NatMags ventures forward without losing sight of its heritage

edwardsThe men’s magazine sector has been bombarded with a host of relaunches in the past year as publishers attempt to reverse declining circulations and revive interest from advertisers. The latest to try to breathe new life into the market is the National Magazine Company, which last week relaunched Esquire in “manbag size” format.

The new size is designed to set Esquire apart from the floundering men’s monthlies, rather than as a response to a rival – as was the case when NatMags unveiled a compact version of Cosmopolitan following the success of arch-rival Condé Nast’s compact Glamour.

Esquire sells less than 60,000 copies on average per month, while its main rival, Condé Nast’s GQ, sells more than 127,000. But the relaunch is intended to reaffirm its upmarket status under the editorship of Jeremy Langmead, who started last year.

NatMags chief executive Duncan Edwards hopes the change in size will encourage people to look at the magazine again. He says that the men’s market has two distinct categories: one that includes FHM and the weeklies, and the other the more sophisticated titles such as Esquire and GQ, which have not been hit as hard by the malaise in men’s magazines.

Esquire, which has bucked the downward trend, is part of an established set of brands that make up the NatMags portfolio, which also includes the resurgent Good Housekeeping (GH) and Cosmopolitan. The latest set of ABCs show good performances from Country Living and Harper’s Bazaar – also relaunched with a new logo last week.

NatMags has been busy under the quiet stewardship of Edwards. Last year it relaunched the Cosmo, GH and Country Living websites as part of a major online revamp with a greater focus on user-generated content. It followed the £22m acquisition of Handbag.com and its network of websites from the Telegraph Group.

But for all its talk of digital and steadiness in an otherwise volatile market, the company is sometimes seen as “rather traditional to the point of being boring”. It is a criticism that Edwards laughs off: “We are not launching smashing weeklies every month and do not have a Heat in our portfolio and are not good at PR either. Instead we happen to be a rather profitable business with some fantastic brands with real heritage.” 

Less Heat, more heritage
Pointing to well-known titles such as Cosmo, Company and the 85-year-old GH, Edwards adds: “We are not ashamed of having some of the oldest surviving magazines because we don’t believe that magazines have a limited existence. If the brand stands for something permanent then there is no reason why it should not last, and we are good at making that happen.” 

Glamour publisher Simon Kippin, a former NatMags employee, agrees that a brand such as GH is “almost unassailable”.

Group M trading director Steve Goodman says that not only does NatMags “punch above its weight” as a publisher but has also realised the value in creating internet ventures. However, this week it ceased its online teen title Jellyfish. The online magazine was launched earlier this year at a time when most teen titles were finally admitting they were struggling to survive in an internet-led world.

But critics point out a number of chinks in the NatMags armour, including “non-performing” brands such as Zest and She. She has been at the bottom of the pile in the women’s lifestyle sector. One believes the company is overly dependent on the Cosmo brand – although it continues to be down on advertising volume – and needs to look at expanding its weekly portfolio. Edwards concedes he would be foolish not to look at other categories, but adds: “I think monthlies still have a future and they make a lot of money for us.” 

Crossing the sales line
Another press buyer says the separate digital business that NatMags runs does not allow it to do cross-platform deals. Edwards argues that such deals generally mean discounts and says: “We are not in the business of giving discounts. We are increasingly offering cross-platform solutions rather than just cross-platform trading.” He adds: “Our ambition and our priority is becoming a bigger magazine company – both in print and online.” 

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