IPC’s cuts point to round of pruning

IPC’s decision to shut six titles raises questions about whether the publisher has what it takes, but also suggests others need to follow suit.

News that IPC Media is to close six magazines and its events business has sent shockwaves through the UK consumer magazine industry.

The move, which will result in 115 redundancies, raises questions about other potential casualties in the media company’s wide magazine portfolio following its acquisition this year by AOL Time Warner.

The closure of Woman’s Journal is a spectacular climbdown for a company which only five months ago strenuously denied a report in Marketing Week that the magazine was about to fold (MW June 14).

But IPC last week announced that scrapping the 74-year-old magazine, along with five others, was the “only sensible commercial course of action” available. According to industry insiders, closing the title, which caters for “mature women”, was not only inevitable but almost essential to the survival of the other brands within IPC’s portfolio.

One press buyer says: “Woman’s Journal has not been working for IPC for a long time. In bad times, a company will invest in brands that bring in the bacon, not failing brands such as this one.”

The magazine posted a 11.4 per cent fall in its circulation – to 110,010 – according to the January to June ABCs.

The other to-be-axed titles are Your Life, Your Garden, Home & Ideas and Marie Claire Health & Beauty. IPC is also shutting down its events and exhibitions business, IPC Live!, which was launched in February.

The closure of Your Life, the fortnightly magazine aimed at women aged over 30 that was launched less than seven months ago following the merger of Woman’s Realm and Woman’s Weekly (MW April 19), is another big blow. It has led industry insiders to question whether IPC has what it takes to launch brands into today’s highly competitive market.

The closures, announced on November 13, are the first cuts since the completion last month of AOL Time Warner’s &£1.15bn purchase of IPC Media.

PHD media director Laura James says that IPC has been quick to recognise that in times of recession only strong brands will win over advertisers and consumers. But she concedes that IPC’s new parent is likely to pressurise it to rationalise its massive portfolio. She comments: “The worry is, when will it stop? Advertisers like strong brands, but then they also like choice.”

Woman’s Journal was relaunched in September last year – with a new editor – in an attempt to ditch its dowdy image and offer better value for money through the use of gifts and promotions. The move triggered a cover-mount war among publishers trying to promote their loss-making magazines.

One press buyer predicts more casualties in the consumer magazines sector: “If cover mounting is the only way to sustain a title, publishers will need to take a hard look at such titles and cut their losses right now.”

Meanwhile, a price war has erupted in the glossy magazine market, triggered, according to insiders, by the launch in March of Condé Nast’s Glamour with a cover price of &£1.50. The following month, H Bauer published its first glossy, Real, also priced at &£1.50. And last month the National Magazine Company followed suit, cutting the price of Company, normally &£2.60, to bring it in line with Glamour (MW October 4).

Glamour publisher Simon Kippin denies that the title sparked the price-cutting frenzy, but he says its success has forced publishers sit up and think about how to make the most of their brands.

He adds that, while titles such Glamour and EMAP’s Heat show there is innovation in the market, most recent magazine launches have been unoriginal “me-toos” that have nothing new to offer consumers. “Brands cannot be created by simply looking at spread-sheets. It is ideas which work, not financial graphs.”

Gill Hudson, editorial director at BBC Worldwide’s Eve, says Condé Nast and NatMags have managed to build successful magazine brands with their Vogue/Glamour and Cosmopolitan titles, respectively, whereas IPC does not seem to be focused on building brands.

One buyer says IPC lacks strong flagship brands, although its stable consists of the likes of Loaded and Marie Claire. The men’s title posted a 12.7 per cent year-on-year decline in the January to June ABCs to 305,444.

He says Time Inc, the magazine division of AOL Time Warner, is “very brand-oriented” and he predicts it will invest heavily in IPC’s Marie Claire and the US company’s InStyle – launched in the UK last year.

IPC group marketing director Philippa Brown claims: “It is complete rubbish to say we are not brand-focused. We own extremely strong brands, such as NME, Woman’s Own, TV Times and Loaded. Our strategy is to continuously review our portfolio and we have decided not to continue with six titles. IPC is interested in the growth of our pillar brands.”

While most industry insiders dismiss the accusations made last week by Marcelle d’Argy Smith, the ex-editor of Woman’s Journal, who claimed IPC has failed to support its magazine brands, they agree that the media company needs to turn its attention to its internal processes and systems if it is to avoid further cuts.

But with an economic downturn taking its toll and news-stands becoming increasingly cluttered, the pruning of under-performing brands, not only at IPC but at all major publishing houses, is likely.

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