Scope for optimism

Buoyant performances from a number of titles offer an embattled industry some welcome encouragement.

Last week's magazine circulation figures did not quite show an industry on its knees as many had predicted. They revealed overall circulation of consumer magazines rose by 8.6 per cent during 2007 (albeit mainly due to the massive success of customer magazines) and consumer expenditure on magazines flat at £1.98 billion - hardly the growth some would want, but still significantly higher than five years ago.

However, figures from the PPA show a decline in actively purchased sales of 1.1 per cent, and there were some undoubted bleak spots - women's weeklies, for instance (especially pockets of the celebrity market), and parts of the men's magazine world.

Events in the industry were overtaken by H Bauer's recently approved £1.14 billion acquisition of Emap Consumer Media. The German owner is still running the former Emap interests as a separate operation (now known as Bauer Consumer Media), apart from its own weekly magazine portfolio, but if these are pooled together, they overtake IPC as the market leader in volume sales terms.

The message from the former Emap regime is that the transition will be smooth, but Paul Keenan, the chief executive of Bauer Consumer Media, says that there are also wider issues at play. "This market, as competitive, tight and fast moving as it is, continues to offer great opportunities. However, there's too much negative sentiment around the market. We believe the market in the UK is one of the world's most competitive, and even if the consumer is more tentative, this creates opportunity."

Keenan believes there will be greater levels of product differentiation and that excellence in editorial, marketing and ad sales will become increasingly paramount in importance.

Steve Goodman, the managing director, print trading at Group M, agrees that it's not all doom and gloom: "On the lead-up to the ABCs, everybody was pointing at the men's market and saying that it's suffering. This was unfair as it's still a massive market. GQ and Esquire have done well, and FHM is moving in the right direction. I'd point to the women's weekly market as being a sector that's done worse than anticipated, although the general women's lifestyle sector didn't suffer as badly as expected."

Goodman says there are concerns over some publishing strategies - such as the bagging of "two-for-one" titles from a publisher that still count as single copy sales and inflated incentives to build up subscriptions - but concludes that the success of a title such as OK! illustrates that a strong product with good exclusives can still stand out on the newsstand.

IPC Media suffered a slight year-on-year decline in overall sales, but the second half of 2007 saw it continue to invest in multiplatform products, such as Nuts TV and NMETV, as well as its print titles. It also lost its status as the publisher of the nation's leading newsstand title, when H Bauer's TV Choice overtook sales of IPC's What's On TV. However, Sylvia Auton, the chief executive of IPC Media, found reasons to be cheerful. She says: "While some sectors remain challenging, we are enjoying some star performances from truly compelling brands, and we continue to see value growth - up 6 per cent on the year."

The renamed Emap Consumer Media, now Bauer Consumer Media, experienced a tough time as sales of its leading celebrity and men's titles were hit. However, there were some success stories - Grazia continued to grow, FHM had a good second half of 2007 after a relaunch, and Empire increased sales. Shortly after the Bauer takeover, the future of the underperforming New Woman and First finally seemed to be decided, with publication suspended ahead of a month-long consultation. A sign of things to come under Bauer? Keenan, who continues in the magazine chief executive role as well as overseeing the former Emap radio and digital properties, says: "There are excellent stories across the Bauer Consumer portfolio; our transition into the Bauer Group is going smoothly and our teams continue to focus on delivering the best brands, titles and radio stations in the marketplace."

Its sister company H Bauer remains a distinct entity under the managing director, David Goodchild. Its ad sales and publishing in the women's weekly and TV listings sectors will, for the time being at least, continue to be handled separately. Bauer's highlight was capturing the number-one newsstand consumer magazine slot with TV Choice. Despite a small sales slide, Take a Break managed to maintain sales of more than one million copies. However, Bella suffered a massive 29.9 per cent circulation fall. The listings titles TV Choice and Total TV Guide posted sales increases, while TV Quick sales were down.

BBC Magazines put in a strong performance across the year, with Top Gear breaking the 200,000 barrier for the first time and its food titles posting significant growth. Radio Times sales were down slightly, but it remains the leading premium listings title. Peter Phippen, the managing director of BBC Magazines, says: "The magazine market is robust. If you look at this period for the industry overall, it's slightly down, but compared to five years ago, magazines are well up in sales and value terms. And magazines are proving to work tremendously well as a complementary medium to the web."

Highlights for The National Magazine Company included strong showings from Cosmopolitan, which recorded its highest sales figure for four periods, Good Housekeeping, Harper's Bazaar, She and Esquire, which posted a 14 per cent sales increase following a revamp under its editor, Jeremy Langmead. However, sales of Company, House Beautiful and Prima were all down. Jessica Burley, the managing director of NatMags, says: "Investing in editorial remains the primary focus for our business, proving that great journalism and creativity will sell copies in the most difficult of markets."

Conde Nast had a robust second half of 2007, but its year-on-year total sales declined slightly. However, Vogue delivered its best-ever circulation figure, as did Tatler, Conde Nast Traveller and Vanity Fair. GQ delivered its ninth-consecutive ABC increase. However, overall circulation of Glamour and Easy Living were down. Nicholas Coleridge, the managing director of Conde Nast, says: "We are rather pleased to see our magazines performing robustly in an intensely competitive market."

- '2007 was a transformational year for IPC, with the business continuing to leverage the power of IPC brands through strong multiplatform growth' - Sylvia Auton, chief executive, IPC Media

- 'For an organisation such as ours, which strives to be innovative and editorially excellent, there is more room to grow and create strong cross-platform brands' - Paul Keenan, chief executive, Bauer Consumer Media

- 'H Bauer titles have delivered exceptional ABCs. We continue to raise the bar in both markets, through constant innovation and consistent editorial quality' - David Goodchild, managing director, H Bauer

- 'We have maintained focus on building strong brands and investing in high-quality products. We will continue to invest very strongly in both magazines and online' - Peter Phippen, managing director, BBC Magazines

- 'Our core business and joint ventures remain healthy and vibrant as we focus on producing quality magazines which appeal to readers and advertisers alike' - Duncan Edwards, chief executive, The National Magazine Company

- 'There remains strong demand for our sophisticated and intelligent luxury titles. We will continue to deliver the highest quality journalism to stay ahead of the pack' - Nicholas Coleridge, managing director, Conde Nast

PUBLISHER Total ABC Period-on- Year-on-year
period % change
% change
IPC Media 8,063,313 17.1 -3.6
Bauer Consumer Media 4,557,133 24.7 -9.9
H Bauer 3,816,290 8.7 -2.6
BBC Magazines 3,391,834 3.0 7.0
NatMags 2,455,539 5.1 -0.3
Future Publishing 1,675,116 93.8 6.8
Conde Nast 1,649,528 4.8 -2.0
Northern & Shell 1,453,984 16.0 7.6
Hachette Filipacchi 1,160,014 -0.8 1.0
Haymarket Publishing 940,853 54.1 -1.8
ACP Natmag 926,203 -7.2 -9.1
Dennis Publishing 861,383 47.2 -9.4
Source Audit Bureau of Circulations, July-December 2007.

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