Feature

The year ahead for ... magazines

Claudine Collins claims established specialist magazines will flourish as a monthly treat.

Is 2009 going to be challenging for magazines? Yes, of course it is, but we can be certain that the strong are going to survive and will thrive (and certain sectors will even find that these difficult times are good for them) while the weak will inevitably fall.

Press seems to get a bad rap these days but let's put things into perspective. In the decade since the dawn of the internet, consumer expenditure on magazines has increased by 48 per cent. Contrary to popular belief, 15- to 24-year-olds don't just spend all day on Facebook. According to the National Readership Survey, 80 per cent of them read consumer mags and this is a higher penetration than in any other age group.

If you are looking to place your advertising in an environment that exudes trust, relevance, creativity and engagement with scale, then magazines are the place to be.

Magazines are a fantastic medium in terms of brand-building, but in 2009 more clients are going to be looking to their marketing budget to shift product, which in turn means that magazines may well suffer as clients turn to newspapers and their huge scale, late copy deadlines and their ability to be much more reactionary, to produce footfall and sell product.

Competition at newsstand is fierce and covermounts are becoming more and more prevalent to entice consumers to buy a magazine. In the UK, there are certain publishers who have looked to the US and realised that they need to increase their subscription drive and be much more aggressive, as they are in the States. The monthly market in particular is leading this charge and it isn't unheard of to offer a gift with subscription which is worth three times the price of the aforementioned subscription.

There won't be many magazine launches in 2009 but there will be more closures. 2008 sadly saw the demise of Eve, New Woman and First. My "clairvoyant Claudine" prediction is that one of the weeklies will close. In my opinion, in a time of recession, frequency of purchase for the weeklies will go down. Weekly magazines will still be seen as a luxury and a treat but instead of buying two or three weeklies, consumers may well just buy their one favourite. The established weeklies should be fine, as they have a powerful commercial model, but it could be one of the newer guys on the block that goes out of business.

I feel the strong magazines in the monthly market will do well. It is an inexpensive luxury to spend £2 or £3 for a couple of hours, with a trusted friend, having a cup of tea or glass of wine and a bit of "me" time indulging in some escapism via your magazine.

So far, we only have two titles confirmed as being launched in 2009, both from the Conde Nast stable - Love, the new biannual fashion magazine from Katie Grand, and Wired, the new upmarket technological men's title. Words such as "mad" and "brave" have been bandied around to describe launching in a recession but if anyone has the means to do it and make it work, it's Conde Nast.

One of the sectors that I feel will really flourish is the specialist sector. Just look at Future Publishing. If gadgets and technology are what float your boat, or your love of horse-riding is what keeps you going though these tough times, one of the last things you will forgo is your T3 magazine or your weekly Horse & Hound magazine. It is your treat and your passion and a passion will always remain a passion! This trend of increasing circulations in the specialist sector only goes to reiterate the inherent strength of magazines as a medium, wholeheartedly trusted to deliver quality editorial that people have real belief in.

"Serious magazines" (and by that I mean political, news and current affairs magazines) are also having a revival. This is no doubt helped by the tough economic conditions we are facing and people's thirst for knowledge about what's going on in the world and what is happening to their money and also by Barack Obama's success in the States.

Fashion magazines should maintain their circulations if they are in tune with their readers. This is borne out of the theme that fashion is a passion, but they have to broaden their arena into featuring more high-street fashion and designer accessories, rather than high fashion evening dresses costing thousands of pounds. There is a difference between aspirational and totally inaccessible and they need to be the former rather than the latter.

Men's magazines are a different story. Without doubt the internet has, and will continue to have, a huge effect, and while there are good men's magazines such as ShortList being given away for nothing, generally the paid-for titles are going to struggle as consumers are going to be watching their cash. If circulation remains static in the men's market, which I very much doubt, then publishers will be doing phenomenally well.

The one area where magazines are struggling is in the expansion of their platforms into new areas, particularly online. The challenge for them is to embrace the new age of dialogue. And with that, it means delivering to your loyal audience content both online and offline and ensuring that your digital product complements the printed product and is not a replacement for it. One of the hot potatoes of 2008 was the debate over monthly ABC circulation data and there is no doubt this is going to get hotter in 2009. All I can say is that transparency is key to clients and this issue isn't going to go away. Be prepared for a lot more debate and discussions in 2009.

Get it right and you will flourish - just look at GQ, The Week, OK!, Look, Grazia, Psychologies and Good Housekeeping, to name a few - all magazines that are totally in tune with their readers and all magazines which I have no doubt will continue to do well this year. Magazines are the lipstick of the media world - a quick fix to distract from the credit crunch climate, the affordable luxury to indulge in.

- Claudine Collins is a managing partner at MediaCom.