The strong performance of weekly consumer magazines this year has propped up the magazine market as a whole, despite a slight drop in the sales of monthly titles.
But there are fears that a flurry of weekly launches in 2007 could fragment the market so much that it may be badly damaged.
Some observers view the situation as “vibrant”, while others argue the market is “overcrowded”.
What is clear is that weeklies now occupy the place in readers’ hearts once reserved for monthlies. Their frequency appears to better suit a new generation of consumers, described by News Magazines commercial director Karl Marsden as “promiscuous, channel-surfing, ad-skipping and self-editing”.
As monthly magazines become less relevant than their fast-paced weekly rivals, observers believe the market in 2007 will be largely defined by what titles are launched and what is done to extend brands across other media platforms, such as digital.
Industry insiders claim IPC, News Magazines and several others are preparing women’s weeklies to go up against EMAP’s Grazia.
Managing director Eve Webster of IPC’s Connect division, which publishes the company’s weekly titles, says: “The weekly magazine market is already cluttered with lots of similar products. Markets are grown by bringing something new to the game so, if you see Grazia as the benchmark of women’s magazines, anybody who tries to publish a Grazia ‘me-too’ title is going to fail.
“I’d be surprised if we see more than three significant launches next year. The big thing will be extending brands across the digital arena and other platforms. This year, we extended the Now magazine brand online and into books and DVDs.”
Despite the buoyancy of the market, however, several publishing houses are looking nervous. EMAP has axed the new square shape of Car magazine that it adopted three months ago (MW last week) and is returning the magazine to its standard format, despite receiving acclaim from press buyers for the “bold and innovative” move.
At the time of the initial change, the magazine had just recorded a circulation drop of nearly 9%. Industry sources say that either EMAP has witnessed three months of disastrous sales with Car magazine or that the smaller, fatter, square-shaped magazine has not retained prominence against rival titles on newsagents’ shelves.
Whatever the reason behind the decision, EMAP’s first-half financial results – published this week – loomed large. The company has hired Boston Consulting Group to undertake a strategic review of its entire magazine portfolio and it is possible it could sell individual brands.
While EMAP is frantic with activity, News Magazines – News International’s magazine division, which started 2006 strongly with its debut magazine, Love It!, exceeding its 400,000 circulation target – has been quiet. The division, headed by News International heavyweight Camilla Rhodes, burst onto the scene amid rumours that it was readying the launch of seven new magazine brands in its first 18 months. According to insiders, there have been at least two new magazine launches ready to go for some months, but they have been held up by other business at News Corporation, News International’s parent company.
Marsden says: “It is frustrating but, although there are cases to be made for being the first to market, there are also arguments for coming later and letting another publisher break a market in.”
Advertising Holy Grail
A senior press director believes weekly magazines will continue to be crucial, not just to the magazine market but also to the entire press market: “Many of the weekend newspapers rely increasingly on strong magazine titles to better their rivals. Weeklies are the Holy Grail in a tough ad market, as far as publishers are concerned, because they are less reliant on ad revenue than they are on cover price.
“But the danger is that more launches, especially women’s weeklies, have to be more carefully thought out. They need to look for something different because if they all go after the same content and audience, it will leave both readers and advertisers confused.”