Perspective: New sectors must be created if magazine market is to prosper

Nervous magazine editors will have been poring over this week’s ABC figures like an OK! photographer’s lens over Posh Spice’s dream wedding.

Nervous magazine editors will have been poring over this week’s ABC

figures like an OK! photographer’s lens over Posh Spice’s dream

wedding.



Some - those in the hot seat at NME, Sky, Prima and House Beautiful -

will be vowing to pull their socks up. A few - at OK!, Bizarre, Woman’s

Journal and others - will be justifiably pleased. But the vast majority

will be wondering how to make an impact as the magazine market confronts

a new world order in which younger competitors give the established

giants a scare.



The problems lie in the sectors where there is little differentiation

between titles. Clearly it is no longer enough to spot new opportunities

for attracting readers from existing titles.



The more important qualification is the gift for discovering magazine

ideas which create new sectors. In this context, the figures throw up a

few basic questions about the UK magazine market.



Can the home interest sector, which sees a lacklustre 2 per cent rise

overall, put up a better fight against the increasingly polished store

titles from the likes of Safeway? Can the women’s weeklies fight back

against OK! by means of innovative journalism without quite going the

whole ’me-too’ celebrity hog? Can the men’s fashion and style sector

sustain overall circulation as its leading lights - FHM, Loaded, Men’s

Health, Maxim and Esquire - post year-on-year declines that are

somewhere between disappointing (Maxim, down 2.1 per cent) and

catastrophic (Loaded, down 18.8 per cent)?



This is the second year that the ABC has differentiated between

’actively purchased’ magazines and those that come free or partially

free for club members (eg Saga) or favoured customers (eg Ford). This is

a change which strips out the leading five by raw circulation. So, for

the record - or for business magazine editors like me who are impressed

by such monster circulation figures - they are AA Magazine (4.2

million), Skyview (2.2 million), Cable Guide (two million), Safeway

Magazine (1.9 million) and Boots Health and Beauty (1.9 million). Which

leaves IPC’s What’s on TV topping the paid-for rankings at 1.7

million.



For the leading publishers, already accustomed to underlining

year-on-year or period-on-period changes, depending on which sounds

better, the ABCs provide the usual opportunities to spin the stats. This

year, the award for PR spin goes to the National Magazines Company’s

wily managing director, Terry Mansfield. Unable to disguise some

particularly dire figures for House Beautiful (down 22.9 per cent year

on year), Company (down 16.6 per cent) or Country Living (down 17.1 per

cent), he has issued a desperate press release hitting out at other

publishers ’leaking details of their ABCs in advance and putting a

misleading spin on them afterwards’. No harm in that, perhaps. But for

goodness’ sake, don’t expect us to buy it.



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