Titles fight it out on the home front

The boom in the housing market has done more than simply push up property prices, it’s done wonders for the home-interest magazine sector.

You don’t have to be Mystic Meg to have predicted that the sale of home-interest magazines would rise with the growth in the housing market. It is one of the oldest clichés in magazine publishing.

But the size of the sector’s growth, indicated by the latest round of Audit Bureau of Circulations figures, suggests something far more fundamental is happening.

Home-interest titles, which have grown in number from nine to 17 since 1991, are the highlight of all the major publishers portfolios in the latest ABC figures.

As a whole, the market is up by about 6.4 per cent on average. This compares with the women’s general interest market with titles such as BBC Good Food, IPC’s Essentials and Family Circle, which is down year-on-year by about 7.7 per cent, and the fashion and beauty sector – which includes IPC’s Marie Claire and NatMags’ Cosmopolitan – which is down on average by about 1.5 per cent.

The growth is reinforced by developments in other media and the continuing success of aspirational home stores such as Heal’s, Habitat and the Conran Shop. Both Granada Sky Broadcasting and Discovery have home channels and the BBC broadcasts Changing Rooms, Home Front and The House Detectives.

Sally O’Sullivan, editor-in-chief of IPC’s home interest titles including Homes & Gardens, Ideal Home and Country Life, says publishers of home-interest magazines have tapped into consumers’ hunger for home innovation and helped to revolutionise the way people think about their surroundings.

She says: “People no longer think of their homes as simply bricks and mortar but as an expression of themselves. As we approach the millennium I think people are looking to create something they can hold onto – they have been let down by religion and there is very little job security these days.”

Susan Crewe, editor of Condé Nast’s House & Garden, says: “Alongside all the favourable economic factors, as everything in life becomes more harmonised, people are looking for a way of expressing their individuality and creativity. On a practical level there are many more facilities and materials available for them to do this.”

Having tapped into the growth of home-owners and the changing British psyche towards home-making, publishers are constantly creating a broader arena in which to translate this.

Titles now span a range of lifestyles, budgets and ages. NatMags’ House Beautiful reflects a mass-market appeal for home-making; IPC’s Ideal Home targets a young first-time buyer readership and BBC Homes & Antiques, EMAP’s Period Living and Condé Nast’s House & Garden reflect a fragmentation of the upmarket sector.

O’Sullivan says: “The titles show that home interest is no longer the domain of the wealthy. Whereas once style was synonymous with money, the variety of titles proves there is room for creativity in the smallest of spaces with limited budgets.”

The most significant growth in the latest circulation figures shows IPC’s Period Living up 56 per cent and BBC Homes & Antiques up 25 per cent.

Jane Ratcliffe, director of press buying at media agency Mediacom, says publishers have discovered what people really want to read and are increasingly making the most of their success. She says: “Home-interest magazines are becoming more like general lifestyle titles with wider appeal.”

Ratcliffe suggests that as the home-interest market becomes more diverse it is poaching readers from the declining general interest women’s market. As readers become increasingly bored with the undifferentiated women’s magazine they are perhaps looking for something new.

She even says men are turning to the home-interest sector, creating a shared readership market.

Magazine publishers in other sectors should take note of the innovation and investment being ploughed into the home-interest market.

Both O’Sullivan and Crewe plan to extend the appeal of their magazines. House & Garden, for example, is extending its travel coverage, health and food issues are being addressed, and the launch of a car column has been mooted.

O’Sullivan says: “While other magazine markets become more ‘samey’, we are offering much more lateral thinking.”

And the end is not yet in sight – last week IPC announced its plans for a new home-interest launch this autumn with promises of more to come. Meanwhile, H Bauer is rumoured to be launching its first home-interest title, Beautiful Living.

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