It would not be an exaggeration to say that every publisher in the land breathed a sigh of relief as we turned the glossy page over to 2010, considering 2009 was mostly one to forget. What last week's results from the Audit Bureau of Circulations highlight, then, is perhaps not so much that we are still reeling from the effects of the recession, but which sectors are enduringly resilient and which demand publishers return to the drawing board.
PPA figures show a decline in the total number of actively purchased sales of 1.46 per cent year on year, despite a period-on-period increase of 0.3 per cent for the sixmonth period. Overall, results for the main publishers were mixed, with Conde Nast and The National Magazine Company showing a healthy growth, while IPC Media and Bauer's figures looked less rosy. However, Barry McIlheney, the PPA's chief executive, is positive. "This is an encouraging set of results that reaffirms the popularity of magazines among consumers," he says.
The women's glossy sector remains robust, avoiding any double-digit falls and proving that women are not prepared to surrender small luxuries during economic uncertainty. Amy King, the deputy head of press at MPG Media Contacts, says: "The women's weekly market is steady with only a 0.9 per cent circulation drop year on year."
By comparison, the men's lifestyle sector continues to suffer: Bauer's Zoo was down by 27.9 per cent, IPC's Loaded by 26.3 per cent and its sister title Nuts by 22 per cent. Publishers have deflected industry doom on the state of lads' mags by attempting to position the brands as multiplatform entities that are relevant in a digital world.
In the celebrity sector, multi-packing continues to frustrate agency buyers and has provoked a war of words between rival publishers. Multipacking of Northern & Shell's OK! and its sister titles New! and Star failed to boost circulation of OK!. The practice boosted New!'s performance but OK!'s circulation fell more than 20 per cent in the past 12 months.
King says: "The rises which we can see from titles such as New! and Star could be seen as artificial, off the back of the publisher multi-packing magazines. IPC, for example, has not bagged as many issues this period and consequently has not seen the same short-term gains. The question now is: how sustainable is multipacking?"
"Real-life" magazines didn't fare well in the latest ABCs. The top 11 real-life titles fell 5.9 per cent on average, with Hubert Burda's Love It! recording a double-digit crash of 24.9 per cent year on year.
The business, news and current affairs titles remain strong, with the market leaders Private Eye, The Economist, Newsweek and The Week delivering all-round growth during a period that included one of the most talked-about elections in decades.
IPC Media had dramatic results in both directions, but overall circulation at the publisher was down 3.3 per cent year on year. Positive results from Essentials (up 12.9 per cent) and Woman & Home (up 5.5 per cent) were tempered by freefall at Loaded and Nuts.
The publisher is certainly feeling the overall decline in sales in the men's market. Despite recent investment at Nuts, IPC is failing to see results in terms of print sales. However, IPC says the brand's multiplatform reach is testament to its resilience.
Evelyn Webster, the outgoing IPC Media chief executive, says: "From a print point of view, the men's titles have been challenged in the past two years. What we focus on at IPC is extending the brand reach across web, mobile and, in NME's case, radio. We reach 1.2 million consumers across both the Nuts and NME brands."
Print circulation at the NME fell by 17.3 per cent to 33,875 copies. The music title is faring better on the web, recording 199,775 unique daily browsers for the period.
Now magazine was another ABC casualty. The celebrity gossip weekly experienced a 12 per cent fall to record a circulation of 338,080. Webster says: "Without doubt, we have a job to do with Now. The celebrity market is the most hotly contested newsstand sector." Now was relaunched two months ago under the direction of the editorial development director, Andy Cowles. Webster adds: "We are already seeing good sales results coming through."
Despite investment into Look, including the launch of the Look show at London Fashion Week, IPC saw just a 0.1 per cent rise for the period. And the title was down slightly year on year.
IPC's TV listings mags were down almost entirely across the board, with declines for TV Easy (17.3 per cent), Soaplife (15.7 per cent), TV Times (6.6 per cent) and What's On TV (5 per cent). TV & Satellite Week was the only TV title to remain steady, with a 0.1 per cent lift. However, Fiona Dent, the managing director of IPC Connect, claims: "We're very happy as we continue to be the overall market leader in the sector."
A bright spot for IPC was in the homes portfolio, with every title delivering growth and Ideal Home magazine up 5.7 per cent, to regain top spot in the sector ahead of NatMag's Country Living.
Bauer Consumer Media's performance continued to dip. This wasn't helped by the general downturn in the men's sector. However, the publisher seems intent on innovating and will be banking on a positive autumn launch for its weekly men's magazine, touted as a "Grazia for Him".
The publisher's overall circulation dipped 5.8 per cent year on year, its biggest casualty being Zoo, which saw a 27.9 per cent decline in its circulation. The magazine lost more than 30,000 from its circulation, which now stands at 80,026, in the year to June 2010. Despite a gradual reinvention of its editorial package under the editor, Colin Kennedy, FHM failed to halt its sales decline, with the publication losing 18.1 per cent of its circulation year on year. Its circulation is now an average 192,586 copies.
The celebrity gossip title Heat, with Sam Delaney just shy of a year at the editing helm, also suffered with a 6.3 per cent drop year on year, taking its circulation down to 417,163. The magazine had a redesign last month, too late for any impact on the January to June ABC results. The fortnightly celebrity title More! had a dip of 1.9 per cent year on year despite the last ABC results seeing a 6.4 per cent rise year on year. Its current circulation average is 187,159.
However, there was good news in the shape of the rock bible Kerrang!, which saw an impressive 7 per cent rise period on period (1.8 per cent year on year) to 44,103 copies.
Paul Keenan, the chief executive of Bauer Consumer Media, says: "As we continue to adapt to challenging trading conditions, I think we, and the rest of the industry, are entering an exciting new phase of significant innovation, renewal and reformation."
The weeklies division, H Bauer, is still feeling the strain of the recession-hit TV market, after one of its three TV titles, TV Quick, folded five weeks ago. Of the remaining two, TV Choice remains the UK's biggest-selling magazine and was the only H Bauer title to increase its circulation in the past six months, rising 0.5 per cent to 1,309,469 copies. Liz Watkinson, the publishing director of H Bauer's TV listings titles, says: "The market decline, which began about three years ago, has slowed considerably."
H Bauer's Eat In, which launched in March 2009 at a time when consumers were spending more time cooking at home than eating out, dropped 14.3 per cent in the past six months from its debut figure of 22,173, falling to 19,009 copies. Circulation growth at the women's weekly Bella, which posted a 12.9 per cent rise across 2009, slowed with a 1 per cent rise to 246,446.
The National Magazine Company
The National Magazine Company celebrates its 100th anniversary in November and, in circulation terms at least, the grand old lady of UK magazines remains in rude health after delivering a 1.4 per cent increase in year-on-year sales.
However, NatMag attracted more than a little criticism in the first half of the year, with Conde Nast launching a scathing attack on its rival over its apparent multi-bagging strategy. Conde Nast then retracted its comments and it seemed harsh that NatMag should carry the can for a practice that several publishers have become reliant upon. Critics point out, though, that NatMag proceeded to multipack Reveal, Real People and Best on a frequent basis over the first six months of the year.
This issue aside, NatMag had more success stories than not during the first six months of 2010. Of its 16 audited titles, 11 reported a year-on-year increase with record sales from Country Living and Harper's Bazaar.
Country Living's performance - a 6.1 per cent year-on-year increase that took its total circulation to 204,235 - was especially impressive, while Good Housekeeping also increased its circulation against the same period in 2009. Total circulation was 422,496, up 3 per cent.
Harper's Bazaar boosted its circulation by 8.1 per cent to 118,553, its 15th consecutive ABC increase. In a tough market, NatMag was pleased that the title's subscription levels rose by 16.4 per cent.
In the men's market, Esquire outperformed its rivals with a 10.3 per cent year-on-year circulation increase to 58,151. Men's Health remained the market leader in the men's sector despite a slight circulation decline of 1.8 per cent to 245,754.
On a more negative note, the NatMag women's lifestyle titles Cosmopolitan, Company and She all recorded declines in circulation. Cosmopolitan's 9 per cent decline to 401,750 was one of the bigger falls among NatMag's figures.
During the first half of 2010, NatMag wasn't afraid to innovate with ideas such as a 3D cover for Cosmopolitan and a new biannual high-street fashion spin-off from Company called High Street Edit. Looking forward, the market awaits news of a senior commercial appointment to fill some of the responsibilities handled by the former managing director Jessica Burley, who left in January, and, with its chief executive, Arnaud de Puyfontaine, promising "more innovative branded content and world-class magazines", it will be interesting to see what NatMag has planned for the rest of the year.
An otherwise steady first half-year at BBC Magazines was notable mainly for longer-term questions over the future of its portfolio. These were triggered by the BBC Trust's decision in April to explore a "partnership" with a commercial publisher. Speculation has linked the likes of NatMag to a deal.
For now, however, BBC Magazines, under its managing director, Peter Phippen, continues to exert full control over its 28 titles. And the first half of the year was a good one, with year-on-year circulation growth of 3.1 per cent.
Lonely Planet Magazine, which BBC Magazines acquired controversially in 2008 and has since relaunched, added 34.4 per cent to its circulation to reach 54,708.
Radio Times, BBC Magazines' best-selling title, suffered a 2 per cent circulation decline to record a total circulation of 947,131. BBC Top Gear Magazine was also down, 5.2 per cent to 190,375, but there were good results for the publisher's specialist factual titles and for its children's magazines.
Star performers included the science title Focus, which added 8 per cent to its circulation (now 73,614), and BBC History, up 8.4 per cent to 69,234. The food title Olive added 2 per cent to its circulation (now 87,881) while, despite a 5.4 per cent decline in circulation, Good Food retained its status as the market-leading food title with a circulation of 305,885.
BBC Magazines' subscription levels also increased to 886,472. Phippen says: "Once again, we have bucked the trend with increased sales across our portfolio, becoming the publisher with the highest number of subscriptions and with 99 per cent of our magazines actively purchased by readers."
Conde Nast's 2.8 per cent overall circulation increase is encouraging, given that most of its titles sit at the premium end of the market, and it is perhaps a sign that women's lifestyle titles have weathered the worst of the downturn.
The publisher was busy in the early weeks of 2010, becoming embroiled in a dispute with NatMag over the latter's multipacking strategy. However, Conde Nast was also involved in some more proactive, positive activity of its own.
In March, it unveiled plans to create versions of its magazines on the Apple iPad. Having already released a demo of what its technology magazine Wired would look like, it announced that tablet versions of GQ, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and Glamour will follow.
Other innovations in the first half included various cover formats including a "scratch-off" cover on Wired and multiple covers for GQ's World Cup edition. This looks like a trend Conde Nast will continue to encourage with the September issue of Glamour sporting eight different regional executions.
In circulation terms, Conde Nast's overall year-on-year total was boosted by the launch of Wired last year. The title has hit its target of 50,000, with an average of 50,009 over the first three months, up 3.6 per cent on December 2009.
Tatler and Vanity Fair were Conde Nast's other strong performers, with a rise in circulation of 1.6 per cent for Tatler, which has recently celebrated its 300th anniversary. The title now has a headline circulation of 86,448. However, this was buoyed by a 13 per cent increase in overseas sales. Vanity Fair increased its circulation by 0.7 per cent to 102,445.
Glamour's circulation rose over the six months and was stable year on year at 526,216. Its price point of £2 puts the glossy monthly firmly in competition with the women's weeklies. Easy Living was the publisher's big faller, its circulation declining 5.5 per cent to 170,054.
However, the circulations of GQ and Vogue were stable, adding to a satisfactory overall feel for Conde Nast. Nicholas Coleridge, its managing director, says: "As the market shows clear signs of recovery, our glossy titles and cross-platform innovations position us perfectly for continued growth."
PUBLISHERS RANKED BY THEIR TOTAL ABCs
PUBLISHER Total ABC Period-on-period Year-on-year
% change % change
IPC Media 5,738,111 -2.6 -3.3
H Bauer 3,052,641 -3.1 -4.6
NatMag 3,050,689 -1.6 1.4
BBC Worldwide 2,952,806 -0.5 3.1
Bauer Consumer Media 2,814,745 -4.7 -5.8
Conde Nast 1,539,661 0.8 2.8
Northern & Shell 1,497,639 -10.9 13.6
Hachette Filipacchi 992,177 -3.4 -3.9
ShortList Media 939,380 1.7 83.9
DC Thomson 802,402 -1.2 0.0
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations, January-June 2010.
FIVE SURPRISE PACKAGES
Circulation June 2010: 176,680
Circulation June 2009: 165,609
Year-on-year % change: +6.7
Dennis Publishing's weekly round-up of news and current affairs continued to strike a chord with audiences, and was helped by a busy news period which included the General Election. The first six months of 2010 saw The Week's 24th consecutive period of circulation increase.
Circulation June 2010: 577,899
Circulation June 2009: 400,189
Year-on-year % change: +44.4
Northern & Shell's multipacking strategy paid off for New!, which recorded a significant circulation growth. However, its sister celebrity title OK! fared less well with a 20.2 per cent circulation decline. It will be interesting to see if the publisher's promotional tactics continue in light of this.
Circulation June 2010: 412,195
Circulation June 2009: 397,634
Year-on-year % change: +3.7
Widespread use of multipacking clearly isn't an option for the solus title Hello! but the celebrity magazine made use of discounting and pulled in some good cover exclusives to record a circulation increase. Apparently, Eamonn Holmes' wedding proved a surprise hit among the title's readers.
Circulation June 2010: 230,067
Circulation June 2009: 218,726
Year-on-year % change: +5.2
Hachette Filipacchi's women's lifestyle title added circulation in a market that was generally more buoyant than the men's lifestyle sector. The title posted its highest-ever circulation, with its publisher claiming its demographic and "editorial vision" have made it resilient in the downturn.
WOMAN & HOME
Circulation June 2010: 369,321
Circulation June 2009: 350,212
Year-on-year % change: +5.5
IPC Media's title aimed at women over 35 was one of the strongest performing titles in the women's lifestyle sector. Subscriptions have reached record levels and newsstand sales of the magazine are also up as its editorial mix proves attractive to readers.