Magazine publishers must focus on capturing audiences on diverse platforms while pushing quality journalism, media buyers urge, as the industry faces a dismal set of circulation figures.
The downward trend in circulation continued in the six months to the end of December 2019, with the average actively purchased copies recorded by the top 50 magazines failing to recover lost ground.
Total average actively purchased circulation of the top 50 actively purchased titles fell to 9.3 million in July-December 2019 from 9.6 million in the first half of the year.
Cosmopolitan sees biggest loss in top 50
Cosmopolitan failed to revive its fortunes, suffering the greatest loss among the top 50 titles with a nosedive of 23% in actively purchased copies.
The Hearst UK title was down to an actively purchased circulation of 139,000, a fall of 50,000 year on year.
However, Hearst UK chief executive James Wildman said he was "encouraged" by the figures across the company's titles, which include Good Housekeeping, Red and Elle, adding that Hearst continues "to evolve across a multitude of platforms including print, digital, events and brand extensions".
Celebrity weeklies Hello! and OK! also fared badly in print, with large losses of 13% and 22% respectively. Independently published Hello! reached an actively purchased circulation of 163,000, while Reach’s OK! shifted 113,000 copies.
Lucy Markham, communications strategist at VCCP Media, told Campaign that there is still "very much an appetite for longer-form copy".
"The titles that play to the strengths of more traditional magazines from a more unique point of view or longer-form editorial are holding their circulation more robustly," Markham explained, highlighting the smaller dip of 5% at Condé Nast’s Vogue and a 7% increase in circulation at Hearst’s Harper’s Bazaar.
"Circulation is one part of these publishers’ portfolios and many are offering creative solutions to brands by bolstering audiences through different channels, such as social content.
"If the content captures attention, then audiences will always be there and advertising revenues will follow."
Women's weeklies fall
Women’s weeklies took a particular hit this period, with TI Media’s Chat, Woman and Woman’s Own, Bauer Media’s Take a Break, Closer and Bella, Reach’s New! and Hearst’s Best all seeing dips in the double digits.
Among the worst hit, Chat’s actively purchased copies dropped 15% year on year, or 30,000 copies, to 167,000.
Bella’s actively purchased copies also fell 15%, or by 25,000 copies, to 146,000, while New! dropped 19% to 134,000, shedding 30,500 copies.
Maddie Taylor Wilson, investment account director at Manning Gottlieb OMD, said the circulation results "aren’t a true reflection of the investment that publishers have been putting in to diversifying their brands and the subsequent reach and commercial success they are achieving".
She continued: "They are constantly looking for ways to engage with their audience, whether that be through the ever-growing popularity of podcasts, capitalising on fitness, for example Stylist opening their Stylist Strong studio, or their continuing investment into events.
"Importantly, there is a lot of investment still going to the print product itself, which remains core for publishers and advertisers alike as magazine brands remain an engaging, brand-safe proposition for our clients."
Rob Munro-Hall, chief executive of Bauer Media UK, home to the UK’s top-selling magazine, TV Choice, which has an actively purchased circulation of 1.1 million, said the business had "continued to innovate and successfully launched a number of brand extensions" in 2019.
Private Eye bucks the trend
Private Eye was the sole title in the top 50 bucking the general gloomy trend in consumer magazines in a period that covered the UK’s parliamentary upheaval and the December general election.
The satirical news magazine’s figures were up 3%, with an extra 6,500 copies taking its actively purchased circulation to 227,000.
"There is still an appetite for meatier content to be consumed in a traditional way," Markham pointed out. "The political landscape has made magazine titles more relevant as people are looking for quality and trusted journalism".
She added that the "Greta effect", referring to teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, had made an impact on the magazine industry, with a 19% uplift at Dennis Publishing’s The Week Junior leading to 64,000 actively purchased copies.
This "success story" could be credited to an increased interest in political issues among younger audiences, she said.
The Week Junior's sibling title, The Week, was down 5% to 130,000 actively purchased copies, falling by 7,000.
Move to recognise more platforms
Dave Mulrenan, head of investment at Zenith UK, added: "The picture may look rather gloomy, but the leading consumer titles are still producing significant numbers. Going forward, the focus for the magazine industry has to be on capturing the size of brands as a whole.
"ABC’s plan to introduce its ‘brand-first summary certificate’, incorporating data from a minimum of four platforms, is exactly what is required to show the full range and impact of magazine brands and the holistic effect on their followers.
"In the current absence of independently verified UK social numbers for such brands, it will be particularly useful to understand the strength of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter followers in overall brand context going forward."