Readers in a recession choose titles carefully

The magazine sector is arresting its decline despite the recession, according to the latest set of ABC figures.

Some sectors such as men’s magazines are faring badly but overall, magazines have reported a strong set of results according to Vanessa Clifford, head of press at media agency Mindshare.

Overall, consumer magazine circulation fell by 1.3% in the second half of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008, an improvement on the 1.9% drop reported in the previous set of ABC results.

Clifford adds that while “there were some declines, there is nothing that would make you gasp. There was a phase of people not buying magazines because it felt a bit indulgent, but now people have gone back to it.”

People are buying different types of magazines as the recession has altered consumer behaviour. Food and home improvement titles have reported strong performances as they appeal to these changing consumer behaviours of home improvement and cooking at home.

BLM head of press, Jo Blake says: “The massive 37% period on period increase in the home interest titles is to be expected as people turn to DIY and their homes in times of recession, looking to renovate and decorate instead of moving. People are seeking inspiration and this is what this sector is giving them.”

Blake says the strong performance of food titles such as the supermarkets’ food magazines and similar BBC titles comes as people eat out less and look for inspiration to cook from scratch at home more.

“This about less money to go out to restaurants and an increase in entertaining at home and just a focus on great ingredients, inspirationally shot pictures and amazing recipes.”

Alfie Lewis, publishing director of BBC Food Group, says: “This has been a record-breaking year for Good Food. The trend for people cooking from scratch continues and Good Food’s promise to help people ’eat well, spend less’ remains as compelling as ever. We have made further innovations in print with easycook and our Good Food Home Cooking series and we will be expanding this further next year.”

Men’s lifestyle continued its decline down 4.4% overall with Loaded, Zoo, GQ, FHM and Nuts shedding circulation in double digits year on year.

Vanessa Clifford sees little future in the print incarnations of lads mags. “No-one can deny that ’lad’s mags’ are in terminal decline, there’s nothing in these ABCs that suggests otherwise”.

In the men’s sector magazines which have followed a more niche appeal such as Hachette Filipacchi’s Esquire and Haymarket’s Stuff performed better than the more general “lad’s mags” recording double digital increases in circulation when compared to the previous six months, and only marginal falls year on year.

Dennis Perks, press manager at Total Media, says: “”I’m not surprised Esquire’s circulation has gone up. They’ve invested heavily in the title recently and the quality has been really good the last few months, so I expected figures to be up period-on-period, but many not year-on-year. Front has also carved out a nice little niche by differentiating itself from the other lad’s mag by going after a more ’Emo’ audience. They’ve taken readers from Nuts and Zoo’s, and probably a little from FHM as well.”

Women’s magazines however, recovered in the second part of the year with the overall circulation of lifestyle titles rising 4.7% and weeklies rising 2.9%. None of the women’s titles saw double-digit falls.

Celebrity titles seem to have had resurgence in the latest set of ABC figures with Northern & Shell’s Star and New! magazines plunging into the Top 10 actively purchased titles in the UK for the first time.

The two magazines were sold in a multipack offer with OK! for 12 weeks during the six-month period as well as individually, in line with strict ABC rules on multi-pack promotions which rocketed the circulation of both.

Before the ABCs were revealed. There was a spat between Condé Nast and NatMag about multipack offers and how the practice can be used to distort ABC circulation figures, but media buyers don’t believe the issue is problematic for the industry.

Neil Allen, press trading director at Starcom MediaVest Group, says: “it distorts the headline number but it’s all broken down in the figures. It’s easy to be cynical about it but it’s easy to dissect it and see where the numbers come from”

Vanessa Clifford, head of press at media buying agency Mindshare, agrees: “It doesn’t distort as long as it’s all transparent. Multipacks are good value; it’s in the spirit of things a bit more and not as damaging to a magazine brand as a price promotion. As long as there is synergy between the titles, it’s a brilliant thing to drive trial and something we’ll see more of as it doesn’t seem like you’re devaluing the brand.”

The multipack had little effect on OK!’s circulation however which was up 9.8% year on year but down 4.5% on the previous six months.

Allen says: “For Northern & Shell it’s a sampling exercise to get the title in people’s hands but for OK! it hasn’t really affected the circulation great deal,” as this level of fluctuation in circulation is normal.

Allen explains this through OK!’s dependence on its cover stories to drive circulation and this kind of fluctuation is normal as it can swing wither way depending on the cover stories.

He adds that the celebrity magazines sector has stabilised, if you take out Star and New’s figures after tailing off in the last set of ABCs.

Clifford says: “Celeb titles were a bit tired but they’ve done work to change.”

Clifford cites NatMag’s Reveal as an example of a celebrity gossip title that has benefited from changing tack slightly.

The NatMag title boosted its circulation by 23.4% year on year and 4.1% on the previous six months to 324,101.

“It changed its editorial stance with columnists and a more sympathetic tone and you can see the difference it’s made,” she says.

Despite the growth of free media and digital content, The Periodical Publishers Association (PPA) says demand for magazines remains high because consumers are still passionate about the media and bought over 1 billion magazines in 2009.

PPA chief executive Barry McIlheney, says: “Readers have a unique relationship with their magazines. In an increasingly cluttered world, magazines offer an oasis of private time.

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