The Top 100 Magazines: Customer Magazines

Customer magazines from some of the UK's biggest retailers shone in the latest ABC figures, providing a welcome boost to the customer publishing sector.

In fact, in the top 100 circulations, the six highest-placed titles were all customer magazines from BSkyB, Tesco, Asda, Prudential, Boots and the trade union Unison.

There was no change in the number-one spot - Sky the magazine retained its crown with a circulation of 6,874,090. This was an increase of 1.3 per cent on the previous period and a reflection of the broadcaster's domination of the pay-TV market.

John Brown Citrus Publishing, the publisher of Sky the magazine, can expect more success in the next ABCs as Sky recently passed the eight million subscribers mark and the circulation of its magazine will reflect this.

But it was the retail titles that really performed this time, providing evidence the medium is an increasingly useful marketing tool for retailers and making it an appealing advertising platform for their suppliers.

Andrew Hirsch, the chief executive of John Brown Citrus Publishing, says: "There has been a lot of growth among retail customer magazines and, interestingly, retailers with customer titles have outperformed those without."

Shaking up the top of the table was Tesco Magazine, making its debut with an impressive circulation of 2,494,330. The title, published by Cedar Communications, launched in 2004 and was boosted by an extended 3.5 million print run at Christmas and additional supplements, including one on healthy eating in September.

Tesco Magazine's strong performance pushed its rival Asda Magazine, published by Publicis Blueprint, into third place. Asda's title experienced a 9.7 per cent decline on last period to 2,377,126, translating into a year-on-year drop of 8 per cent.

Its publisher explained this was owing to a decision to put fewer magazines in stores. However, despite this drop, the retailer is clearly convinced of the benefits of customer magazines. In January 2005, it launched a quarterly title, called Good For You!. The title posted a debut ABC circulation of 976,100.

Sainsbury's customer publishing strategy is a success story for Seven Publishing, which bought its publisher, New Crane, last year.

The retailer's in-store title, Sainsbury's: The Magazine, which is 97.5 per cent actively purchased, posted an impressive ABC figure of 414,337. This represented a year-on-year rise of 21.8 per cent following its relaunch in October. The overhaul sees the magazine focus more on lifestyle issues under its editor of five years, Sue Robinson.

Its success comes despite a £1.20 price tag and the launch of a magazine mailed specifically to Sainsbury's customers with Nectar cards. Sainsbury's Fresh Ideas, also by Seven Publishing, debuted with an ABC circulation of 1,431,766, propelling it into seventh place in the list of top customer titles.

John Brown Citrus' Waitrose Food Illustrated was up 3.8 per cent year on year to 311,595 as its new stores performed well following the purchase of former Morrisons sites.

Other titles' circulations were affected by seasonal changes. Homebase Ideas, published by Publicis Blueprint, was flat, posting a modest increase of 0.2 per cent on the previous period to 399,984. The publisher's other high-profile retail title, Debenhams Desire, dropped 23.4 per cent year on year as the publisher works on getting the print run right.

Redwood's Boots Health & Beauty was down 4.4 per cent year on year to 1,689,490.

Customer magazines were proving successful for other businesses as well.

Prudential Magazine, another title published by Publicis Blueprint, was the second surprise in the top six.

The magazine launched in August and is published three times a year.

It debuted in fourth place with a circulation of 1,909,855, comprised of its highest-spending customers.

In the automotive sector, VM The Vauxhall Magazine posted a 7.2 per cent year-on-year rise to 420,000 and BMW Magazine was up 8.3 per cent year on year to 288,155.

For some companies, such as the AA (whose customer magazine RewAArd is part of its retention strategy and does not carry advertising), ABCs are largely irrelevant. However, were the title to appear in the table, its circulation of 4.2 million would put it second only to Sky the magazine.

The other notable absentee from the table is Orange. Its three customer titles, which are all handled by John Brown Citrus, have again decided not to publish their ABC figures as the telecommunications company focuses on restructuring to become a global mobile brand. The overhaul will result in the rebranding of its internet service provider Wanadoo to Orange.

Verdict This period's ABC figures provide overwhelming evidence of the strength of customer magazines as a marketing tool - both for companies and their suppliers. With retailers being the real winners this year, publishers wait to see which will be the next big area of growth.

CUSTOMER MAGAZINES TITLE PUBLISHER Total ABC Period-on Year-on -period -year % change % change Sky the magazine John Brown Citrus Publishing 6,874,090 1.3 2.4 Tesco Magazine Cedar Communications 2,494,330 n/a n/a Asda Magazine Publicis Blueprint 2,377,126 -9.7 -8.0 Prudential Magazine Publicis Blueprint 1,909,855 n/a n/a Boots Health & Beauty Redwood 1,689,490 -4.3 -4.4 U (Unison) Unison 1,510,000 3.0 n/a Sainsbury's Fresh Ideas Seven Publishing 1,431,766 n/a n/a Saga Magazine The Saga Group 1,230,639 -1.2 -1.3 The Somerfield Magazine Rare 1,058,818 -6.7 -5.1 Asda Good For You! Publicis Blueprint 976,100 n/a n/a Debenhams Desire Publicis Blueprint 745,126 -0.0 -23.4 VM The Vauxhall Magazine Brooklands Group 420,000 6.4 7.2 Sainsbury's: The Magazine Seven Publishing 414,337 19.4 21.8 Emma's Diary Pregnancy Guide Lifecycle Marketing 413,110 -0.7 2.8 Homebase Ideas Publicis Blueprint 399,984 0.2 -10.1 Unlimited BBC Origin Publishing 386,400 14.3 12.8 Sky the magazine John Brown Citrus Ireland Publishing 364,768 4.8 11.7 The Garden RHS Publications 352,735 1.2 2.0 The Caravan Club The Caravan Club magazine of Great Britain 339,851 n/a 3.5 Waitrose Food John Brown Citrus Illustrated Publishing 311,595 4.0 3.8 Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations, July-December 2005.