Magazine ABCs Jan-June 2006: Customer magazines

The first six months of 2006 proved to hold mixed fortunes for the customer magazine market. Although few accounts changed hands and pitches were rare, the ABCs provided evidence of continued investment in the sector and of its growing popularity as an advertising platform.

The top-six UK magazines by circulation were all customer titles. John Brown Citrus Publishing's Sky the magazine stayed at the top of the table despite a slight circulation decline. This dip was owing to the publication of a specialist high-definition TV magazine to 1.2 million early adopters and Sky+ owners. Its figures were prevented by ABC rules from appearing in the Sky the magazine circulation total. More specialist titles are expected from the broadcaster in the coming months, showing that Sky is ploughing investment into its magazine strategy.

In recent years, launch activity has been dominated by the retail sector. However, this time around it came from other corners of the market.

AA Roadside, originally known as RewAArd, parachuted into the number-two spot with a circulation of 3,394,912. The motoring organisation launched the magazine in autumn 2005 to communicate the benefits of membership to its customers. The title, published by Specialist UK Publications, is currently relaunching as the AA Members Club to reflect its commitment to customers. However, the title has no plans to carry advertising. Its reason for auditing its circulation is to help it negotiate better deals for customers with partner companies by proving its media value.

The most dramatic rise in circulation came from Unlimited, the magazine for the cinema group Cineworld, formerly known as UGC, which posted a huge increase after it upped its circulation at the end of last year on the back of a firm commitment to customer publishing.

Another significant new entry was the debut of the NSPCC's magazine Your Family, published by Redwood. The title posted an inaugural circulation of 392,475, landing at 16th spot in the table of customer titles.

Observers say that the launches are good for the sector. Jason Frost, the managing director of Publicis Blueprint, says: "The large new entrants in the ABC figures overall are customer magazines. Debuts from organisations such as the NSPCC and the AA demonstrate a lot of confidence from clients in our sector."

However, new business is clearly a concern for some publishers. Andrew Hirsch, the chief executive of John Brown, says: "We should be doing better - customer magazines is the second fastest-growing media sector after the internet. Research from the Direct Marketing Association and the Association of Publishing Agencies points to customer magazines being among the most effective and relevant ways for advertisers to reach existing customers over any other form of media. Yet some companies do not have magazines."

Although there were no new entries from the retail sector, their magazines still feature heavily in the table, accounting for around half of the top- 20 customer titles by circulation. But there were significant fluctuations in their figures.

Publicis Blueprint's Asda Magazine, in third place, increased its print run. The supermarket's other title, Asda Good For You!, also from Blueprint, dipped 1.7 per cent to 959,440.

Tesco, whose Tesco Magazine debuted six months ago in second place, dropped 22.9 per cent to 1,923,933 period on period. Mark Jones, the editorial director of the title's publisher, Cedar Communications, attributed this decline to an enlarged Christmas print run of 3.5 million in the previous ABC period.

Among other retail titles, Boots Health & Beauty was down 5.8 per cent period on period and suffered a year-on-year drop of 7.7 per cent. Further down the table, Sainsbury's: The Magazine, which is produced by Seven Publishing and is 98.2 per cent actively purchased, dipped 13.6 per cent on last period. However, the success of its Fresh Ideas magazine, which is seventh in the customer magazines league with a circulation of 1,422,102, more than cushions this fall.

John Brown's Waitrose Food Illustrated was stable with a 0.9 per cent rise for the six months to June to 314,474. This was in contrast to falls among other paid-for food titles such as BBC Good Food, down 5.6 per cent over the same period, and Delicious, down 7.5 per cent.

In the automotive sector, VM The Vauxhall Magazine was down 12.9 per cent period on period to 365,882. Its publisher, Brooklands, also now publishes The Renault Magazine. However, BMW Magazine is no longer published in the UK after the car manufacturer severed its relationship with Cedar Communications in the autumn of last year.

Verdict There was little pitch activity in the first part of the year, which means that publishers will be keen to kick-start their new-business efforts in the coming months. This could result in a more vibrant market in the next six months after a rather flat performance in the first half.

TITLE PUBLISHER Total ABC Period-on Year-on
-period -year
% chg % chg
Sky the magazine John Brown Citrus
Publishing 6,798,495 -1.1 0.2
AA Roadside Specialist UK
Publications 3,394,912 n/a n/a
Asda Magazine Publicis Blueprint 2,974,793 25.1 13.1
Tesco Magazine Cedar Communications 1,923,933 -22.9 n/a
Prudential Magazine Publicis Blueprint 1,708,257 -10.6 n/a
Boots Health &
Beauty Redwood 1,591,393 -5.8 -7.7
Sainsbury's Fresh
Ideas Seven Publishing 1,422,102 -0.7 n/a
Saga Magazine The Saga Group 1,105,140 -10.2 -11.2
The Somerfield
Magazine Rare 1,092,936 3.2 -3.7
Asda Good For You! Publicis Blueprint 959,440 -1.7 n/a
Debenhams Desire Publicis Blueprint 745,126 0.0 0.0
Unlimited BBC Origin Publishing 542,250 40.3 60.4
Homebase Ideas Publicis Blueprint 424,055 6.0 6.2
Emma's Diary
Pregnancy Guide Lifecycle Marketing 414,930 0.4 -0.3
Sky the magazine John Brown Citrus
Ireland Publishing 397,478 9.0 14.2
Your Family Redwood 392,475 n/a n/a
VM The Vauxhall
Magazine Brooklands Group 365,882 -12.9 -7.3
Sainsbury's: The
Magazine Seven Publishing 357,883 -13.6 3.2
The Garden RHS Publications 353,082 0.1 1.3
Waitrose Food John Brown Citrus
Illustrated Publishing 314,474 0.9 5.0
Source Audit Bureau of Circulations, January-June 2006.