Top Consumer Publishers: Top Publishers - Reaching for recovery

A new marketing initiative for the medium, PPA Marketing, combined with a generally improved economic outlook, means that things are looking better for the magazine publishing business. Ian Darby reports on the trends that will shape 2004.

Throughout the 90s, consumer magazines were the most dynamic and innovative print products around. In many ways, this remains true but the advertising recession has taken its toll and many companies spent 2003 consolidating rather than innovating.

In circulation terms, the majority of the big publishing companies had a good second six months of 2003 and start to 2004 after a slow early 2003.

Sales of actively purchased consumer magazines rose 1.6 per cent during 2003. If bulk copies and free contract titles are factored in, then the rise in circulation reached 10 per cent.

The customer magazine sector is set for continued growth in 2004, with Mintel predicting an increase in total turnover of 7.9 per cent to £366 million. Currently, 11 of the top 20 consumer magazines by circulation are customer magazines.

Consumer magazine company bosses, notably Sylvia Auton, the chief executive at IPC Media, expressed concern that despite greater sales there was increased downward pressure on cover prices and the resulting retail sales value of titles.

IPC Southbank's managing director, Sandy Whetton, memorably attacked the rise of cover-mounting in the women's market, describing it as the "crack cocaine" that rival publishers use to raise sales. However, these rivals pointed out that IPC's own Marie Claire was also addicted to this promotional technique.

It was a tough year for the sector in terms of attracting advertising revenue. Total ad revenue for consumer magazines fell by 0.2 per cent during 2003 to £784 million.

However, the industry is hoping that a return to advertising growth will be given impetus by the launch of the industry initiative PPA Marketing.

Launched last December, it aims to offer new services to clients and agencies to encourage greater adspend in the medium. IPC's managing director of advertising, Georgina Crace, is fronting the initiative.

PPA Marketing will use "lobbyists" from the major publishing sales houses to take the message to advertisers by providing insights into effectiveness, easy access to information about magazines and a better service from sales houses.

IPC was involved in a cross-media initiative, called RSVP, which may help its case with advertisers. It has teamed up with Viacom and Capital Radio to offer cross-platform packages for advertisers, hoping to break Emap's virtual stranglehold on magazine advertising as part of cross-media packages.

New products might help the medium to boost its share of advertising. And, of course, the most talked-about launches were the testosterone-fuelled titles Nuts and Zoo Weekly, from IPC ignite! and Emap East respectively, in January 2004.

Both publishers argue that the magazines have reached targets but, given the levels of investment supporting the magazines, some media agencies weren't impressed early on that robust sales data wasn't available.

But at least Nuts and Zoo were serious, large- scale launches after a 2003 showing little in the way of new title innovation from the major publishers. Northern & Shell's celebrity-driven New! was by far the biggest launch but other notable launches such as Future's rock title Bang and Sibella Publishing's Jaunt have already closed.

The jury might still be out on H Bauer's launch of Total TV Guide, but, though observers say that it isn't setting the sector alight, the publisher seems serious about taking on its rivals.

BBC Magazines was the one major publisher that seemed to have a determined focus on launching, with its Dare teenage title, Olive food magazine and BBC Parenting prominent among new titles.

Further gloom arrived with Emap's decision to close J17, which (as Just Seventeen) was once required reading for teenage girls. Its decision to suspend publication of The Face also seemed to spell the end of another iconic title. Just a week later IPC decided to launch into the teen market with its TeenNow product, aiming to rival Emap's Sneak.

However, Emap has said that resources from its closed titles will be diverted into Bliss and Arena and is said to be considering further launches this year - including a glossy women's magazine.

In people terms, one of the doyens of the modern magazine industry, Terry Mansfield, retired from his director's role at The National Magazine Company after 34 years with the business.

Tom Moloney took the reins at Emap as the group chief executive early in 2003, replacing the retiring Robin Miller. Over at IPC Media, the vacant chief executive seat left by Sly Bailey after her departure to Trinity Mirror was filled by an internal candidate in Auton.

Conde Nast, after a year of increased sales across all its titles, said goodbye to the veteran GQ publisher Peter Stuart who retired at the end of 2003. Nicholas Coleridge, Conde Nast's managing director, said after the last ABC circulation figures were published in February the company was well placed: "The blue-chip glossies and the I'm a Celebrity-style magazines have done well, but everything in between has been squeezed."

Meanwhile, Hachette Filipacchi, formed in 2002, began to build its team to grow in the UK market. Its chairman, Kevin Hand, developed an infrastructure to take the company forward, including the appointment of Tim Kirkman, the former Carat press director, as sales director.

Despite its focus on launches, BBC Magazines also brought its recently restructured centralised ad department under the new director of advertising, Ashley Munday.

Last summer, Dennis Publishing expanded its operations by buying James Brown's I Feel Good company and taking on the Jack, Bizarre and Fortean Times titles. And its launch of the men's gambling title Inside Edge in March this year was another sign that the industry might be entering a more dynamic phase.

Guardian Media Group's investment in Seven Publishing, which publishes the food title Delicious, and Chris Ingram's investment vehicle Genesis Investments backing of the launch of Keep Yourself Nice Publishing showed there was interest in the smaller independent publishing houses.

And a better economic outlook combined with greater efforts to market the medium to advertisers should help boost ad revenues in 2004. The majority of the leading publishers have identified launch activity as the way to grow their businesses, so expect an exciting few months ahead. Publishers will be keeping a close eye on pressures on cover-price revenues but otherwise seem optimistic.


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