While newspapers are battling to reach and maintain their readerships in the internet age, some magazines – especially weeklies – are still managing to increase their circulations. By Mark Choueke
While newspapers reinvent themselves in a bid to tackle the signs of a slow, long-term decline, magazines appear to be in relatively rude health.
Last week’s ABC figures, detailing performance from January to June 2006, reveal that the total volume of consumer magazines circulated over the past 12 months increased by an impressive 51 million copies, equating to growth of 3.5%.
Any such growth of consumer magazines in the face of the threat posed by the internet should be seen as a victory, but the magazine sector has trends of its own that are giving some publishers cause for concern. The monthlies magazine market is seeing decline – and rapid decline in some areas – whereas weekly titles are in relative growth.
Statistics provided by the Periodicals Publishing Association show that we bought 228 million monthly magazines last year, 2% fewer than in the previous year, whereas 989 million weekly titles were sold, equating to a 2% increase. PPA marketing director Phil Cutts admits that much of the continuation of what is now a five-year growth in magazine sales has been “ensured by the buoyant weekly sector”.
Weeklies on the up
Vizeum’s head of press, Alex Randall, agrees that, broadly, higher frequency was key to growth.
“Growth of weeklies against the decline of monthlies was the main story of the ABCs, though certain categories of the sector bucked the trend,” he says. “Some of the more traditional women’s weeklies like Woman and Woman’s Own have not had an easy time.” Both titles were down over 14% by the number of actively purchased copies sold year on year.
Randall continues: “Though you can find examples of monthlies that did very well, such as Vogue, staples like EMAP’s FHM, IPC’s Loaded and Dennis Publishing’s Maxim all suffered double-digit decreases. When you’re talking about a mass demographic then you have to generalise and, broadly, weeklies are causing problems for monthlies.”
Much of the trend is to do with the increasing variety of ways we consume information, the style in which we like it delivered and the decreasing amount of time we can allocate to digesting the content on a daily basis.
“Readers have a different relationship with weekly magazines, they have different editorial requirements – less detail, fewer in-depth pieces and perhaps more news-based content, especially in the celebrity market,” says Randall.
“The growth of weeklies doesn’t appear to be just a blip but a long-term trend. The younger generation is used to consuming in the short term, they want their content immediately and in the form of quick soundbites – you could call it the Metro generation.
“They have a shorter attention span and could easily turn to the internet if what they want isn’t provided for them through magazines,” he adds. “A month is way too long for these technology-literate young people to wait for their next fix of, say, celebrity news.”
Randall explains that while Nuts and Zoo in the men’s weekly market may have plateaued somewhat, they are still selling millions of copies and doing serious damage to the men’s monthly market.
Recent ABC data has suggested that the women’s “real-life” sectors, the women’s celebrity gossip and the men’s weekly markets have promised most success. Where these latest circulation figures appear flat in these sectors it can largely be explained by the fact that new titles are launching faster than the readership is expanding and that readers, particularly those in their teens, are migrating to the internet.
EMAP’s weekly fashion magazine Grazia, launched in February 2005, enjoyed a 10% rise in weekly sales in the second half of 2005, while monthly rivals Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire and Company all sustained falls.
Grazia’s latest figures for actively purchased copies reflect continued good fortune with a 2.3% increase period on period and a 12.5% increase year on year. But other magazines in the women’s weekly market saw their sales cannibalised by the launch of imitations.
IPC spent heavily to support the launch of “real-life” magazine Pick Me Up, and launches such as National Magazine Company’s Reveal and Real People as well as News International’s Love It! (whose first ABC figure of 405,441 places it above celebrity favourite Hello!) have all had an impact in a market where H Bauer’s Take A Break, Bella and That’s Life titles, IPC’s Chat and NatMags’ Best saw falls in their circulation.
Elsewhere, editorial innovation, supplements, covermounts and big advertising budgets account for â¢most of the success of those monthly magazines that did manage to buck the trend and experience growth.
CondÃ© Nast’s Easy Living, which launched in April last year, posted a third ABC of 200,083 which saw it gain ground on Hachette Filipacchi’s Red with its circulation of 221,940. Easy Living’s figure represents 17% growth year on year and 10% growth period on period compared with Red’s 1% and 1.3% respectively.
Price of success
But Easy Living’s success cost CondÃ© Nast &£6m last year on above-the-line marketing including television and newspaper campaigns and a variety of cover-mounts and promotions. This year the publisher will spend &£4m on the title with a big promotional campaign planned for the autumn as it attempts the unthinkable and chases the National Magazine Company’s Good Housekeeping with its 441,151 circulation.
In men’s magazines, CondÃ© Nast’s GQ and NatMagRodale’s Men’s Health did well against the depressing backdrop of a market that suffered a real bashing – down 13% year on year in total. During that period, Esquire was down 17.6% to 52,437, FHM’s circulation dropped 24.9% and the future of Dennis Publishing’s Maxim must be in question after a decrease year on year of 35.8%. GQ editor Dylan Jones says that compared with such results, his magazine and Men’s Health have reason to celebrate their small increases of 1.4% and 3.4 % respectively.
“Maybe we’re the only two magazines doing anything particularly different. GQ is upmarket compared with the likes of Loaded, and Men’s Health is the only magazine covering the whole range of health issues for gents,” says Jones.
“Arena, Front, Maxim and the rest have all been panicked into heading downmarket because of the rise of Zoo and Nuts. Now they’re trapped and can’t change – how can FHM suddenly try and be upmarket? A move like that would alienate their core readership.”
However, some industry experts argue that all is not lost for publishers who rely on significant players in the monthly magazine brand market. Senior press buyer with Group M, Steve Goodman, says: “Some monthly titles aimed at premium audiences such as Vogue, Tatler, Traveller and Vanity Fair have done very well.”
He agrees that in some sectors the weeklies are cannibalising the monthly market but adds: “You can always find an exception and you have to ask yourself why.”
Goodman explains: “For example, in the younger women’s sector, Elle saw an increase in its circulation whereas Cosmo, Marie Claire and Company have all done very badly with negative circulation growth. To me, you have to say that Elle has shown the others what can be done if you get the editorial right – and you’d like to think it is about editorial rather than covermounts and promotions.”
Goodman says the figures should be treated by the magazine publishing industry as “a short, sharp shock” and adds that those who have seen their titles struggle will do well to think carefully about how to reverse the decline. He points out that consumers need to be encouraged to develop a habit of buying magazines early on in life and that sectors that target certain age groups cannot be ignored. He cites the teen sector where Sneak – EMAP’s attempt at creating a replica of Heat for teenagers – was deemed patronising by the target audience and has closed down.
The sector as a whole was down just under 20% year on year with Bliss, another EMAP title, sustaining a 22.7% year on year fall.
The once mighty Sugar also suffered another double-digit circulation fall, as did Mizz and NatMags’ CosmoGirl.
Goodman adds: “The internet may dominate the media consumption of certain age groups and, for teens especially, it serves a lot of their purpose. But the teens are really important to magazine publishers because they represent a generation of future readers. They are the future’s Marie Claire buyers so it’s important to get it right.”