Health titles challenge the mainstream market

There is a flurry of activity in the magazine world, with the prospect of more dedicated health-based lifestyle titles launching this autumn.

Waiting in the wings is National Magazine’s entry into the men’s sector in October, which has the working title Zest for Men. In women’s magazines, Gruner & Jahr’s latest bid, Project Johnny, is due out in September aimed at mid-market consumers. There is also the recent appointment of Phil Hilton, former editor of market leader Men’s Health, to IPC Magazines, which has led some to speculate whether yet another health title is on its way. So why now and why should we take notice?

This market is served by just five key titles which, potentially, could soon grow to eight. Together, they account for almost 600,000 copy sales. Each has respectable circulation thresholds, some are even strong contenders to mainstream glossies. Over the past four years, the market has gradually opened up with more choice for both consumers and advertisers, while also creating further market segmentation.

These magazines should not be pigeonholed as merely health titles, but must be regarded as another lifestyle choice for like-minded readers. They are all pretty clearly defined brands in the market, even though some were originally “brand extensions” from their flagship titles. The five magazines accounted for 8.8m in display advertising revenue in 1997, which is an increase of 360 per cent since 1994.

Most of the ad revenue contribution is new to the overall magazine market, which is another reason why more titles are springing up. The battle for share will be a key factor. Major categories are beauty, skincare and pharmaceuticals, suggesting that advertisers are intent on marketing appropriate products to distinct consumer types. This is where the sector could have an enviable position in the market, as opposed to simply being add-ons to mainstream magazines.

However, long-term success is not necessarily a certainty for existing titles and the newcomers. It is dependent on many factors: for instance, how many magazines the sector can sustain.

Success in this market is also dependent on clearly defined brands. This is of paramount importance and will reflect growing consumer demand, which is why the sector should be properly measured, so that advertisers and agencies will really take notice of what it has to offer. All the titles need to abide by industry measurements such as the National Readership Survey, Quality of Readers Survey and the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Many titles do not do this.

In short, the magazines need to keep tight hold of their readers and not allow them to drift across the sector or revert to the mainstream glossies. Not until then will they come into their own as a highly sought-after prospect for agencies and advertisers.

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