AGENDA: Title fights - Winners and losers in the magazine war/ABC figures signal the highs and lows of magazine sales. Andy Fry examines the sectors to discover the best performers

Twice a year, when the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) releases its official figures, consumer magazine publishers hole up for a few hours to work out how to put the most positive spin on their results.

Twice a year, when the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) releases

its official figures, consumer magazine publishers hole up for a few

hours to work out how to put the most positive spin on their


For some it’s easy. Take Emap’s monthly men’s title FHM, which for

January to June 1998 has seen its sales hit 775,451 (up 53.6% year on

year) - more than IPC’s Marie Claire and The National Magazine Company’s

Company combined. One rival comments: ’If you had said five years ago

that a men’s magazine could sell that many you would have been locked

up.’ Then there’s OK! (up 50.4% to 214,162) and the Sony PlayStation

titles, which accounted for all of the top six fastest-growing titles in

the latest round of results.

For many publishers, however, the post-ABC period is all about damage

limitation. IPC, for example, has had notable successes in Loaded (up

20%) and What’s on TV? (up 2.8%). But it has been hard pushed to find

anything good to say about the performance of its women’s weeklies.

With Woman (692,491), Woman’s Own (653,432), Woman’s Weekly (609,557)

and Woman’s Realm (221,838) shedding almost 200,000 sales a week between

them (about 8%), IPC was forced to celebrate ’reductions in sales

decline’ and look to the future for improvements.

Linda Lancaster-Gaye, women’s weeklies group managing director, insists

that ’the opportunity for growth is real and significant ... because our

magazines are perfectly placed to be the voice of women in Britain’. TV

campaigns have been pencilled in for Woman as well as two other IPC

weeklies, Now (306,501) and Chat (482,143), ’which halved its sales

decline’ to 3%.

Weekly decline

Making a real assessment of IPC’s performance in the weeklies market is

complicated by the fact that rival Bauer’s top-selling titles, Bella and

Take a Break, do not subscribe to the ABCs. However, if IPC’s own

estimates are correct, these have also slipped by between 6%-7% year on

year - suggesting the malaise is affecting the whole sector. Underlining

the point, Gruner & Jahr’s weekly Best now sells 494,775 (down


While the women’s weeklies, with an overall decline of 5% year on year,

are clearly in trouble, so too are the traditional women’s general

interest titles. IPC’s trio of Essentials (down 7.2%), Family Circle

(down 14.4%) and Woman & Home (down 9.3%), fared particularly badly.

BBC’s Good Food, which at one time was selling about 500,000, also fell


Carl White, publisher, attributes this to ’intense competition from the

supermarket titles’ - most notably Sainsbury’s The Magazine, which rose

2.7% to 370,862.

Other than Sainsbury’s, the best performers in this sector were G&J’s

Prima, which leapt 6.1% to 531,678, and NatMags’ mid-age glossy Good

Housekeeping, which held steady at 440,721. NatMags has high hopes that

Good Housekeeping can go on to build its circulation as the population

of the UK ages.

Despite the black spots, the Periodical Publisher’s Association came up

with a bullish assessment of the consumer magazine sector’s overall

performance. ’Constant paid-for circulation (excluding increases from

new titles) increased by 1% year on year,’ says the PPA. ’Overall,

circulations have grown nearly 17% in the past five years.’

Rise and fall

Such figures do little, however, to highlight the very uneven nature of

the marketplace. Massive gains in the men’s and computer games sectors

have offset losses in other areas. In addition, the numerous new entries

into the market encourage existing titles to beef up their editorial and

promotional offering. This may keep consumers buying magazines, but it

puts increasing financial pressure on publishers and reduces brand

loyalty in the marketplace.

While men are buying more magazines and women fewer, the TV listings

market has remained relatively stable (down 0.9%). IPC again had mixed

fortunes. What’s On TV? rose to 1,750,167 (up 2.8%), creating a 350,000

lead over BBC Worldwide’s Radio Times (down 0.4% at 1,400,095). The

downside for IPC was a 6.4% drop for TV Times which now stands at


Kathy Day, IPC publishing director of the TV weeklies, remains

confident: ’We are delighted. The decline is bottoming out. We have

invested heavily in creating a better product and it will grow


To be fair, IPC’s policy is to maintain market share and it has done so.

For the future, sponsorships of BAFTA and the National Television Awards

are key elements in building up the brand again.

Of the more specialist areas, one of the most active has been the

parenting sector where new launches Right Start, Baby Mag and M from

NatMags have arrived in the past year. Existing titles are suffering as

a result. Our Baby, Pregnancy & Birth and Babycare & Pregnancy all

suffered sharp falls.

The rest of the specialist publishing areas have met with varied


In the music market, Emap’s Q remains the clear leader with an 8.5% rise

to 203,865, while IPC’s NME and Melody Maker both experienced

double-digit decline. Emap’s Mojo (75,084) overtook its sister title

Select (74,525) and the independently launched Ministry established

itself with a creditable debut ABC of 61,395.

Music on the whole was up, but not as much as film titles which posted a

20% rise year on year as a market. Emap’s Empire was up 1.4% at 166,123,

while most of the growth came from the arrival of Uncut and the

increased sales at Total Film.

Losing streak

The specialist sector which suffered most was football. Poor

performances from Manchester United and Liverpool last season may

explain why club titles like Manchester United Magazine and The Official

Liverpool FC lost 25% of their circulation. In what was generally a

bloodbath, only Haymarket’s FourFourTwo has anything to smile about,

with a 21% jump to 85,389. Ironically, while soccer lost 25% of its

market, motor publishers scored a 25% gain.

Auto Express was a big winner with 43% growth to 91,723.

While all of the above sectors are of interest to the media

planner/buyer community, it would be wrong to overlook the growing band

of customer titles which pack the top end of the ABC hit chart. The

Redwood-published AA Magazine still sits on the top of the tree with 3.9

million copies.

Behind it are the likes of The Somerfield Magazine, Debenhams, Saga

Magazine, Ford Magazine and The Vauxhall Magazine. The fastest-growing

customer title was The BMW Magazine, which rose 42% to 172,661.

If there is a single concern for publishers, it must be the increasingly

competitive nature of the key sectors. As more titles launch, supporting

quality brands becomes more difficult. However, branding remains

essential if publishers are to continue the current growth in spin-off

titles. Aside from FHM Collections, Loaded Fashion and Zest for Men,

there are numerous publishers with ambitions to enter masthead


Emap chief executive Tom Moloney says as much when he warns of an

imminent slowdown in the market. ’These results are pleasing for Emap

and the magazine sector in general, but all publishers should be aware

that the market is going to tighten in the coming months. It is the

market-leading brands committed to expanding sectors rather than just

stealing share which will perform the best, and provide the best service

to advertisers.’

Women’s glossy monthlies

Magazine                Publisher            ABC    % change

Cosmopolitan            NatMags          472,263        +7.0

Marie Claire            IPC              416,239        -4.3

Company                 NatMags          290,065        +4.4

New Woman               Emap elan        281,087       +12.3

She                     Nat Mags         242,024        +2.5

Elle                    Emap elan        212,799        +1.3

Vogue                   Conde Nast       202,265        +1.1

Red                     Emap elan        190,136         n/a

NatMag’s Cosmopolitan and IPC’s Marie Claire continue to dominate the

market. But the former has extended its lead over the latter, year on

year, from 6000 to 56,000.

Terry Mansfield, NatMags’ managing director, singled out the performances

of Cosmopolitan, She (+2.5%) and sister title Company (+4.4%) as

particular highlights. ’Emap’s Red has come into the market with the

highest spend in support of a magazine that I can remember and our brands

have withstood it.’

Red’s first ABC is 190,135 - a figure with which Kath Brown, editor,

claims to be delighted. ’We have achieved a distinctive position in the

marketplace for a section of the population who were not catered for -

the 30-something modern woman with a youthful spirit.’

Red’s thunder has been stolen by sister title New Woman, which recorded

the biggest rise in the sector (12.3%), putting it within shouting

distance of Company.

The biggest drop was experienced by IPC’s Woman’s Journal (-12.1%). But

the superglossies rose slightly: Conde Nast’s Vogue (+1.1%) and Emap’s

Elle (+1.3%) are now 10,000 apart. Conde Nast’s Vanity Fair rose 0.5% to

83,743, although it is worth noting that over half of that is bulk or

overseas sales.

Home-interest magazines

Magazine                Publisher            ABC    % change

House Beautiful         NatMags          308,063        +3.5

Homes and Ideas         IPC              218,619        -4.0

Homes & Antiques        BBC              213,038       +11.3

Ideal Home              IPC              208,480        -4.3

Country Living          NatMags          180,190        +3.7

Homes & Gardens         IPC              173,546        -1.3

Your Home               Gruner & Jahr    170,046         n/a

House & Garden          Conde Nast       163,798        -2.4

The home-interest magazine market, which is up 8% year on year, has been

given a boost by the exposure that the subject receives in TV


Along with recent launches, which have yet to be audited, there are now

20 titles in the arena.

Appropriately, it is the BBC which is benefiting most from the TV


BBC Homes & Antiques, which rose 11.3%, has overtaken IPC’s Ideal Home

for the first time. Although there is no ABC available, the BBC’s Good

Homes is also selling about 160,000.

NatMags scored success with House Beautiful, which kept the number-one

spot with a 3.5% increase to 308,063, NatMags also saw a 3.7% rise for

Country Living.

The picture for IPC was mixed. Its established titles, Country Homes,

Homes & Gardens, Homes and Ideas and Ideal Home, all dropped. But the

launch of Living etc and Beautiful Homes has given IPC a larger share of

the market.

The gardening market also saw a rise of 11.5% year on year. The winner is

BBC Gardeners’ World, which rose 5.3% to 375,138.

Teenage girls’ monthlies

Magazine                Publisher            ABC    % change

Sugar                   Attic Futura     459,984        -3.0

Top of the Pops         BBC              436,488        +3.4

Smash Hits              Emap             383,191        -0.1

It’s Bliss              Emap             365,668        -6.1

TV Hits                 Attic Futura     281,889        +3.0

Live & Kicking          BBC              215,205        -7.2

19                      IPC              172,104        +8.3

Shout                   DC Thomson       171,089       -17.7

The most competitive market of all is arguably the teenage girls’ sector.

The original baby glossy, Attic Futura’s Sugar, stayed in front despite a

3% drop in sales. Sarah Pyper, editor, blamed the decline on new

competition at the upper end of the age bracket.

Fortunately for Attic, one rival is its own recently launched B, which

posted a January-June figure of 212,444. The other title at the older end

is Emap elan’s Minx, which rose 6% to 154,321. Neither title is strictly

teen-oriented but both are picking up older teen readers.

Sugar’s rival Emap’s It’s Bliss dropped by 6%, while Emap’s new-look J17

did not post an ABC.

The biggest losers were Emap’s More (-15%) and DC Thomson’s Shout


Both are suffering from the impact of baby glossies and launches at the

older end.

IPC’s response was to reposition Mizz (younger) and 19 (older). The

latter has benefited with an 8% jump, although Mizz is now competing with

the younger targeted music and celebrity-oriented titles.

Among these, Emap’s Big was the biggest disappointment (-23%), while

Attic’s TV Hits rose slightly. Emap’s Smash Hits was stagnant at 383,191

and BBC Magazines’ Top of the Pops rose 3% to 436,488.

Computer games magazines

Magazine                Publisher            ABC    % change

Official PlayStation    Future           314,114      +113.7

PlayStation Plus        Emap Images       96,795      +114.7

PlayStation Power       Future            84,197      +115.6

Play                    Paragon           71,153       +92.7

PlayStation Pro         IDG Media         70,050       +94.4

Essential PlayStation   Future            64,289       +97.6

Powerstation            Paragon           48,860       +51.5

The most impressive growth in the consumer market has been among computer

games titles - or more specifically, Sony-related titles. The growth of

the PlayStation platform as a mass-market product lifted the sector to

unprecedented heights. Eight of the ten fastest growers were games

titles. The top six were all Sony titles.

The runaway success is Future Publishing’s Official PlayStation Magazine,

which sells 314,114 copies with a cover gift for pounds 5.99. Titles such

as Emap Images’ PlayStation Plus and Future’s PlayStation Power have

experienced 115% growth and have driven their circulations near the

100,000 mark. Emap Images also publishes two other booming titles: The

Official Nintendo Magazine, which jumped 80% to 90,226; and CVG, which

jumped 74% to 78,976.

PC titles also did well. Fastest risers were: PC Answers (35,114, up

88%), PC Plus (117,149, up 32.7%) and PC Format (110,227 up 20.4%). All

are priced at pounds 4.99, suggesting there is still a large amount of

price elasticity in the sector.

Men’s magazines

Magazine                Publisher            ABC    % change

FHM                     Emap Metro       775,451       +53.6

Loaded                  IPC              456,373       +20.0

Maxim                   Dennis           300,786       +63.0

Men’s Health            Rodale Press     245,659       +30.5

Sky                     Emap Metro       171,101        -1.4

GQ                      Conde Nast       130,152        -4.0

Esquire                 NatMags          112,161       +20.7

The Face                Wagadon           78,173       -27.7

The men’s magazine market continued its phenomenal growth, with a 26.5%

increase year on year. This market now sells 2.4 million copies a


Emap’s FHM was the main beneficiary, recording a 53% rise year on


However, the success of IPC’s Loaded (up 20%) and Dennis Publishing’s

Maxim (63%) suggest there is still room for growth in the lads’


One of the key developments among the big brands is the launch of

spin-offs. FHM has already launched a fashion title called FHM

Collections and IPC has now announced the launch of Loaded Fashion.

While the big titles keep growing, the story among the smaller magazines

is less clear-cut. Wagadon’s The Face (-27.7%) and Arena (-15.7%) both

dropped significantly. Conde Nast’s GQ was also down 4%. NatMag’s Esquire

jumped 20%, although more than 20% of its 112,161 circulation is either

bulk sales or exports. FHM has no bulks, while 3% go overseas.

The other success was Men’s Health, which rose 30% to 245,659. However,

NatMags is set to take on Men’s Health by launching Zest for Men.


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