After years of watching the contest between Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan to be the best selling glossy magazine, agencies, advertisers and publishers have now discovered a new spectator sport.
In the Audit Bureau of Circulations figures for January to December released last week Marie Claire and Cosmo registered small year on year increases, leaving them both around 450,000. Marie Claire is now selling 455,477, up 0.1 per cent, while Cosmo has just kept the lead with an increase of 6.9 per cent to 460,141.
However, the race between them has lost some of its sparkle as they have been within a few thousand of each other for over a year.
But the growth of men’s magazine market has thrown up new competition.
EMAP Metro’s FHM magazine has registered a 100 per cent increase compared with last year, taking it to 181,581, while Loaded, the magazine that arguably revolutionised the men’s sector, has hit 238,955, an increase of 87.2 per cent.
These two titles will undoubtedly make good copy in the future as they race ahead of the traditional men’s pack of GQ, Esquire and Arena and start squaring up to each other.
“The men’s magazines which are succeeding are those that have developed a strong identity,” says Hel-ena Hudson, account director for L’Oreal at Optimedia.
“GQ and Esquire are still trying to be all things to all men and it’s hard to imagine who their readers are, while a Loaded or Maxim reader is easier to picture.”
Tom Moloney, chief executive of EMAP Consumer Magazines, believes that the newer general interest men’s magazines have learned from developments in the special interest sector.
“Once you had a fishing magazine that said ‘read me if you like fishing’,” he says. “But magazines like Q or Max Power stand for something, and have a distinct relevance to their readers’ lives. Similarly FHM and Loaded have a deep understanding of who their readers are and what they like.”
And the growth in the sector has helped media buyers to reach upmarket men, who are usually hard to target outside newspapers.
“There was a time when GQ and Esquire just got tagged onto other schedules,” says Steve Goodman, director of press at The Media Business. “Now there are companies who just advertise in men’s magazines. It has become a market in its own right.”
But Hudson believes they still have a relatively small number of readers: “There will remain a need to use newspapers and TV to get big numbers.
The magazines are trying very hard to increase their rates on the back of the sales rises, but on cost per thousand terms they are already a relatively expensive way to reach young ABC1 men. If they raise their rates they could price themselves out of the market.”
While men’s magazines are the flavour of the month, the publishers of the big women’s titles have to wonder if they have reached a natural ceiling of about 450,000.
The National Magazine Company’s managing director Terry Mansfield is known to believe there are no ceilings in publishing as long as there remain women who still don’t buy NatMags’ titles.
However, Heather Love, publishing director of Marie Claire, believes her magazine may have reached its limit.
“Over 18 months ago we said 450,000 might be the top and that’s what has happened – we would be surprised if it went onwards and upwards.”
Marie Oldham, media planning director at Leo Burnett, believes magazines have been weak at building their brands to find new sales growth: “What The Times has achieved with its price cut has destroyed all notions of sales ceilings,” she says.
“There are people who would read Marie Claire if they were exposed to it, but UK publish ers are notorious for under-supporting their magazine brands. How often do you see advertising for magazines?”
One explanation for the success of FHM and Loaded is the natural maturing of a market into different sectors, but there are some who believe that it is simpler to look at the companies they come from.
The publishers of FHM and Loaded, IPC and EMAP Metro, are parts of new generation media conglomerates. They have been set high margins of return by their parent companies and their success is judged purely by profit. FHM and Loaded are also brands unique to the UK.
On the other hand GQ and Esquire are published by private companies, the subsidiaries of established US publishing groups, Hearst and Condé Nast.
Success for them is judged by the creation of long-term magazine brands with certain brand values. The brands are also thought of in global terms.
All market rationale aside, it is inconceivable that NatMags would turn Esquire into Loaded. As inconceiveable as EMAP not doing the self-same with FHM.