Magazine ABCs Jan-June 2006: Motoring magazines

Most motoring titles experienced a difficult period, with publishers blaming general trends in the men's market for the downward spiral in sales.

However, BBC Top Gear, the market leader, posted its highest ever ABC figure. While rivals argue that the resurgent Top Gear TV show, aided by repeats on UKTV, helps promote the magazine, the BBC Magazines managing director Marcus Arthur put the sales increases down to "partly the brand, partly the marketing and partly the editorial".

BBC Top Gear continued to pull away from the number-two title, Haymarket's What Car?. However, BBC Magazines is anticipating a strong fightback from What Car? following its acquisition earlier this month of Dennis Publishing's ailing Test Drive title, which was absorbed into the What Car? Car Buyer's Guide.

Arthur attributes the general downward trend in the sector to two factors. "People are going to websites but it's also partly down to disenfranchisement because some of the magazines are not as good as they were," he says.

Emap's motoring titles recorded significant circulation declines. Sales of both Max Power, the performance car lads' mag, and Car, its more upmarket sister title, were down. Mark Frost, the acting managing director of Emap Automotive, says: "Across the board, not just in automotive, it's not a good story for men's monthly magazines - especially those aimed at men aged under 30."

Publishers are noticing that men are buying magazines less frequently. Frost says: "The number of purchasers is consistent but the frequency of their purchase is down. This is down to increased price sensitivity - because some of these magazines aren't cheap - and there's increased internet use."

Publishers are attempting to keep up with changing reading habits by pouring resources into their websites. BBC Top Gear and What Car? have had a significant online presence for some time, but Car has upped the ante by launching a free online news service that is updated six days a week.

They are also re-examining their magazine products and making changes. In addition to launching online and mobile services under the Car brand, Emap has invested heavily in the magazine, placing a greater emphasis on features and photography. Frost is confident this will have a beneficial effect on the title's circulation in the next six months.

Dennis says that actively purchased sales of its Evo magazine, a direct rival to Car, are up 4 per cent. James Burnay, the publisher of Dennis Motoring Division, says: "This shows that, if you get the right blend of emotive features, you can buck the downward trend of the monthly motoring market. Evo's success has prompted our recent decision to publish a 13th issue this year, which is good news for readers, advertisers and retailers."

In the weekly market, which continues to be hit by online news and data sources, Dennis' Auto Express maintained its market dominance ahead of Haymarket's Autocar. However, the year-on-year circulations of both titles declined significantly.

Verdict The market looks set to become increasingly polarised with readers going online for news, facts and figures and buying monthly magazines for a more in-depth read. As a result, publishers will invest in improving the look and feel of their monthly titles. However, some predict market consolidation, with some of the weaker magazines closing or folding into rival titles. Online could become the next big battleground.

TITLE PUBLISHER Total ABC Period-on Year-on
-period -year
% chg % chg
BBC Top Gear BBC Magazines 182,706 4.3 9.6
What Car? Haymarket 120,276 -1.8 -4.7
Max Power Emap 92,140 -22.3 -40.4
Auto Express Dennis 87,018 -3.6 -4.4
Classic & Sports Car Haymarket 80,041 2.8 -0.7
Car Emap 78,831 -16.2 -17.5
Evo Dennis 73,830 0.6 1.7
Fast Car Future 70,694 -26.3 -31.5
Autocar Haymarket 60,934 -2.6 -8.0
Practical Classics
& Car Restorer Emap 60,461 -4.2 -3.6
Redline Future 54,890 -11.5 -25.7
Source Audit Bureau of Circulations, January-June 2006.