We’re all aware that a nasty recession is beginning to bite and predictions of doom and gloom are widespread. However, just as war, terrible though it is, can accelerate technology, an economic downturn has its constructive effects on business. Benefits include the culling of weak products through survival of the fittest. In turn, innovation becomes an even more urgent priority to stimulate fresh growth.
With this in mind, the recent ABCs circulation figures make interesting reading and demonstrate how over-supplied markets, such as gossip magazines, can suffer severe volatility. The print market is in a multiple dilemma: shrinking advertising revenues, a consumer credit crisis and a commitment to invest in online/digital brand derivatives which, as yet, do not deliver replacement income.
It appears that the public’s insatiable appetite for celebrity has peaked, and the endless stream of inferior copycat titles has thankfully stopped. Undoubtedly, more culling is yet to come. The closure of News Magazines was a clear signal of where News Corp saw its financial priorities, and the latest ABCs underline that a thinning of the herd is necessary.
In the celeb arena it is the brand leaders OK! and Hello! which have grown, as readers prioritise titles that are essential over those which are optional.
Therefore, I applaud National Magazines’ decision to invest in and reposition Reveal magazine, despite a year-on-year circulation decline of 20%, to a more features-led editorial content, written by the celebrities themselves. It takes bottle to be that radical and faith not just to cut and run back to the trusty old portfolio. Its iconic Cosmopolitan has grown by 4.4% in this period, emphasising that a brand with depth can flourish even in times of adversity. Reveal will either prove to be pioneering or fail spectacularly. But at least Duncan Edwards and his colleagues have been bold enough to attack the decline rather than be victims of it, forever doomed to play catch-up with more established competitors.
So where might those brave enough to launch new titles look for some encouragement to make a leap of faith in these uncertain times?
Two emerging sectors will blossom in the coming year. They were previously largely neglected, despite obvious evidence that there are market gaps, not just new platform opportunities, to be exploited. First, making sense of the wider world and universe is an antidote to being force-fed a bland diet of Jade, Britney and Sienna. Psychologies and Spirit & Destiny currently occupy that territory but, potentially, it could mushroom in size. “Psychologies” has grown relentlessly since launch and circulation is up 15.4%. The Bauer S&D title has declined, which I can only put down to the distraction of the EMAP acquisition. I do believe it will enjoy a surge in popularity by the next wave of research, through being in the right place at the right time.
People want to know that there is more to life than X-Factor and are becoming more discerning about who to admire. Aspiration to quality will make a comeback after years of gorging on fast food. Hence the relaunch for Reveal rings true in its repositioning; by humanising its celebrity writers as credible columnists and “revealing” their passionate knowledge of specialist subjects.
In conjunction, consumers will increasingly crave perspective and security from a widening range of sources; spiritualism, “evidence” or astrology. To put this into context, church attendances are down by a third in a single generation and only half of devout parents believe they will be able to pass their faith on to their children. The search for more fundamental answers, which counterbalance materialist envy, is likely to be heightened through the impending period of doubts and uncertainties.
Magazines that tackle these wider issues will flourish. Living TV, with its popular Most Haunted series and programmes featuring psychics, and Paul McKenna’s rocketing book sales are perhaps tiny symptoms of a thirst for making sense of it all. And there is surely scope for others.
The second prediction for growth is the over-50s market, which will become saturated with titles aimed at the “young at heart”/“best time of your life” proposition. Not Saga or “let’s all decompose together quietly” magazines, but a more forward-looking optimism about being 50-plus and free to fulfil one’s dreams. The majority of the population now has tipped over from younger to older, as was reported in the press last week, and providing a wider menu for this burgeoning market is an inevitable consequence.
Personally, I quite like a downturn. It refreshes the parts that other economic conditions cannot reach.