Magazine ABCs Jan-June 2006: A rocky ride for all

Magazines reporting growth appear to be the exception as circulations decline for the five biggest publishers.

On the face of it, January to June was dismal for consumer titles. IPC Media, Emap Consumer Media and H Bauer - the UK's biggest publishers by volume - all lost sales and key sectors such as men's and women's lifestyle also fell.

Sales of actively purchased consumer magazines, however, rose 2.6 per cent for the past 12 months with the total volume of consumer titles circulated up 3.5 per cent to 51 million.

Despite small growth driven by sectors such as women's weeklies, especially celebrity-focused titles, and resurgent rock titles (often bought by women), publishers targeting men and the teenage market have been hit by changing media consumption habits as consumers buy magazines less often and spend more time online.

Marcus Rich, the group managing director of Emap Advertising and Emap Consumer Media lifestyle magazines, argues this poses an opportunity as well as a problem: "Top-down the market looks challenging, but that could be good because it focuses attention on gaining a clearer insight into readers."

Most magazine publishers, especially in struggling markets, now regard their titles as brands to be stretched across platforms, arguing that circulation cannot be seen in isolation from branded web, mobile and TV activity.

Martyn Gates, the director of newspapers and consumer magazines at the Audit Bureau of Circulations, says it is working on integrating this information: "The ABC is looking at ways to measure and report multiple platforms and brands to ensure that both buyers and sellers of advertising continue to have a transparent and independent currency."

Larger magazine groups, however, will continue to focus fully on print circulations. The market leader IPC Media had a bad period in circulation terms. Key magazines such as Now, Marie Claire, Loaded and What's On TV recorded significant year-on-year declines, while its 2005 launch Pick Me Up also fell.

However, IPC's chief executive, Sylvia Auton, appears bullish. She says: "IPC Media is the market leader by every measure: by newsstand volume share, by newsstand value share and by ad share. It is also the biggest publisher of weekly magazines."

She adds IPC plans its largest ever launch in the first half of next year. The company believes in creating brands that go beyond magazines but not at the cost of its core product. "Our focus has remained on the creation and development of innovative magazine brands, many of which we are successfully migrating on to other platforms," Auton says.

Emap has also had a difficult year, suffering savage declines in the circulation of its market-leading men's title FHM and a significant fall in the circulation of the men's weekly Zoo.

Its car titles Max Power and Car, particularly exposed to the vagaries of the men's market, were also down. And Emap is fighting back by evolving a cross-platform strategy for its key brands. In terms of magazines, the bad news was balanced by the success of the weekly titles Closer and Heat, the growth of Kerrang! in the music sector and the continued success of the glossy weekly Grazia.

Despite a commitment to new media - its next launch looks set to be multi-platform - Paul Keenan, the chief executive of Emap Consumer Media, says: "Magazines remain the most unique, compelling and addictive of media, offering advertisers the deepest engagement with readers."

BBC Magazines outperformed some of its rivals in the first half of the year but the major event involving the publisher was the sale of the Bristol-based Origin Publishing and its non-BBC related titles to a management buyout team. BBC Magazines kept Origin's BBC-branded titles, including BBC History, and created Bristol Magazines to house them.

Elsewhere in its portfolio, BBC Magazines enjoyed a good performance in the motoring sector with Top Gear consolidating its market-leading position. Gardeners' World benefited from the busy spring gardening period but sales were down for many of the children's titles. This did not stop BBC Magazines continuing to launch into this sector, however.

Peter Phippen, the managing director of BBC Magazines, says: "CBeebies Weekly and Doctor Who Adventures have well exceeded our sales targets, demonstrating we are still the most successful publisher of children's titles in the UK. The next two ABC periods will shift focus to even more significant launches in London and Bristol."

Overall sales at The National Magazine Company were down, although the company did increase the circulations of Country Living and Harpers Bazaar. While the circulations of key titles including Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping were down, its joint ventures, ACP-NatMag and NatMag-Rodale, give the company a presence in the men's fitness market and women's weekly sector. Duncan Edwards, the chief executive at NatMags, says: "Both of our joint ventures have done well. Men's Health is the strongest performer in the men's market and Reveal and Real People have shown that ACP- NatMag is a real presence in the women's weekly field. We continue to be the best subscriptions business in the market and this will remain a focus."

Conde Nast had a strong period, especially given the softness in the women's monthly market and turmoil in the men's. Vogue and Easy Living were strong performers in the women's market while Glamour maintained its market-leading position in the sector. GQ posted a circulation increase amid declines at rival titles. Nicholas Coleridge, Conde Nast's managing director, says that editorial quality remains crucial to its success.

Hachette Filipacchi also had strong highlights, posting a year-on-year sales increase across its titles and some strong circulations for its glossy titles. Both Elle and Red were good performers in the women's lifestyle market and Psychologies, which launched a year ago, increased its circulation. A tough market took its toll on the circulation of the teen title Sugar.

Kevin Hand, the chairman of Hachette Filipacchi UK, says: "I'm exceptionally pleased with the performance of Hachette's portfolio this ABC period. We led the women's market with some bold cover-price increases at the start of 2006, adding significant value to the magazine category - evidence that readers will pay a premium price for premium magazines."

- 'The latest ABC period marks six months that have been characterised by some of the most heated competitive activity our industry has ever seen' - Sylvia Auton, chief executive, IPC Media

- 'Our multimedia structure is enabling us to develop our leading magazine brands on new platforms and into new markets' - Paul Keenan, chief executive, Emap Consumer Media

- 'January to June was challenging but, overall, we are pleased with the performance of our titles' - Duncan Edwards, chief executive, The National Magazine Company

- 'We've proven that brilliantly edited and innovative titles, aimed at clearly defined readers, can make strong gains and outperform any market conditions' - Kevin Hand, chairman, Hachette Filipacchi UK

- 'For the third period running, we have made significant share gains in all sectors in which we publish. Insistence on the highest editorial standards gives us the edge' - Nicholas Coleridge, managing director, Conde Nast

- 'We publish some of the most editorially trusted and popular titles in core markets and remain a significant force in UK publishing, judging by the latest results' - Peter Phippen, managing director, BBC Magazines

PUBLISHER Total ABC Period-on-period Year-on-year
% change % change
IPC Media 7,279,559 -4.7 -9.0
Emap Consumer Media 4,516,534 -4.7 -7.9
H Bauer 3,639,554 -3.1 -4.2
BBC Magazines 3,551,169 5.7 -1.3
NatMags 2,490,362 -3.9 -4.0
Conde Nast 1,605,799 1.5 1.2
Northern & Shell 1,359,072 5.1 19.9
Hachette Filipacchi 1,133,197 -1.3 2.8
ACP-NatMag 1,022,533 37 52.3
Future 973,896 1.0 5.7
Haymarket Publishing 636,783 1.5 4.8
Dennis Publishing 618,595 -6.3 -9.3
Source Audit Bureau of Circulations, January-June 2006.