So London, the weekly lifestyle magazine aimed at the capital’s millionaires, backed by IT tycoon Sir Peter Rigby’s son Steve Rigby, has been axed after only three issues – the latest casualty of one of the most competitive markets in the UK.
Launching magazines has never been easy. In a saturated market, and with major publishing houses experiencing dwindling advertising and circulation revenues, it has never been more difficult for new independent publications to gain a foothold. But critics argue that well-researched projects deserve more than three weeks to prove themselves before being scrapped.
So London, the weekly magazine that ceased trading last week, as first revealed on marketingweek.co.uk, was launched as a glossy weekly focusing on "shameless luxury", with a cover price of £2.95. Covering culture, art, theatre, cinema and home entertainment, the magazine was edited by Christena Appleyard, former editor of The Mail on Sunday’s Night and Day magazine. Its team also included former managing director of The Mail on Sunday, Mike Ironside, and Mike Allen, formerly of Mirror Group Newspapers and Associated Newspapers.
Clearly, however, this wealth of publishing expertise was not enough. In a press statement, Ironside says "sorry" for shutting down the magazine, and adds: "Having tested the market with the first three issues, we feel that there is no long-term future for the title in the current marketplace."
Press buyers say it was primarily the lack of advertising support that led to the early demise of So London. "To launch into a busy weeklies sector was an ambitious move in itself," says managing director of print trading at Group M press Steve Goodman.
The sector is already over-subscribed and includes a plethora of titles, from celebrity-led weeklies such as Heat and Grazia, to listings magazine Time Out. Another press buyer points out that the best performers, often backed by huge marketing investments, end up taking share from their nearest competitor. "So London was too niche a product, and it is the larger publishers that are best placed to exploit the niche-title concept," claims the source.
But Goodman does not agree that publishing is purely the domain of the bigger publishing houses. He says that with "the right editorial and agency contacts" it is fairly easy, and also cheaper to launch into the market than it was five years ago.
David Hepworth, an EMAP veteran who went it alone to launch film and music magazine Word in 2002, says that there is neither a magic formula for a launch nor an instant response – and he should know. At EMAP, he helped launch Q, Mojo and Heat – and since its launch, Word has built up an impressive circulation of 33,593 copies a month.
"Launching titles is like building people’s palates, and it never gets easier," says Hepworth. "Advertising budgets are always tight, distribution forever challenging, and the title has to constantly be refreshed."
Finding the right formula
Like Hepworth, former Daily Express editor Richard Addis believes that securing the backing of the big players is not the only route to success. Addis is planning a free daily local newspaper, initially aimed at four wealthy postcodes. Although he is yet to announce the launch date of "Project Newsstand" or reveal his financial backers, Addis believes advertisers are usually positive towards new launch ideas – a view shared by Goodman, who says that a market filled with "me-toos" always has room for new and exciting launches.
But that is only the case if the formula is right, warns Nicholas Coleridge, managing director of Condé Nast, who says that any new launch is incredibly difficult and requires careful planning. He adds/ "So London was a bold and exciting idea, and I was looking forward to it. Sadly, it was not any good."