Magazine publishers fight against ebbing circulations

Top 50 actively purchased magazines fall below 10 million level amid cover price increases.

Magazine publishers fight against ebbing circulations

Media buyers have backed consumer magazine publishers to continue to stay relevant to advertisers despite another rather bleak set of circulation figures.

There were very few instances of year-on-year rises in actively purchased circulations for the six-month period to the end of June 2019, which saw the total average actively purchased copies shifted by the top 50 magazines fall under 10 million.

The total average actively purchased circulation of the top 50 actively purchased titles fell from 10,563,054 in the first half of 2018 to 9,643,340 in the first half of 2019. 

Among a number of big titles that particularly struggled this period were Hearst’s Cosmopolitan and the independently published Hello!.

Cosmopolitan’s actively purchased copies dropped by 29% year on year, or 63,262 copies, to 159,031. The magazine’s appeal was hurt by what Hearst called a "trial" cover price increase from £2 to £2.50 at the start of the year, which was reversed after three issues.

Hello!’s actively purchased copies decreased by 17% year on year to 205,007, which was attributed both to a cover price increase to £2.30 and a dearth of royal family content by Sarah Johnson, business director – publishing at Havas Group Media.

Changing strategies

Charlotte Taylor, senior group trading director of publishing & audio at Blue 449, said price increases were one of a number of strategic changes by women’s lifestyle publishers.

TI Media caught the eye by opting Marie Claire out of an ABC this period due to the impact of what Taylor said was a shake-up last year of its newsstand strategy to reduce cover-mounted gifts and price promotions.

Taylor said she understood that publishing a figure for H1 2019 would not have given a true picture of the magazine’s circulation.

"Hopefully [the newsstands strategy] will really work for them and it will be interesting to see whether they expand it across their portfolio and if other publishers follow suit," she added.

She also highlighted the emerging practice of publishers teaming up to multi-bag their titles, for example Bauer Media’s Grazia with Hearst’s Red, which occurred six times this period, or Hello!, which occurred three times.In the thinned-out ranks of men’s magazines, Men’s Health, GQ and Esquire all experienced declines in actively purchased circulations. Esquire, which is published by Hearst and reduced its frequency from monthly to bi-monthly at the start of this year, lost 5% of its actively purchased circulation.

However, men and women’s magazine publishers, particularly Hearst, were praised by media buyers for diversifying beyond print into events and membership programmes.

"Gone are the days of us as an agency looking just at how publishers are performing on a print level," Taylor said. "Hearst is a good example of selling across print, digital and events. It increased its events team last year by about 30%, readers pay decent money to go to these events. We're seeing more magazine publishers collaborating with other media channels. We've done it ourselves with Clarins collaborating with Hearst and Global."

'Deeper relationship'

Ricardo Amboage, head of programmatic and display investment at Starcom & Spark Foundry, said: "The steep declines seen across both men and women’s general interest categories do not reflect the deeper relationship that more successful publishers have been able to cultivate.

"Those publishers that have diversified beyond print by investing not just in digital, but other initiatives such as experiential and membership programmes, are driving not just value to consumers but also to advertisers. Through these multiple touch points publishers have never had a richer understanding of their readers, and in a landscape of intense media scrutiny, a more trusted brand safe environment in which to reach them."

Lewis Shaw, executive director, head of investment at Manning Gottlieb OMD, added: "Despite these declines in circulation I think magazine brands should command a healthy share of advertisers' budgets because again they're quality, brand-safe environments, which is hard to get anywhere else."

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