Consumer magazine ABCs - It's all in the brand

With decline in several key sectors, publishers are banking on brand loyalty to improve their fortunes. Claire Billings writes

The ABC figures for the first half of 2007, on the surface, make grim reading for publishers. But despite some disappointing headline figures, it wasn’t all doom and gloom.

The figures were also accompanied by significant talk from publishers of viewing titles as "brands" rather than magazines, as channels such as online become more important.

Of the top six groups, all, except BBC Worldwide, experienced year-on-year falls in circulation, while The National Magazine Company, alongside BBC, is the only other company to post an improvement on last period.

Emap and IPC were stung by dramatic declines in some high-profile newsstand titles, with Emap being particularly hit by problems in the men’s market. The women’s lifestyle market wasn’t at its strongest either.

However, there were some impressive sector success stories – prominent among them being news and current affairs, which saw sales rise by 14.3 per cent and 23.1 per cent for "business and finance" and "domestic affairs" respectively. Dennis Publishing’s The Week was a star performer, up 19 per cent year on year, as was The Economist, with its UK edition adding 6.6 per cent to its sale. The cookery sector also had a strong period while women’s
titles such as NatMags’ She and Hachette Filipacchi’s Psychologies seem to have hit on a successful formula.

Overall, the magazine trade body PPA Marketing says consumer expenditure on magazines rose 1.6 per cent despite an overall circulation decline of 1.4 per cent. Phil Cutts, the
director of marketing at PPA, says: "The figures show winners and losers in virtually every sector and we look forward to watching the men’s sector regroup and emerge with stronger propositions for today’s market."

The men’s market has already witnessed the launch of the free title Sport and there is a buzz around the impending debut of Shortlist, a free magazine with a circulation target of 500,000.

Alan Brydon, the head of press communications at Media Planning Group, says: "The market is not in trouble – there’s a lot happening. Some of it’s quite subtle and some of it’s significant. It ranges from Esquire and FHM changing their editorial style, to Shortlist launching to 500,000 upmarket men."

IPC Media titles suffered an overall decline in circulation, but had some reasons to be cheerful. The successful launch of Look was impressive, while Pick Me Up continued to grow in the women’s weekly sector. While it started to deliver on its promise to increase focus on digital (with the launches of,, and, some of its established magazines suffered. Chat, Loaded, NME, Now, Nuts, Practical Parenting, TV Times, Uncut and Woman all experienced declines. Sylvia Auton, the chief executive at IPC Media, says: "Beyond print, we’re delivering on our promise in the digital area – leveraging the power of IPC brands through multi-platform growth will continue to be at the heart of our business strategy."

Emap Consumer Media, operating under the shadow of a potential break- up of its parent company, has had a turbulent six months. Its men’s magazines, FHM, Arena and Zoo, were all down, as was New Woman. The continued growth of Grazia and the success of Car were among its few bright spots as the celebrity titles Closer and Heat stuttered. Emap caused a stir by relaunching the struggling weekly First as an older version of Grazia and also by switching the frequency of More! to weekly. The jury remains out on both titles. Emap is pinning much on its brand working across platforms. Paul Keenan, the chief executive of Emap Consumer Media, says: "We produce the most exciting roster of fast-frequency women’s magazines, alongside an expanding portfolio of global, multiplatform men’s lifestyle brands, and a raft of specialist and entertainment brands with a 360-degree relationship with their consumers."

H Bauer was hit by a dramatic fall for Bella, which relaunched in March with increased celebrity focus. All but two of its titles were down, although TV Choice and Take a Break continue to boast circulations of more than one million each and TV Choice continued to close the gap on its rival What’s on TV. David Goodchild, the managing director at Bauer, says: "The past six months have seen many weekly titles resorting to price promotions and bagged sampling activity in an attempt to inflate what would otherwise be a poor ABC performance."

BBC Magazines was the success story of the first six months of the year. Some of its children’s titles posted losses, but were offset by successes such as BBC Top Gear, Gardeners’ World, Easy Cook, Olive and Doctor Who Adventures Magazine. Peter Phippen, the BBC Magazines managing director, says: "A lot of nonsense is talked about the robustness of the magazine market, in particular monthlies, but our outstanding editorial and professional marketing has won through with the result that all our monthly titles, bar one, are posting year-on-year growth."

The National Magazine Company’s performance was stable. Cosmopolitan and Company remained solid and She was a strong performer in the women’s sector. She and Zest climbed sharply, while Prima and House Beautiful fell. ACP-NatMag saw declines at Real People and Best, although Reveal was flat. NatMag-Rodale’s Men’s Health was stable in a turbulent men’s market. The company has since relaunched Esquire and Harper’s Bazaar, but was forced to end the trial of the online teen/women’s title Jellyfish because it was unable to find a way to make the title profitable. Duncan Edwards, the chief executive of NatMags, says: "We are very pleased with this round of circulation figures. These reports prove, yet again, that this is the home of quality magazine publishing."

Condé Nast’s overall circulation was down as Glamour – although still leading its sector by a considerable margin – dipped in a competitive women’s market. Despite an overall decline in sales, Condé Nast had some success stories as GQ proved resilient to the problems in the men’s market and Vogue and Tatler remained strong in the women’s sector. Nicholas Coleridge, the Condé Nast managing director, says: "Never in history have we sold more copies of Vogue, Condé Nast Traveller and Tatler. I think what’s happening in the magazine market reflects what’s happening in Britain – there’s a great deal of money at the top end in Britain and the magazines that cater to that market are thriving."