Will the spin-offs lose momentum?

In the cooling economic climate, big magazine publishers are drawing in their horns and turning to spin-off titles to sustain growth

Faced with a downturn in ad revenues and falling circulation figures, the magazine industry is shying away from launching new brands in favour of spin-off publications from successful existing titles.

Dennis Publishing is unveiling a biannual fashion spin-off of lads’ mag Maxim, titled Maxim Fashion, on September 16.

Meanwhile the National Magazine Company (NatMags) will go head on against rival publisher EMAP when it launches the “little sister” to Cosmopolitan – titled CosmoGirl! – on September 12. EMAP is planning to launch a similar extension of Elle, titled Elle Girl, at about the same time.

But media buyers argue that successful magazine offshoots are few and far between. Dennis Publishing group publishing director Andy Semple says: “The history of brand spin-offs is littered with failures.”

In November 1998 Condé Nast was forced to pull the plug on GQ Active, a sports-oriented version of its men’s title GQ. The title had lasted only 18 months from its launch in May 1997.

Zest for Men (ZM), a brand extension of NatMags’ women’s health and beauty title Zest, was launched in May 1998. It was folded into Esquire a year later and turned into a sports quarterly titled Esquire Sport.

MediaCom director of press buying Steve Goodman says: “In general, magazine brand extensions are a short-term phenomenon. Sometimes it makes sense to do one-off stand-alone titles as IPC does on the back of its big brands like Chat. Then again, titles like CosmoGirl! and Elle Girl could prove to be a success – both brands are quite aspirational.”

IPC Connect’s Chat has spawned an array of spin-off titles, the most recent being It’s Fate, a one-off “psychic” magazine which ran early this year. Previous Chat spin-offs include Crime and Passion, Get Fit, and Fab and Juicy Fiction.

MediaVest media communications director Nigel Conway agrees that magazine brand extensions are “not for the faint-hearted”.

He adds: “I believe that successful brand extensions can only be launched from “pedigree” brands. The Cosmo and Elle spin-offs are expected to do well as they are very strong brands. Zest is a fantastic example of brand extension, as it came from Cosmo and is now a stand-alone magazine.”

Other brand extensions of the hugely successful Cosmopolitan brand (the root magazine posted an Audit Bureau of Circulations figure of 452,176 for the January to June 2001 period, up 0.5 per cent year on year) include Cosmopolitan Hair and Cosmopolitan Bride, which is a rebranded version of Bride & Groom magazine.

Conway believes that brand extensions in the men’s market may not work as well as they do in the women’s sector.

“If you are talking about magazine spin-offs in the young men’s market, then forget it – especially if the spin-off is a fashion title,” he says.

EMAP men’s magazine FHM, whose circulation fell by 2.2 per cent year on year to 700,172 (Jan to Jun 2001 ABCs), remains the market leader. It has extended its brand with the launch of two biannual titles – FHM Bionic and FHM Collections.

Collections, which recently posted a slide in circulation of 21.9 per cent year on year to 55,511, seems to be struggling at the moment. Bionic, on the other hand, changed its frequency from biannual to monthly this month.

Dennis Publishing’s Semple says the concept for Maxim Fashion was devised at a time when the ad environment was healthier.

He adds: “Two or three years ago Maxim was not known for its fashion content, but now that has changed. The launch of Maxim Fashion is not about undermining the mother brand. Maxim Fashion will serve a different purpose altogether. It will be highly targeted and have more lifestyle content than FHM Collections.”

With a modest initial print run of 70,000, Maxim Fashion will be priced at &£3.90.

But the question remains whether this latest batch of spin-off titles will last the course. Industry insiders predict that the current tough climate will soon separate the wheat from the chaff and that some of the brand extensions will inevitably fall by the wayside or be forced to cut their frequency, as has Marie Claire’s Health & Beauty. The magazine, launched seven years ago, reverted from a monthly to a bimonthly frequency in July this year in the face of tough market conditions (MW July 19).

MindShare business director Tony Evans says the trouble with magazine brand extensions is that they are not only fighting to gain market share, but for advertising revenue.

“Since times are tougher now, magazine offshoots are more interested in stitching each other up than in taking the market forward,” he says.

But he believes that Maxim Fashion will prove profitable for Dennis and disagrees with the notion that during tough times both consumers and advertisers cut back on fashion as it is essentially considered a luxury.

He adds: “The top luxury brands will always make money and so people will buy fashion guides like Maxim Fashion to help them spend that money wisely.”

Ultimately, launches are about timing and meeting consumer demand. Only time will tell whether the publishers are spot-on or off the mark with the spin-off magazines they are about to unleash.

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