Mag publishers enjoy digital gains as print continues to fall

Publishers’ efforts to tempt lapsed readers of magazine titles to try mobile and tablet editions have boosted the circulation of digital issues in the past six months, according to the latest auditing data, but the early signs of growth have not yet made up for continued declines in print revenues.

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Consumer magazine digital editions – a digital version of a print publication – jumped 64 per cent year-on-year in the six months to July 2013, reveals the latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC). It is an increase on the 61 per cent reported for the same period last year as more publishers are now reporting circulations for those titles using the digital publications certificate.

The Economist Continental Europe Edition recorded the highest average circulation for its digital editions in the first half of the year with an average of 14,116. It was followed by Future’s Total Film (12,280) and Conde Nast’s GQ (12,231). Hearst-Rodale’s Men’s Health, which had topped the category during the second half of 2012, fell to fourth posting a 3.1 per cent period-on-period drop.

Title Publisher Total Average Circualtion – Digital
The Economist – Continental Europe Edition The Economist Newspaper 14,116
Total Film Future Publishing 12,280
GQ Conde Nast Publications 12,231
Men’s Health Hearst Rodale 12,018
The Economist – Asia Pacific Edition The Economist Newspaper 11,527
BBC Top Gear Magazine Immediate Media Company 10,685
BBC Good Food Immediate Media Company 10,621
How it Works Imagine Publishing 10,603
Cosmopolitan Hearst Magazines UK 9,894
The Economist – United Kingdom Edition The Economist Newspaper 8,818

Despite the growth, the Professional Publishers Association (PPA) says the industry is “in the very early days of a revolutionary period that is redefining how we think about magazines.”  

The rising popularity of digital editions was unable to stem wider declines across the UK consumer magazine business as publishers continued to struggle to offset print declines. Total average circulation for the six-month period to June 31 2013 fell by 1.9 per cent, compared with the same period in the previous year, hit by a 1.4 per cent drop (5.9 million copies) in the key women’s lifestyle category. Special editions of women’s weeklies, however, saw circulation jump 206 year-on-year to 69,139 as events such as the birth of the Royal Baby helped boost demand for titles such as Bauer’s Closer and IPC Media’s Now souvenir editions.

Industry experts observe that publishers will need to look to how newspapers such as The Guardian and the Financial Times have expanded their digital footprint if they are to exploit the growth of digital formats and persuade advertisers to spend more.

Dan Booth, senior news brands planner and buyer at Arena Media, says: ”Digital editions still have a lot of ground to make up when it comes to their print counterparts but the early signs are promising.  As tablet adoption continues to grow I think we should see a lot more publishers moving into that space.

“For that to happen, however, publishers need to be prepared to do more hand-holding with advertisers that are not tablet savvy.  A lot of them have in house creative teams and are starting to work closer with brands. The more that they do this hand holding the more advertisers are going to be inclined to come back and repeat bookings – as well as tempting other advertisers into the market.”

The announcement comes as publishers including Dennis voice their frustrations at not being able to “give our advertisers the full picture in this ABC release”. The ABC, which independently audits the media industry, is facing pressure from some who want it to do more address the industry’s migration to digital in its reports.  

James Tye, chief executive of Dennis Publishing, adds: “I think it is time for the audit process to accept that not all publishers or indeed consumers want simple page replicas of their favourite brands on tablet devices.”

The PPA says its Combined Circulation Chart (CCC), which unveiled its second iteration today (15 August), gives marketers direct access to a combined figure for print and digital editions of magazine brands. The tool launched earlier this year in an attempt to encourage marketers to invest more readily in magazine brands by providing them with a headline figure to assess where to spend their budgets.

The latest CCC was topped by IPC’s 25 beautiful Media Homes magazine, which reported a combined circulation figure of 101,385, up 1.1 per cent on the previous year.

Barry McIlheney, chief executive of the PPA, says: “While the  CCC is not a measure of the total reach of today’s magazine brands, it is a mark of real progress in a world where a single ABC-audited print circulation figure no longer does justice to magazine brands and their dedicated teams who are demonstrating world-class innovation and creativity in bringing their content to audiences in these exciting new ways.”

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