 'With every title up in circulation, I can sleep well at night. The upmarket is still booming and these are probably our best numbers ever' - Nicholas Coleridge, Conde Nast

- 'In the majority of the markets in which we publish, we have comprehensively out-performed all our competitors' - Sylvia Auton, IPC Media

- 'The market is in great shape and clearly responds well to the groundbreaking launches' - Paul Keenan, Emap Consumer Media

- 'I'm pleased with the progress we have made and look forward to greater success in the future with our new line-up of editors' - Kevin Hand, Hachette Filipacchi

- 'We are looking forward to doing our bit to contribute to market growth in the coming months' - Duncan Edwards, The National Magazine Company

- 'I think it is fair to say that, overall, we have performed better than all other publishing companies during this period' - Peter Phippen, BBC Magazines.

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