Testosterone levels in the men’s magazines market are declining rapidly. Last year, IPC’s Later and Cabal Communications’ Mondo – a title for “mature men” – were shut down, along with EMAP’s Sky. But even after these closures, most of the survivors are seeing no signs of recovery, with 60 per cent of men’s titles declining year on year, according to the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) figures.
The July to December 2001 ABCs show a decline of 12 per cent year on year, and 4.7 per cent period on period, in overall men’s magazine circulation figures. EMAP’s lifestyle bible FHM has suffered a disastrous dip of 20.4 per cent year on year and 18.5 per cent period on period, to a circulation of 570,719. IPC’s Loaded is down 12.1 per cent year on year but has just about managed to stall its decline in the last six months, posting a period-on-period increase of 1.1 per cent, to 308,711 copies.
The industry confesses that readers are tired of the “lad mag” formula – which seems to focus on cover shots of scantily-clad women and little else – and that the market needs a shake-up if there are not to be further closures and staffing culls.
MediaCom group press director Steve Goodman says that the men’s titles are now too similar and the market lacks any innovation: “FHM used to be the market leader in innovation, but the differentiation is now lost because there are too many ‘me too’ copycats. So even a title like FHM suffers, because everybody else is emulating it. We are bored of seeing the ten sexiest women in the world.”
Andy Semple, group publishing director of Dennis Publishing, which owns Maxim, agrees that the men’s market has matured: “We saw so much silly sales growth in the past, that now we have to go through this process of adolescent pain in the men’s magazine market.” Maxim’s sales declined 9.3 per cent period on period to 276,640.
EMAP chief executive of consumer media Paul Keenan maintains that FHM set the “gold standard” for other industry titles. But Keenan also acknowledges that, while other titles were busy copying FHM, the title itself did not move on or innovate. He says, however: “Don’t be too hasty to write obituaries for the men’s market. Remember that more than 2 million men’s magazines are bought every month.”
Innovate to accumulate
With period-on-period growth of 5.9 per cent, Condé Nast’s GQ title has shown that innovation helps. Late last year GQ tested an A5-format title, following the success of sister title Glamour.
Glamour, which launched last year following the closures of rival titles Nova and PS, has provided a much needed boost to the ailing women’s market. Its arrival followed the launch of BBC Worldwide’s first standalone women’s title, Eve, and was in turn followed by H Bauer’s Real. But the initial euphoria caused by “mini-mag” Glamour appears to be settling down. It posted a decline in circulation of 3.3 per cent period on period, to 436,579. Its rival, National Magazine Company’s (NatMags) Cosmopolitan – which celebrates its 30th birthday this week – saw circulation rise by 2.4 per cent in the period (0.6 per cent year on year). Media experts predict a further decline in Glamour’s figures, following an expected price increase – from &£1.50 – some time this year.
Zenith Media managing partner Caroline Simpson says: “A lot of headlines will say: ‘Cosmopolitan keeps the number one slot’ in the Cosmo-Glamour war, but the number of actively purchased copies in the UK tell a slightly different tale.”
Cosmopolitan’s UK newsstand and subscription sales account for just 395,689 of its total 463,010 copies, which include exports and bulk sales. Glamour outsells Cosmopolitan in the UK, with 414,453 newsstand and subscription copies.
Price has recently been a major factor in the numbers game played by magazine publishers. Media buyers concede that not only popular gift promotions – such as covermounts – but price promotion can lead to impressive sales increases.
NatMags’ Company magazine, which last year entered a price war with Glamour, slashing its price to &£1.50, posted period-on-period circulation growth of 17 per cent, to 261,117. Meanwhile, sister title She – celebrating a relaunch next month – has slumped 3.6 per cent period on period and 17.4 per cent year on year to 176,183. H Bauer’s fortnightly Real also disappointed, with a debut circulation of 173,988. The title was launched last year with an ambitious print-run of 900,000.
EMAP managing director for women’s titles Dawn Bébé says: “This is an incredibly dynamic period for the women’s market, with some successful launches last year galvanising the market. Look, too, at how the celebrity market has evolved, and how Heat is such a success story.”
Heat, EMAP’s celebrity-driven weekly title, posted impressive figures, both period on period (up 50.9 per cent) and year on year (up 106.2 per cent). In the second half of 2001 it posted a circulation figure of 355,304. Heat is planning to launch a teenage version of the magazine – provisionally titled Project Monkey.
But even Heat, with its remarkable sales increase, has been overshadowed by IPC’s Now, which has overtaken quintessential celebrity titles Hello! and OK! Now, priced at &£1, appeals to the younger end of the celebrity-worshipping public. Circulation has leapt by 16.2 per cent year on year and the title is selling 552,744 copies every week. Northern & Shell’s OK! is struggling below the 500,000 mark, down 25.3 per cent in the period.
Simpson explains: “Both Heat and Now are contemporary, irreverent titles which appeal to a large number of readers. I see both these titles growing and actually widening the gap between themselves and titles like OK! and Hello! Heat in fact outsells OK! on actively purchased sales in the UK.” Simpson believes that the readers no longer want sanitised stories and photos of celebrities but want sensation and scandal, which the likes of Now readily provide.
A media insider says that Now’s huge success has eclipsed the six magazine closures announced by IPC in November last year, following its acquisition by AOL Time Warner. The culls included the 74-year-old Woman’s Journal, the subject of long-standing closure speculation.
The insider says: “The whole magazines market is still unsteady on its feet and it will be a while before the effects of the advertising downturn can be reversed.”
InStyle UK, a former Time Inc title that has been merged into the IPC Southbank portfolio, has reported a disappointing debut circulation figure of 151,159.
BBC Worldwide’s Eve is another newish title showing little promise, with a 7.8 per cent drop – to 121,157 – in its second ABC figures. Even its much-talked about covermount – an umbrella – last year could not stall its declining circulation.
Women out of love
Marcus Arthur, publishing director of lifestyle magazines – including Eve – at the BBC, says: “It has been a tough year for the women’s magazine market, with more titles competing harder than ever for sales, but Eve has succeeded in attracting those who had given up buying a women’s glossy (16 per cent of readers), or had never bought one (four per cent), according to a survey conducted by the magazine.”
The “tough year” seems to have taken its toll on IPC’s Marie Claire and EMAP’s Elle too, with the magazines showing year-on-year declines of 4.6 per cent and six per cent respectively. Another women’s title hit hard is IPC’s Essentials, sales of which have fallen by a quarter year on year and 7.3 per cent period on period, to 176,078.
There were some surprises in the music sector, with EMAP’s Kerrang overtaking IPC’s NME for the first time. The revival of heavy metal music has helped Kerrang’s sales jump 46.6 per cent period on period, to 76,841, compared with NME’s increase of 0.4 per cent – to 70,456 – in the same period.
The picture overall, however, is bleak. Procter & Gamble (P&G), one of the biggest media spenders, is concerned by the declining circulations of so many consumer magazines. Bernard Balderston, P&G’s associated media director for the UK, is not too worried by the declining men’s market but the women’s market is important, he says: “There are always fears of getting poor value when planning advertising in titles with failing circulations, because how can advertisers be sure of any gains in using such titles to develop strong brand propositions for their products? Marie Claire’s decline will be cause for concern. But titles like OK! and Hello!, even while declining, are pretty substantial in their own right.”
Last year, P&G signed an exclusive advertising deal over the launch issue of IPC’s Your Life, a fortnightly title aimed at mature women. The title folded in November, less than seven months after its launch.
Publishers are quick to play down advertisers’ fears. As Keenan says: “Fortune favours the brave, and publishing is certainly not for the weak-hearted.”
BBC Magazines managing director Peter Phippen also sounds upbeat, saying that in the next 18 months the corporation will be launching more magazines to join its latest titles History and Eve.
IPC chief executive Sly Bailey celebrates the “success” of the company and says that almost three-quarters of its top 20 magazines are showing sales growth, demonstrating the success of its focus on driving circulation growth across its flagship titles.
Caroline Simpson echoes the need for focus and says: “Those brands with a single-minded proposition have won out. EMAP’s Red has grown 12 per cent year on year; BBC Good Food by seven per cent; H Bauer’s Take a Break weekly has grown 0.9 per cent. All these are examples of sticking to a clear, defined proposition, with the reader in mind.”
Is “focus” then the magic formula to lure readers back to magazines? Only the next six months will tell whether publishers have learnt any lessons from the current set of ABCs.