The glossy monthy magazine market is in buoyant mood. But do the latest ABCs reflect genuine expansion in this overcrowded sector?

The new ABC results are out again and the various magazine publishing houses have set up their sales stalls. Within the glossy monthlies sector a general mood of optimism prevails – superficially at least.

In some cases, outright euphoria has burst out. However, it is questionable whether this is just the usual round of sales muscle-flexing or if there has been a genuine expansion within the market. If the latter, it will inevitably lead to calls for advertising rate hikes to reflect increased audience delivery

The facts behind the sales hype are somewhat more blurred. Many notable increases have been achieved year-on-year. Double digit rises have been achieved, for example, by Marie Claire (+17 per cent), Tatler (+16 per cent), Company (+17 per cent) and She (+12 per cent). But Options (-3 per cent) and Vanity Fair (-1 per cent) have seen declines.

The sector itself has seen steady, if unremarkable, growth since the launch of Vanity Fair in 1991. Generally speaking, the aggregated circulation base has remained pretty static for the last two years. These latest results show an average increase of nine per cent.

Herein lies the conundrum: why should we witness such large period-on-period increases in this sector when the economic “feel-good factor” has barely been in evidence over the past few months?

Undoubtedly, publishers will claim that these figures reflect the success of their own editorial and marketing efforts.

The marketing side of this equation is seen most dramatically with distribution: forecourt, multiple and general, non-traditional CNT, outlets are offering a plethora of new possibilities. Not least of these was Tatler’s in-flight link-up with British Airways.

Against this we must balance the editorial frenzy to develop ever more grabbing headlines to make publications stand-out on the cluttered shelves.

This trend reached its ultimate conclusion when Company Magazine’s January issues were withdrawn from certain outlets presumably on the grounds of salaciousness (though a 17 per cent year-on-year circulation increase demonstrates that that sales are buoyant).

Is this a steady trend or are issue-by-issue differences very marked? The table shows there are wide period-on-period variations.

The January to June 1994 figures indicate a 13 per cent decline for Cosmopolitan, compared with a 27 per cent increase for Marie Claire. However, July to December 1994 figures show Cosmopolitan increasing its lead over Marie Claire, from 19,000 to 30,000 copies.

The sector is generally growing strongly, but people should beware of the sales hype and year-on-year figures when examining six-monthly data. Individual issues can also have quite different fortunes – an important consideration for the forthcoming NRS tender.