Homing in on improving sales

TV programmes, such as Changing Rooms, are helping to boost sales of home improvement magazines, but innovation is the key to future growth

Success seems to have eluded the home interest magazines market in recent years, especially when compared with the boom period between 1996 and 1998. However, it seems certain that whatever decline has been experienced since 1999, the loss would have been far more severe had publishers not adapted to readers’ changing needs and interests.

Recent Mintel research shows that innovation is likely to remain a key part of the home interest magazine market over the next five years. Mintel expects a number of the newer titles will remain at the fore of innovation, in order to maintain and expand readership.

This market saw intense growth in 1997, with a year-on-year volume growth of ten per cent compared with 1996. The sector continued to enjoy strong growth during the following two years, with increased sales and new launches. A slowing growth rate to 1999 suggested a plateau in overall demand had been reached.

Sales have continued to decline since 1999, bringing figures for 2001 barely above those seen at the beginning of 1997. In the light of sales achieved in 2000 and 2001, and the fact that the sector now supports a smaller number of titles than last year, Mintel predicts that there will be further losses this year, although some individual titles will undoubtedly experience growth.

Titles specific to home interiors account for 66 per cent of circulation and 71 per cent of cover-price revenue in the home and garden magazine market. These titles have also enjoyed a significantly higher growth rate than gardening titles, although in both cases this was halted in volume terms after 1999. The number of home interest titles rose from 22 in 1997 to 28 in 1999 and now stands at 27. The sector includes National Magazine Company’s Your Home and BBC’s Good Home.

By comparison, the gardening sector shows a lower overall level of growth, but has recovered from a period of sustained decline. This sector grew from nine titles in 1997 to 12 in 1999, but has since shrunk again to ten.

The loss in sales and, possibly, lower-than-projected advertising revenues, has led to the closures of some titles and further consolidation. In Scotland, both Caledonian’s Home Show Magazine and Essential’s Scotland’s Kitchens, Bedrooms & Bathrooms have closed, while Feng Shui for Modern Living is not available at present and is unlikely to be revived.

IPC Media closed New Eden, followed by Your Garden and Homes & Ideas. SPL bought Romsey’s Garden Ideas and GE Magazines’ Garden Inspirations and merged them into Gardens Made Easy (now Gardens Monthly). BBC Worldwide bought Gardens Illustrated from John Brown Publishing (now John Brown Citrus Publishing).

Although the overall picture for sales performance looks decidedly gloomy, this is far from true for all titles. In the home interest sector, the most marked success has been achieved by IPC Media’s Ideal Home, which dates from 1920. Not only did the title achieve a significant sales increase on 1997’s figures with its 1999 relaunch, but the increase has been sustained through to 2001. Other longer-established titles, such as EMAP’s Elle Decoration, continue to sell consistently, while newer titles registering particularly impressive performances are Cabal’s Real Homes Magazine and IPC’s Wallpaper.

Mintel’s research finds the heaviest co

ncentration of buyers is among 25to 54-year-olds, and the level of take-up among buyers in their 20s and early 30s indicates the sales success of newer and relaunched titles in reaching younger readers.

Although there is a slightly lower concentration of buyers among 55to 64-year-olds, this age group includes an above-average proportion of those who read home interest magazines for pleasure, and those who are likely to respond to editorial articles and advertising.

There is a pronouncedly upmarket skew among buyers. Encouragingly for future growth, interest in home interest magazines is also high among 15to 24-year-olds, although this is more likely to be expressed by reading, rather than buying.

Mintel believes that the fundamentals are in place to yield further growth in the market in the next five years, although this is not anticipated to be explosive. There has been considerable portfolio rationalisation and, although more titles may close or merge, new ones will be launched as publishers continue to identify market gaps.

The relatively buoyant housing market is good news for home interest magazines: even if new home buyers defer home improvements as money is likely to be tight after buying a home, magazines are a way of planning for future decoration.

Gardening magazines, however, will show a slower rate of growth. Innovation is vital for this sector as sales will continue to struggle to increase ahead of inflation.

Efforts to produce magazines that cater for consumers with different levels of experience and interest in gardening will continue to be important in order to reach a wider audience. Yet, with a growing number of smaller households, it is likely that fewer people will have gardens, and naturally demand for gardening magazines will be dampened.

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