It’s a man’s world

The men’s magazine sector continues to grab the headlines as FHM, Maxim and Loaded continue their inexorable penetration of the market.

The most successful publication by far is FHM which, having increased its circulation from 115,034 in July to December 1995, to 365,341 in the same period of 1996, has jumped by a further 278,000 to 644,110 for July to December 1997. This massive 76 per cent increase is more than twice that of Loaded, whose sales figures are still pretty impressive with a year-on-year increase of 36.7 per cent to 441,567.

Another men’s title, Maxim, has jumped by 65.8 per cent from 150,261 in July to December 1996 to 249,096 for the same period last year. And the recently-launched GQ Active emerges from its first round of ABC figures with a circulation of 64,381.

But the success story does not extend to all men’s titles. Arena’s sales figures have only risen very slightly – by just 0.1 per cent to 86,922 – while GQ and Esquire have seen their circulations drop, year-on-year, by 13 per cent to 129,294 and by 4.3 per cent to 106,203 respectively.

FHM editor Ed Needham suggests that the sector’s figures reveal a genuinely expanding market. He says: “I don’t feel that we are taking readers from other men’s magazines particularly. Nobody is having a catastrophic time and no other sectors have collapsed, although several top-shelf titles have had a miserable time in the past few years. I assume that previously our readers might buy simply specialist titles and now have added us as a general interest publication to their monthly purchase. Men are more comfortable and confident about buying a lifestyle magazine now.”

Some industry commentators have suggested recently that men’s lifestyle titles are actually taking readers away from women’s magazines; claims refuted angrily last week by the editor of Cosmopolitan, still the UK’s best-selling women’s title.

Needham is unwilling to support these claims, although he does point out that a quarter of FHM’s readers are women, and adds: “There are things in the magazine for women to enjoy. And with some of the women’s magazines I think the formula is a bit tired and can be a bit condescending to readers. They tend to be cautious and fall back on what they do best, which can make them all a bit samey.”

Figures for women’s magazines are generally undramatic. Most of the monthly glossies show a slight increase in year-on-year sales figures – perhaps due to the massive public interest in reviews of the Princess of Wales’ life after her death last August. Cosmopolitan’s circulation holds fast at 461,116, while Company and She, also from the National Magazine Company stable, show sales increases of 4.4 per cent to 284,092 and nine per cent to 241,460 respectively.

At Condé Nast Vogue, Tatler and Vanity Fair show small increases.

The big losers in the year-on-year comparisons are IPC’s women’s titles. Marie Claire is down year on year by 9.1 per cent to 415,550 and Essentials falls by 14.7 per cent to 272,685 for the same period. Meanwhile, Options and Woman’s Journal – both due to be relaunched this year under new editors – are down 12.9 per cent to 127,772 and 9.9 per cent to 121,546 respectively. IPC is to launch another women’s monthly title later this year. Sales of all the women’s weeklies have fallen where year-on-year comparisons are available, although IPC has announced that its worst offender, Eva – showing a circulation drop of 17.4 per cent to 216,575 – is to be redeveloped from early March.

One market which seems to be growing across both males and female titles is the health/health & beauty sector. Men’s Health is up 41.6 per cent year-on-year, with sales figures for July to December 1997 of 225,126. For women, Top Santé Health & Beauty is up 6.7 per cent year-on-year to 171,290, while National Magazine’s Zest has risen 3.6 per cent for the same period with its second ABC of 105,469.

The youth market is clearly alive and kicking with substantial growth shown in particular by Smash Hits’ 61.7 per cent sales increase from 268,685 in July to December 1996 to 434,525 for the latter half of last year and by Top of the Pops’ circulation rise of 71.1 per cent, year-on-year, to 500,963. Attic Futura’s Sugar, launched two years ago, shows a respectable increase of 6.3 per cent to 485,944. It’s Bliss’ 10.3 per cent rise takes it over 400,000; and Shout proclaims its market presence with sales figures of 199,501, up 4.1 per cent year on year.

In terms of biggest percentage increases year-on-year the winners definitely wear anoraks. In this latest round of circulation figures four of the top five fastest risers belong to computer games titles. Future Publishing’s Official Playstation Magazine sales are up by 156.4 per cent year-on-year to 205,619 while EMAP’s Nintendo Magazine is showing a circulation increase of 108.7 to 63,173. Games Master, Computer & Video Games and Playstation Plus have also produced significant year-on-year percentage rises.

Perhaps the best news for publishers with less successful titles is the message coming loud and clear from the Periodical Publishers Association that the consumer magazine market continues to expand. The latest ABC figures show circulations generally are growing, with an overall year-on-year increase of 2.7 per cent. This compares with a 2.3 per cent rise in the previous six months.

It seems particularly ironic that, as computer games tighten their grip on the leisure time of the nation’s youth, an entire paper-based support culture is growing up around them. By continuing to seek out and adapt to new or changing markets, magazines are evidently ensuring a strong and successful evolution for themselves.

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