Devolution is a word that has been bandied about with great frequency since the existing Labour Government was elected in 1997.
The question of how much real power has truly been devolved to the regions is still hotly debated. But it cannot be denied that in putting the topic on the political agenda, the Government has given the British public cause to think about their regional identity.
For many people, where they live plays a role in defining who they are.
They are proud of their regional identity and, in today's mobile society, even those who now live in a city or county away from their place of birth, as do so many, are often keen to identify themselves with the local culture and landscape around them - perhaps more so than ever, for fear of becoming rootless.
In these circumstances it is not surprising that in recent years we have seen a boom in glossy regional magazines. Publications of this kind have been around for decades.
However, in the past three years there has been a spate of acquisitions and launches in the sector. The local newspaper group Archant has been the driving force behind most of this activity and now owns nearly 20 glossy regional titles, which are overseen by its Archant Life division.
It is more than a little ironic that consolidation of ownership is happening to titles whose point of difference is their connection with a region.
But that is the nature of maturing markets and the consolidation has the advantage of bringing such titles to the attention of a broader advertising audience.
Archant Life has effectively consolidated the disparate glossy county monthly market into a clear sector and is aggressively plugging gaps in its portfolio with launches and acquisitions. Earlier this year it launched Lake District Life and Oxfordshire Life.
"We have got good coverage across the south and west, and north and east with a bit of a gap in the Midlands," the Archant Life managing director, Johnny Hustler, says. "We're the only ones trying to create the county magazine genre. So much of what we are about is people enjoying living in the county and enjoying their house. In each individual county, we are generally the best-selling monthly, and that is important as it helps us to get distribution."
The majority of Archant Life's regional titles are sold from newsstands and are not directly linked to a local newspaper. Hustler claims circulation growth across the titles stands at about 15 per cent annually. As not all are audited, this is impossible to verify but few doubt real growth is taking place.
But who exactly reads these titles? Cotswold Life's publisher, Peter Waters, defines his audience as an "affluent and aspirational readership who are passionate about the county they live in", adding that they are interested in the finer things in their county life and have the disposable income to enjoy them.
Advertising, editorial content and cover price certainly bear out this belief. The July 2004 issue of Lancashire Life, for instance, priced at £3.20, ran to 292 pages and was crammed with ads aimed at an upscale market, with a strong property focus. Hustler is unapologetic in stating that property is "an editorial platform as well as being an important source of revenue".
Undeniably, the glossy format makes a great setting in which to display luxury dwellings. Furniture and interior design ads also figure prominently and it comes as no surprise to learn that in October Archant is launching Pure, a regional homes, gardens and interiors magazine that will go on sale throughout Lancashire, Cheshire, Yorkshire, North Wales and the Lake District.
With its smaller city titles, Archant can't rely on the same number of newsstand sales and has to look elsewhere for distribution. For instance, Brighton & Hove Life has for more than six months run a promotion with OK! in which 6,000 copies of the Archant magazine were poly-bagged with copies of OK! magazines sold around the Brighton area.
The title was also made available to guests staying at the Grand Hotel and Hilton Metropole.
Newsquest Media Group is also a player in the glossy regional market, although more of its titles are distributed with its newspapers. As names such as Lifestyle and Limited Edition imply, it too is targeting upmarket consumers.
"We clearly want to be able to provide national advertisers, and in particular brand advertisers, with an opportunity to promote in a Sunday supplement setting and we then find that our newspapers act as excellent directional sources for follow-up specific retail offers," David Hoath, Newsquest's advertisement sales director, says.
He adds that regional glossies appeal to advertisers that have "high-end/high-ticket-price advertising messages" with longer consideration cycles.
While regional glossies have carved out a strong niche, media buyers still have some reservations about them. Cherry Jackson, the head of press at Mediaedge:cia Manchester, complains that there is a lack of detailed readership information for many titles and that it can be difficult for agencies to find out about them, as they are not always sold as part of a regional press portfolio.
Nevertheless, in our property- and style-obsessed age, regional glossies seem to have a growing pool of readers and advertisers. One does wonder, though, what might happen if the UK were hit by the very real possibility of a house price crash.
FIVE LEADING COUNTY TITLES
OXFORDSHIRE LIMITED EDITION
Circulation: 27,386 distributed with Oxford Times, plus 3,000 copies to
Cover price: £1.95
Launched: July 1986
Main advertisers: Cotteswood (kitchens and tableware), Bang & Olufsen,
And So To Bed (bedsteads)
Cover price: £3.20
Publisher: Archant (acquired in January 2001)
Main advertisers: Jackson Stops & Staff (estate agent), Furnish with
Flair (interiors), AdamSons (construction and interiors), Brian Ollier
BRIGHTON & HOVE LIFE
Cover price: £2 where sold, but mostly free distribution
Publisher: Archant (acquired in March 2004)
Main advertisers: Mishon Mackay (property), Saks (hair and beauty),
Brighton College, Rivervale Cars (Mazda)
Circulation: 12,782 ABC audited
Cover price: £2.95
Publisher: Archant (acquired in May 2001)
Main advertisers: Knight Frank Cirencester (property), Bang & Olufsen,
Calcot Manor (hotel)
LIFESTYLE HALE AND ALTRINCHAM
Circulation: 12,000 sold on newsstand
Cover price: £1.75
Launched: April 2002
Main advertisers: Marks & Spencer, Porcelanosa (bathroom products), Bang