Totty and tittle-tattle

A look at the latest circulation figures suggests that gossip and lechery are still the UK’s magazine topics of choice. By Sonoo Singh

Bums and tits are still attracting lads to magazines, it seems. Two years ago, media pundits were saying that the bubble had burst for men’s titles, but the sector is seeing a period of resurgence.

The July to December 2002 Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) figures for magazines, released last week, show that the men’s monthly magazine market is growing.

Circulation of the leading men’s monthly, EMAP’s FHM, increased by 8.7 per cent year on year and 6.8 per cent period on period, to 620,226 copies a month. Condé Nast’s GQ, though not selling as many copies as FHM, also reported growth of 6.1 per cent period on period, to 123,502. It suffered a marginal fall – of 1.9 per cent – year-on-year, however. Men’s Health and Front, both published by Cabal Communications, also posted circulation increases.

Industry observers say the sector has finally reinvigorated itself and become more attractive to its readers.

MediaCom director of press Steve Goodman says: “For a long time, men’s titles looked very similar. Innovations such as FHM’s special themed issues like ‘High Street Honeys’ helped to differentiate the title from the the pack. Other titles have followed this lead and experimented with innovative promotions. Titles such as GQ had good editorial issues to offer to readers.”

Not all men’s titles did well, however. The circulation of IPC’s Loaded, the quintessential “lad mag”, dipped 6.1 per cent period on period and six per cent year on year, to 290,214. Figures for pocket-sized title Jack, which was launched last year by former Loaded editor James Brown, have not been produced. Some observers say that the magazine is unlikely to enjoy a long innings.

Last year saw the launch of another men’s magazine, Word. The magazine was brought to market by David Hepworth – who was responsible for the launch of Q, Mojo and Heat at EMAP – and former EMAP Metro managing director Jerry Perkins.

Zenith Optimedia press buyer Stuart Mays believes that launches such as Jack and Word help to arouse the curiosity of male readers, leading them to buy more magazines and thus build up the market.

Off-screen antics

There was good news for the showbusiness and celebrity sector too – OK! and Hello! both posted year-on-year and period-on-period circulation increases, giving them weekly circulations of 632,791 and 546,952 respectively. The magazines are currently locked in a &£1.75m dispute, with Richard Desmond’s OK! seeking damages from Hello! after the latter published pictures of the wedding of Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas. OK! had paid the couple &£1m for exclusive rights to photos of the occasion.

The UK’s seemingly insatiable appetite for celebrity gossip has fuelled the growth of other showbusiness magazines. IPC’s Now maintained its healthy position in the market, with a 14 per cent circulation increase year on year, to 630,212. EMAP’s Heat also posted a buoyant circulation figure – at 554,644, it was up an impressive 56.1 per cent year on year.

The market is likely to be further reinvigorated by Desmond’s imminent launch in the sector, understood to be titled Wow! (MW December 19, 2002). The launch is expected to trigger a price war, and industry observers confirm that the new title is likely to be launched at a price of between 40p and 60p. Now is priced at &£1.10, while Heat sells for &£1.45. OK! and Hello! retail at &£1.95 and &£1.85 respectively.

IPC, however, pours cold water on talk of price-cutting. It says that it prefers to increase the value of the market and will not enter into price wars.

EMAP’s Closer, a sister title to Heat, aimed at slightly older women, did not release an ABC figure for this period, having been launched only last September.

Adolescent angst

The teenage sector has yet to recapture the kind of growth it enjoyed more than three years ago. One of the worst hit titles has been the National Magazine Company’s Cosmo Girl, a spin-off from Cosmopolitan. Its circulation has dipped by 18.9 per cent since its debut ABC figures last June, falling to 142,073.

In what has been described as a “kneejerk” reaction to the falling circulation figures, NatMags is relaunching the magazine in a smaller, Glamour-sized format in May. One industry insider fears that the failure of Cosmo Girl will scare away other publishers from launching titles in the teenage sector.

NatMags managing director Duncan Edwards says: “We are determined to grow our business in the teen market. What we are finding is that a lot of teenagers are buying Glamour and Heat. We will be putting an additional &£1m behind Cosmo Girl to market the product more aggressively.”

Hachette Fillipacchi (H-F) managing director Vivien Cotterill agrees, saying that Glamour has taken a lot of teenagers away from teen titles. She adds: “Sugar is still the leading title in the sector and we are prepared to invest in the brand to sustain its position.” Sugar has lost 16.6 per cent of its circulation over the past year, falling to 321,258 copies.

Glamour publishing director Simon Kippin is sceptical of claims that Glamour is stealing readers from teen magazines. He says no statistics are available to support the claim.

Teenage pop titles fared slightly better. BBC’s Top of the Pops (TOTP) lifted its circulation by 3.9 per cent period on period, to 244,241, while H-F’s TV Hits increased its circulation by seven per cent, to 153,307. The titles benefited from last year’s closure of CD:UK, an Attic Futura title.

Among the teenage celebrity and showbusiness titles, BBC’s It’s Hot posted a debut ABC figure of 104,015. EMAP’s “young Heat”, Sneak, recorded a debut ABC figure of 86,535.

TOTP publisher Alfie Lewis says: “In the past, we have blamed the success of mobile phones, which compete for teenagers’ disposable income, for circulation troubles, but that seems to have hit a plateau.”

In the women’s glossy monthly market, Glamour has continued to thrive, fuelling rumours that publisher Condé Nast is gearing up for another launch this year, also imported from the US. This is denied by Kippin, however.

Glamour’s circulation has shot up by 23.1 per cent year on year, and 3.3 per cent period on period, to 537,474. Rival NatMags’ Cosmopolitan dipped 1.5 per cent period on period and failed to experience any growth during the past year. It sells 463,058 copies a month.

Cosmo’s sister title Company, which is aimed at a slightly younger market, slashed its price to match that of Glamour and has posted a massive circulation increase of 26.5 per cent year on year and 5.8 per cent period on period, to 330,373. NatMags’ Prima, however, has dipped by 14.5 per cent over the past year and now sells 325,042 copies a month.

H-F’s Red and Elle titles, which it took over after a joint venture with EMAP came to an end last August, have increased their circulation figures to 192,005 and 212,505 respectively. EMAP’s only remaining women’s glossy, New Woman, still sells more than Elle and Red, but suffered a decline – both period on period (2.9 per cent) and year on year (3.4 per cent) – to 294, 611 copies. EMAP recently appointed Hooper Galton to create a &£2.5m advertising campaign for the title.

A torrent of titles

EMAP is investing “heavily” in new launches to fill the gaps left by Elle and Red. Managing director of women’s titles Dawn Bébe says: “EMAP is in a launching phase, but we will not be launching ‘me-too’ products. We have wide experience of successful launches.”

Launch fever is being felt by more than one publisher. BBC Magazines is set to launch about five titles this year, two of which are understood to be in the adult lifestyle market.

Deputy managing director Nick Brett says: “BBC Magazines is filling in the gaps in its portfolio. We already have a lot of market-leading titles, and we have plans for many more.”

This month sees the launch by German publishing giant Hubert Burda Media of a new glossy for younger women, titled Amber.

IPC Media is pumping millions of pounds into new titles. The company has created a “secret creative development area” in its Kings Reach Tower headquarters, which will act as the hub for the launches planned for this year. The launches will be overseen by Mike Soutar, former managing director of IPC Ignite, the men’s and lifestyle division. Soutar was made editorial director late last year as part of a board restructure. The news coincided with the resignation of chief executive Sly Bailey, who is now at Trinity Mirror.

This will be IPC’s first major assault on the publishing market since its takeover by AOL Time Warner two years ago. Soutar declines to give details about the new launches, but says: “We shall look into sectors where we are already strong. The idea is to maintain our leading position in the consumer publishing industry.”

Meanwhile, the industry is debating the issue of posting circulation figures monthly – like the newspaper industry – instead of six-monthly. This follows recent infringements of ABC rules on bulk copies, with both EMAP and NatMags being forced to restate circulation figures for key titles. Both publishers were found flouting the rule according to which bulk copies distributed with national and regional newspapers cannot be counted in circulation figures.

Media buyers such as Goodman and Mays are calling for monthly circulation data, which they say will give greater transparency. Mays adds: “Monthly ABCs would not mean that we would want to negotiate on every single issue for our clients.”

Most publishers, however, do not see the need for providing monthly circulation data. Edwards says: “I do not agree with the ruling on bulk sales – the magazines were sold with the newspapers. The whole issue needs some serious thought.” ABC had ruled that, since NatMags did not receive any payment and the free copies did not form part of regular monthly promotions, the bulk copies could not be counted.

It is expected that the magazine industry will decide this year whether to start issuing monthly circulation data.

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