The Years Ahead For ... Magazines

Vanessa Clifford believes in not getting too maudlin over the state of the market as good editorial, targeted at the right people, is likely to succeed.

As we start 2010, there is, I think, a feeling of hope. Not that we will see great surges in advertising revenues or leaping circulations (it's a little more realistic than that), but a feeling that maybe we can draw a line under the tumultuous year that was 2009 and start the new decade with the thought that we've seen the worst. 2010 will still be tough, but a "tough" we can deal with.

Before we get too maudlin over the state of the market and how bad it all is, let's celebrate what's good about the world of magazines. Let us, for instance, remember that more than one billion copies of magazines were sold in the past year (and that's just the audited ones): there are more than 3,000 consumer magazines in the UK market, a number only just pipped by the US where the population is almost five times bigger; that nearly nine out of every ten adults read a consumer magazine, even those hard to reach 18- to 24-year-olds who, if we are to believe all we are told have defected to the internet, are still reading magazines.

Magazines have a unique place in consumers' hearts, they deliver an unrivalled environment for levels of engagement, relevance and creativity; to describe them as a trusted friend may be an overused phrase but it is true nonetheless. Moving into 2010 and beyond, the challenge facing the magazine market is how to protect and grow this relationship along with the evermore challenging task of attracting advertiser pounds.

While competition on the newsstand remains fairly static (launches have been few and far between this year after all), this doesn't diminish the ever-present need to attract readers.

Over the past few years, we have witnessed the growth of the covermount, from bags to nail polish, rarely an issue has passed without an incentive shouting from a corner of the newsstand in the hope of boosting circulation. But we live in straitened times and I predict that we will see fewer and fewer covermounts in 2010 with publishers turning their focus to subscriptions.

Subscriptions have been a muchoverlooked area in UK publishing for many years, but over the past 12 months, we have seen a concerted effort in this area, as publishers realise that slightly fewer committed readers are of greater value than a large amount of floating readers.

I'm hoping that 2010 is the year when we see a concerted step forward online. While most magazines at least have online content, there is rarely a sense of the onand offline elements of the brand truly working together and complementing each other. We are seeing progress and things are getting better but it's painfully slow.

As is often the case with innovation, it's the specialist interest sector leading the way, such as Future's What Mountain Bike. IPC is embracing online more than most with an ability to shop and a look and feel that's less like a directory than most, but where are all of the brand values that the readers so love in the print versions?

2010 won't be a year remembered for magazine launches, however. Sadly, I think it may be the year we remember for closures. The revenue declines of 2009 will have far-reaching effects, but it's more than the fact that people just aren't buying magazines in the quantities they were, and it's not that they are battling the credit crunch by ditching excessive magazine purchasing habits. It is as a group of twentyto thirtysomethings said recently: "It just doesn't seem right to be buying several magazines at once, any more." And this shift in mindset will have far reaching consequences.

So how will the main sectors fare? The hardest hit, I believe, will be the weekly market, especially those with a celebrity focus. The desire to read every last snippet of information and gossip about a "celebrity" has been waning for a while; couple this with the consumer shying away from multipletitle purchasing and I think we will see at least one if not two closures - but expect the established titles, and those that are evolving, to survive.

We are now in the habit of referring to FHM, Loaded and the weeklies as "the men's market" as we debate their slow and painful demise and wonder why men don't read magazines any more. In doing this, we are doing a whole publishing sector a huge disservice. It's the "lads' mags" that are dying and, though terribly sad, this doesn't in any way suggest that men aren't reading magazines.

In fact, quite the reverse is true. One of the most thriving sectors is the specialist market and this is where a huge amount of guys find their favourite magazines. So while 2010 may well be the year we say goodbye to lads' mags, the specialist sector and the likes of ShortList prove that it most certainly won't be the year men stop reading magazines.

The women's monthlies are in an interesting position. They have some of the greatest relationships with their readers, but this still hasn't shielded them entirely from declining circulations. They must continue to evolve and grow with their readers to add something to their lives to maintain this position and I fear without any growth in ad revenue we will see a closure or two here as well.

The news weeklies come to the fore in turbulent economic times. Add to this a General Election and we will continue to see this group of titles flourish.

Although 2010 looks like it will a little quiet on the launch front, I hope that the success of Love, Wired and Stylist encourages a publisher out there to be a little crazy and a lot bold and launch regardless of the economic climate - because good editorial, targeted at the right people, will make a connection and will succeed.

- Vanessa Clifford is a managing partner at Mindshare.