PPA's Papworth: 'the UK is the second most magazine-friendly country in the G8'
PPA's Papworth: 'the UK is the second most magazine-friendly country in the G8'
A view from James Papworth

Think BR: The UK loves magazines, but circulations only tell part of the story

ABC print figures are like TV overnight ratings: they're a vital element of the trading mechanism and give a guide to popularity but don't tell whole story, argues James Papworth, marketing director, PPA.

I’m told that the most watched television show on Christmas Day 2011 was the BBC’s EastEnders, the inhabitants of Walford delivering a virtual slap to the stiff upper lips at Downton Abbey on ITV, which apparently finished in fourth place.

But the battle of Christmas Day doesn’t necessarily tell us the entire story of the ratings war. Interestingly, if you add in catch-up viewing through PVR services such as Sky+, Downton actually leapfrogs EastEnders to sneak the number one spot.

If you also take into account views on ITVPlayer, interaction on Twitter, etc, then who knows how far the Downton brand extends beyond its initial airtime on 25 December?

It’s a subtle but important difference and the dynamic is similar for consumer magazine brands.

Look beyond the battle of Christmas Day

Consumption of the print content creates the mainstay of the audience. It’s then often augmented through content consumption on additional platforms at subsequent times.

On Facebook and on Twitter, on desktops and on mobile devices, on email and at live events – it’s all part of the extended experience we, as consumers, now have with brands that were once-upon-a-time exclusively printed products.

We all wait excitedly to see how these mechanics impact on magazine brands’ ultimate reach, and ABC is certainly gearing up for this with the launch late last year of the multi-platform brand certificate which will be available in six months time.

Today, however, is about print and at the stroke of midday a blizzard of circulation figures will blow through the industry, leaving headlines, proclamations and conclusions in their wake.

But in advance of today’s news it is worth remembering that for several concurrent ABC releases the UK's annual print distribution has remained relatively stable at around the 1.25bn mark – or around 20 magazines per person.

And not forgetting that this figure only refers to the basket of titles that are audited by ABC, and also the fact that it was achieved in the context of a particularly challenging economic environment.

That places the UK as the second most magazine-friendly country among the G8 nations, a grouping of countries which collectively makes up an estimated 53% of nominal global GDP.

In commercial terms, that equates to an estimated annual spend on consumer magazines in the UK of £2.5bn or, to put it another way, £40 per person.

Such figures are tangible evidence of the valued relationship readers continue to have with their printed copies.

This is something we have been able to quantify more scientifically through our recent Magnify study, which pulled in the viewpoints of more than 18,000 consumers to analyse how they engage with magazine content, both on an editorial and advertising basis.

So, today is at once our Christmas Day, where publishers can - in a snapshot - celebrate the continuing demand for our medium. However, as magazines increasingly expand onto burgeoning platforms, it also reminds us that there’s much more to the story than one measurement on one day.

James Papworth, marketing director, PPA