Magazine ABCs July-Dec 2006: The digital dilemma

Publishers face the task of building their brands through online ventures without sacrificing the print titles.

There's no doubting that 2006 was a difficult year for consumer magazine publishers. Despite brave words from the market leaders, many of the top newsstand titles suffered circulation declines.

However, it wasn't all grim. The magazine trade body PPA Marketing notes that there was a slight increase, of 0.8 per cent, in the volume of actively purchased issues and it also draws attention to the success of titles such as Grazia, Hello!, Easy Living and Eve in the women's market. News and current affairs was also a good place to be, with the continued success of The Economist, which saw its UK sales increase by 7.5 per cent, a highlight.

And, despite the top three publishers all experiencing declines in their overall circulations, some media buyers still found room to be optimistic. Steve Goodman, the managing director of print trading at Group M, says: "The market is currently extremely dynamic, and the publishers that have reacted so quickly to changes in consumer habits and adapted or invested in their current portfolio while launching into emerging markets, have reaped the rewards."

Others are less optimistic in their assessment of the general climate surrounding consumer magazines. Dominic Williams, the press director at Carat, says of 2006: "They (the publishers) had a horror and you can expect a tough 2007 for all publishers. Being realistic, it's going to be really difficult and you'll see the strong get stronger with the weak getting weaker."

Williams points to Emap's sustained efforts to get First to its 100,000 circulation target as a possible sign that the women's weekly market, one of the success stories in 2006, is nearing saturation. He adds: "It's going to be all about trying to get audience and then keeping their loyalty, and that's difficult in an increasingly fickle market driven by covermounts and price."

The largest structural challenge facing consumer publishers seems to remain the issue of taking their print products online and how to bring in revenues on the back of this. The younger end of the men's market, in particular, has been decimated by a change in readership habits involving more time spent online, and publishers are adjusting accordingly. Paul Keenan, the chief executive of Emap Consumer Media, says: "We are witnessing a transition from a print business to a brand business - it's all about brands and meeting consumer needs, and this is bringing into play a whole new raft of competitors."

IPC Media, the market-leading publisher, is also setting its sights on digital. The publisher, which is preparing for a move to new offices on London's southbank, remains committed to large print launches (its new women's weekly title Look, backed with an £18 million launch budget, is its largest ever), but is also considering online opportunities and has hinted at standalone online launches. Sylvia Auton, the chief executive of IPC Media, says: "2007 will see us continue to develop our online business, with significant investment - and not just in established brands."

IPC's overall circulation declined year on year with key titles such as What's on TV, InStyle, Pick Me Up and Ideal Home recording falls in sales. However, the publisher is attempting to improve its fortunes with redesigns of TVTimes and Marie Claire.

Emap, which is facing wider corporate issues after issuing a profits warning and then committing to a review of its business strategy and a cost-cutting programme, also had a tough time. However, savage declines at its male-oriented titles FHM, Zoo, Max Power, Car and Q were offset with excellent results from the weekly glossy Grazia and the celebrity titles Heat and Closer. Keenan says: "All of our weeklies have done well. The Grazia achievement is fantastic; it's an innovative title and we've found a good audience. Heat and Closer are spectacular in a highly competitive marketplace and illustrate the idea that consumers can identify the real thing and are willing to pay for it."

Though overall sales at H Bauer were down slightly, it wasn't all bad news at the German publisher. Its largest TV title, TV Choice, posted its 12th consecutive ABC rise and is closing in on IPC's What's on TV in the battle for the crown of the biggest-selling newsstand title. Its market-leading women's weekly, Take a Break, suffered a sales decline but Bauer continued its launch programme with the new magazine In the Know. David Goodchild, the managing director at Bauer, says: "Take a Break remains the number one women's weekly, still selling a million-plus copies per week without resorting to ABC-boosting price cuts."

BBC Magazines increased its circulation by more than 2 per cent, with four of its titles (Top Gear, Olive, Doctor Who Adventures and Focus) recording their highest-ever sales figures. Top Gear's circulation rose by 8.5 per cent and is now a serious competitor to many of the men's lifestyle titles, while Radio Times, though down slightly in overall sales, moved up to become the UK's third best-selling newsstand title. Peter Phippen, the managing director of BBC Magazines, says: "BBC titles have again led the pack in many of the core consumer magazine markets including food, motoring, premium TV listings, pre-teen and gardening."

The National Magazine Company's total sales were down slightly. However, its joint venture company ACP-NatMag recorded a large sales increase owing to the launch of its Real People title. Highlights for NatMags included a resurgent Good Housekeeping taking second spot in the women's lifestyle sector and good performances from Country Living and Harper's Bazaar. Duncan Edwards, the chief executive of NatMags, says: "The next period will see us continuing to develop the digital side of our brands, ensuring a clear synergy between the print and digital products and capitalising on the consumer's expectations of added content and services via the internet."

Conde Nast was the big success story of this ABC with all of its ten titles recording circulation rises. Five of its magazines, Vogue, Tatler, Vanity Fair, Conde Nast Traveller and Easy Living, recorded their highest-ever circulations and Glamour maintained its leadership of the women's lifestyle market. GQ recorded its seventh successive circulation increase and both House & Garden and World of Interiors were up slightly. Nicholas Coleridge, the managing director of Conde Nast, says: "Ten out of ten circulation increases ain't bad."

'2007 will see us continue to develop our online businesses, with significant investment - and not just in established brands' - Sylvia Auton, chief executive, IPC Media

'This is a volatile market. We are seeing outstanding product in the women's market doing well and outstanding product in the men's market having a tough time' - Paul Keenan, chief executive, Emap Consumer Media

'2006 was anything but quiet, with several high-profile launches. But it is the established brands, through editorial quality and good value, that still dominate' - David Goodchild, managing director, H Bauer

'Our unique brand strength, editorial quality and marketing have ensured that we are posting one of the best sets of ABC figures in the industry' - Peter Phippen, managing director, BBC Magazines

'This has been another challenging six months for the industry and I am pleased with our performance. We've had some excellent results in our core business' - Duncan Edwards, chief executive, NatMags

'There's a lot of competition, and challenging conditions at retail, but our affluent, quality magazines are selling strongly. It's been a stellar run for Conde Nast' - Nicholas Coleridge, managing director, Conde Nast

PUBLISHER Total ABC Period-on-period Year-on-year
% change % change
IPC Media 8,255,959 13.4 -6.8
Emap Consumer Media 5,548,577 22.9 -5.6
H Bauer 4,025,320 10.6 -1.7
BBC Magazines 3,289,701 -1.3 2.5
NatMags 2,593,764 4.2 -3.9
Future 1,737,295 86.1 2.9
Conde Nast 1,683,025 4.8 2.1
Northern & Shell 1,437,037 5.7 11.4
Hachette Filipacchi 1,151,080 1.6 0.3
ACP-NatMag 1,019,000 -0.3 36.5
Haymarket Publishing 995,102 56.3 -1.5
Dennis Publishing 971,523 57.1 -8.3
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations, July-December 2006.

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