Beyond the familiar lines

The excitement generated by new markets such as the men’s weeklies and glossy real-lifers is dying down and the industry is again stagnating. Is there promise of growth in new media? asks Sonoo Singh

The demise of the iconic music title Smash Hits just weeks before the announcement of the six-monthly magazines circulation figures was hardly a good omen for the industry, already expecting a stagnant growth.

The Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABCs) figures revealed last week demonstrated just that. The once unstoppable rise of women’s monthlies and men’s lifestyle titles has almost drawn to a halt; the music magazines are failing to dazzle; the real-life market hit a period of malaise; the rise of new formats such as men’s weeklies Nuts and Zoo is slowing down; and it turned out to be a quiet period for the two debut ABCs titles – Full House and Psychologies. There was, however, some relief provided by the success of the new breed of weeklies aimed at the younger segment, such as Grazia.

Paper weight

But despite the circulation gloom and the added woe of falling advertising revenue, industry pundits have not written off the print medium. Instead all magazine houses are desperately hunting for that “new and sophisticated” model of publishing titles that will continue to connect with their audiences.

The tried-and-tested, and also very expensive, method of luring readers with free covermounts has already proven to be effective only when buying short-term circulation increases. The strategy of a cheap cover price to increase readership is, however, expected to continue. But the Holy Grail that the publishing industry is in pursuit of is how to build magazine brands and deliver a relevant product to fit different needs. The simple answer for many is to extend the magazine onto online, radio and downloadable programmes on mobile phones.

Vizeum head of press Alex Randall explains: “As with all media channels, magazines are beginning to understand that today they are competing with people’s time rather than simply other titles. The crucial thing is to connect with readers as much as possible – therefore, the aim is for the print brand to be available online, on the radio or even become an experiential brand.”

Simon Kippin, publishing director of Condé Nast’s Glamour magazine – Britain’s first handbag-sized title, professes to be a true believer of magazine brands and therefore their longevity. He points to rival titles such as Cosmopolitan: “Cosmo has been around for 35 years and is still making money, because of its strong brand values.

“I agree that the magazine industry needs to innovate, and EMAP’s weekly celebrity glossy Grazia is a good example. But just because the market is slightly static the entire sector does not become tired suddenly. We’re all responding to consumers’ demand for immediacy by altering our editorial offer,” he adds. He also points out the Channel 4 documentary about Glamour, broadcast in 2003 to attract youth, and the fact the title has also launched a “mobozine” enabling it to deliver editorial on mobile handsets.

Even BBC Magazines is reported to be gearing up to launch more websites out of its magazine brands this year, with BBC Good Food and Top of the Pops in the frame for online investment.

EMAP, the only publishing house to have radio and television resources, is the only publisher to have developed its magazine brands across different platforms. For instance, FHM and Smash Hits are already available on multi-media channels. FHM UK business director Rimi Atwal says: “The challenge is to give the brand a ‘bespoke’ feel for each different platform, while ensuring the core values of the brand remain the same. For instance FHM on mobile phones or FHM TV is more fast-paced and disposable than the magazine itself.”

But Starcom group head of press Rob Elms believes new media or new technology may not what the magazine industry needs. “Even if you download magazines onto hand-held devices, how many of us will take that in the bath or on the train or to bed to read? It is very important to be reminded about the potency of print media. A magazine campaign across 20 titles can reach almost 70-80% of its readerships. Not many channels can claim to achieve that feat. The future of magazines is in innovation.”

Divided

Atwal agrees that though the authority of the print medium cannot be overlooked, the fact that reader markets are fragmented cannot be ignored either. “If a magazine is established on the newsstands, I don’t see why various other businesses such as online can’t be developed around it to generate more revenue streams and also fulfil the needs of advertisers.”

For Elms, the future is in low cover prices and increased frequency.

There is of course no simple prescription to determine the way forward for the industry. It may be time to sit back and wait for the next launch, which could help inject that much-needed buzz and buoyancy.

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