Word Weary?

The latest ABCs show a lacklustre magazine sector, with publishers’ few rising stars eclipsed by falling ones. The market would benefit from revitalising launch activity

Major magazine stars are few and far between in the latest set of official circulation figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations. The success stories, often in niche areas, are in many cases tainted with a downside.

While the launch of H Bauer’s TV Choice at 35p last year contributed to a growth in the paid-for TV listings market (the sector was up 10.2 per cent year on year according to the latest ABC figures for the period to the end of June 2000) sales of other titles in the sector were hit, triggering a price war.

Those titles hardest hit by the launch of TV Choice, which recorded a debut ABC of 784,904, include IPC’s TV Times (down 14.6 per cent year on year to 705,347) and, ironically, Bauer’s own TV Quick, which fell 20.3 per cent to 578,796 copies sold. BBC Worldwide’s Radio Times, which refused to enter the price war, also fell 10.1 per cent year on year to 1,250,134.

TV turn-off

Despite dropping its price, the top-selling TV listings title IPC’s What’s On TV saw a fall of 5.8 per cent year on year to 1,707,815. IPC was able to console itself with a debut ABC for Soaplife of 124,123 and a rise for TV & Satellite Week of 6.5 per cent year on year to 211,505.

MindShare press director Paul Thomas says: “TV & Satellite Week has done quite well. Although there are electronic programme guides, some people find print more user-friendly.”

Men’s lifestyle magazines was another sector which showed year-on-year growth – of 6.6 per cent. But the National Magazine Company’s Esquire bucked the trend dropping 29.8 per cent to 70,435.

Booth Lockett Makin associate director Gary Jones says: “Esquire tried to be different by moving away from the girly magazine image and came a cropper. For all the Prada and Gucci shoes in the likes of GQ, the male readership doesn’t appear that sophisticated.”

Sky diving

There were also year-on-year falls and possible relaunches on the cards for EMAP’s Sky (down 46.3 per cent to 61,030), and IPC’s Loaded (down 8.9 per cent to 350,040). Condé Nast’s GQ also fell 4.8 per cent to 138,177.

Among the successes were Dennis Publishing’s Maxim, Rodale Press’ Men’s Health and Time Warner’s Wallpaper and EMAP’s FHM, which is still top of the sector at 715,756.

EMAP’s entertainment title Heat is up 45.2 per cent year on year to 95,113 thanks to a heavy marketing drive, although the magazine failed to reach the target of 100,000.

The lacklustre women’s monthly lifestyle sector faces change with a barrage of new launches to come. Meanwhile, EMAP’s Elle and IPC’s Woman’s Journal are the only glossies in this sector to record significant rises – of 6.9 per cent to 219,377 and 20.3 per cent to 124,163 respectively.

IPC’s Marie Claire eased four per cent to 420,146, and there have been double-digit falls for IPC titles Family Circle and Essentials, Attic Futura’s B, and Gruner & Jahr’s Prima.

Booth Lockett Makin’s Jones says: “The women’s press generally shows another disappointing round of results with the exception of a few stars. The obvious one is Woman’s Journal, which had a massive increase in sales. It has been completely overhauled.” He adds: “But it can’t continue covermounting forever.”

Bleak weeklies

It’s a bleak picture for the women’s weeklies with both OK! (down 17.5 per cent compared with the last period, although up 10.2 per cent year on year to 455,162 ) and Hello! (down 7.4 per cent period on period and 7 per cent year on year to 458,663) showing signs of weakness due to the volatility of circulation increases on individual issues.

Hello! publishing director Sally Cartwright attributes OK!’s period-on-period fall to the fact it had excellent sales in the second half of last year because of its coverage of Posh Spice and David Beckham’s wedding.

IPC’s celebrity title Now performed well (sales were up ten per cent year on year to 425,087) and H Bauer’s That’s Life and IPC’s Woman were the only other women’s weeklies to record year-on-year rises.

Teen trouble

Teen titles were down 1.5 per cent year on year, with IPC’s Mizz, EMAP’s Smash Hits, and BBC’s relaunched Top of the Pops bucking the trend.

There has been plenty of talk about the nation’s obsession with home interest and gardening following the success of TV programmes in these sectors. But the top end of the women’s home interest magazine market has seen year-on-year drops for National Magazine Company’s House Beautiful (down 16.7 per cent to 210,034), BBC Homes & Antiques (down 9.8 per cent to 185,185), Condé Nast’s House & Garden (down 6.7 per cent to 150,045) and IPC’s Homes & Ideas (down 24.8 per cent to 122,142).

Successes include IPC’s Ideal Home, which remains top of the sector (up 7.3 per cent year on year to 255,058) and Living etc, whose sales were up 10.5 per cent at 97,058.

Lost Eden

The gardening sector, despite recording a year-on-year growth of 4.7 per cent, saw the closure of IPC’s New Eden. Top of the league table is BBC Gardener’s World, which recorded it highest ABC figure to date of 382,816.

The music sector saw double-digit year-on-year rises for leading dance titles Mixmag and Ministry from the EMAP stable, while IPC’s troubled Muzik saw a 7.8 per cent year-on-year fall. In the rock sector IPC’s NME and Melody Maker managed to stem falling circulations with period-on-period rises.

Empire strikes back

Relaunch activity in the film sector has contributed to general growth, with best-selling EMAP’s Empire, Future Publishing’s Total Film and IPC’s Uncut all showing double-digit year-on-year increases.

Few launches of car models and falling car prices have affected the paid-for motoring sector . Both BBC’s Top Gear and EMAP’s Car magazine circulations dropped by 6.5 per cent and 13.3 per cent respectively.

There were mixed fortunes for the volatile computer and technology market. Growth sectors included Internet magazines, PC games and PC leisure. Titles in the multi-format console and Nintendo sectors were all down period on period and year on year, and most PlayStation and Sega titles suffered falls in circulation.

Very PC

MindShare’s Thomas says: “With PCs in more homes and with better graphics on PCs than consoles, the sector is in a state of turmoil.”

Football titles have also suffered, perhaps because of England’s dropping out of the Euro 2000 during the early stages of the competition, and the lack of interest in the World Club Championship. Sector leader Four Four Two and BBC Match of the Day both recorded double-digit period-on-period circulation falls.

For most publishers the latest ABCs have been a mixed bag. Condé Nast, Gruner & Jahr, IPC and BBC Worldwide all recorded falls in circulations year on year. Condé Nast Traveller was the only title that recorded double-digit growth year on year for the publisher. Zest was the only title recording a year-on-year double-digit growth in the NatMags’ portfolio.

Cold comfort

Jones says: “Country Living’s nine per cent increase period on period was cold comfort for NatMags with Esquire in danger of falling below critical mass.”

Apart from Maxim, Dennis Publishing scored a success with its news round-up The Week – up 19.6 per cent year on year to 62,606.

With few success stories, the pressure is on publishers to revitalise the market with new launches and revamps where necessary.

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