Magazines are still desirable products. If we can take anything from the latest set of results from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, that would be it. Sure, the recession has separated the wheat from the chaff: some sectors are simply not as popular any more and others have migrated to the less lucrative digital space. But the figures show that there's still a decent amount of us who love to buy a fat glossy.
PPA figures show a decline in the total number of actively purchased magazines - down 3.6 per cent year on year. However, for the period, it was up 4 per cent, an increase that shows that consumers are starting to feel more confident about parting with their cash for good quality editorial.
The PPA also cautioned that the weather made it an awkward period for retailers, arguably affecting year-on-year comparisons. Barry McIlheney, the PPA chief executive, says: "These very positive ABC results are further evidence of the continued strength of the medium of magazines at a time when many brands are expanding their reach by engaging with audiences on various platforms, from websites and apps to live events."
The women's glossy sector showed some interesting results. The silver pound continued to hold the fort during the economic downturn, with Good Housekeeping and Woman & Home propping up the market with rises of 3.2 per cent and 4.7 per cent respectively, year on year. Claudine Collins, the joint head of investment at MediaCom, says: "This age group is not as affected by the recession, it has a disposable income and they are not as susceptible to covermounts and multi-packing. The younger audience is more fickle."
Certainly the young female audience has thrown some curve balls. Hachette Filipacchi had to close its 16-year-old teen mag Sugar in January as it lost readers to the web. Another sector displaced by digital is the lads' mags. "Not one client rings me up and says 'I need to be in Zoo, I need to be in Nuts'," Dominic Williams, the Carat press director, says.
"Real-life" women's weeklies, which thrive on the misery of ordinary people's tragedies, continued to suffer with the top 11 brands falling 6.3 per cent on average year on year. Hubert Burda's Love It! recorded a double-digit crash of 14.5 per cent year on year. "People don't want to read them any more, their lives are hard enough," Collins observes.
Elsewhere, the celebrity weeklies crashed with Bauer's Heat leading the nosedive with a 19.3 per cent fall year on year, while at the other end of the spectrum, business and current affairs titles performed enviably, with The Economist up 11.1 per cent year on year.
These pockets of good and bad news show that the overall publishers' results, which saw some negative year-on-year changes at some of the top publishers, don't necessarily mean that magazines as a medium are no longer popular. But more than ever, publishers need to listen to what readers want from their brands to be at the top of their game.
Paul Keenan, the chief executive of Bauer Media, which is reported to be the favourite to buy BBC Magazines, tried to make the best of a disappointing series of ABCs from the publisher that saw its total average circulation fall 8.6 per cent year on year to 3,569,610 copies.
Only five of its titles managed to put on year-on-year increases, most notably its specialist magazines Classic Bike and Model Rail, which were up 5.1 per cent and 5.2 per cent respectively.
The news from its more mainstream titles was rather more depressing. As well as the drop in circulation experienced by Heat to 370,132, Closer fell below the half million mark with a decline of 7.5 per cent.
The women's lifestyle division was only slightly more resilient, with Yours bucking the pervading trend by increasing its circulation by 3 per cent to 293,016 amid small declines for Grazia and More! with 224,421 copies and 188,265 respectively.
The collapse of the men's market has devastated Zoo, which lost nearly a third of its circulation, and there were further double-digit falls for both FHM and Empire - an eye-watering 23.3 per cent and 11.1 per cent respectively. These now stand at 177,261 and 172,639.
Keenan says: "The ABC focuses on just one - albeit important - facet of a modern magazine brand and advertisers are increasingly seeing our brands as conduits and channels for multi-layered conversations with their customers.
"Entertaining and informing on the page, online, on the move and - in some important markets - on air, Bauer's brands are increasing their reach, engagement and influence with high-value customers.
"Our magazines sit at the heart of this dynamic system and despite unprecedented tough times on the high street, they continue to be purchased in their millions."
It can only be hoped that this year's Royal weddings, or a celebrity baby boom, injects some life into the celebrity market that also saw OK! suffer.
Now that it has finally managed to offload the perennially sickly Loaded, a reading of the runes from IPC Media was a rather more positive experience. Across its women's lifestyle, homes and TV titles there were increases, while all seven of its homes magazines recorded year on year uplifts, perhaps reflecting that the recession has made people revert "to more traditional pursuits" as its chief executive, Sylvia Auton, believes.
Total magazine sales stood at 6,562,956 copies, down just 1.1 per cent on the previous year.
In its Southbank division, Essentials was a particular highlight, posting a 12.7 per cent increase year on year to 126,379 copies, making it the monthly lifestyle sector's fastest-growing title, while Woman & Home recorded a 4.7 per cent increase to 385,800.
Jackie Newcombe, the IPC Southbank managing director, says: "During the past two decades there have been so many women's monthly launches that it is quite remarkable to realise that Woman & Home now enjoys a higher circulation than it had 15 years ago. I doubt there is a single other title in the market that can make that boast. For Essentials this is the fourth consecutive period that it has been the sector's fastest-growing title."
Wallpaper* grew 3.1 per cent to 108,250 copies.
On the other side of the ledger book there was a 19.6 per cent fall for Nuts to 142,212, which was not as bad as that of its Bauer rival Zoo but still makes for uncomfortable reading, while NME, Pick Me Up, Now, Rugby World and Golf Monthly also suffered double-digit declines. The women's mass-market titles, therefore, proved to be a mixed bag. Its shooting portfolio of The Field, Country Life and Shooting Times & Country Magazine proved resilient, however.
THE NATIONAL MAGAZINE COMPANY
With the world still waiting for the deal between NatMag's owner, Hearst Corporation, and the owner of Hachette Filipacchi, Lagardere, to go through, the next ABCs for the merged entity could be very different. But for now, NatMag put through a creditable performance, recording a circulation of 3,112,939, down 2.4 per cent year on year.
In particular, its Good Housekeeping put in a strong performance up 3.2 per cent year on year to 443,750 copies while Harper's Bazaar recorded its highest-ever ABC showing, increasing circulation by 8.2 per cent on the same period last year to 119,712. Country Living was also strong, increasing by 4 per cent to 205,770,
Esquire proved to be stable in a fluctuating market with a total circulation of 59,382, while Cosmopolitan looked a little lacklustre recording a 6.9 per cent year-onyear decrease to 400,575. Prima Baby had a shocker, falling 23.2 per cent and NatMag is refusing to accept the ABC for Prima, following a spat with the body over multipacking rules, claiming that its circulation actually increased to 297,000 rather than fell 6.9 per cent to 268,421.
Arnaud de Puyfontaine, the chief executive, credited the publisher's weekly titles for bucking the downward trend. "The strength of our brands also allows us to take advantage of cross-platform innovations and new revenue streams, and provides us with a firm foundation for the future growth of the company," he says.
While change could be imminent at BBC Magazines, with publishers thought to be lining up £100 million offers for the business, it remained focused and posted a 0.5 per cent increase in sales across its titles.
That said, advertisers might be concerned that its flagship titles Radio Times, BBC Top Gear Magazine and BBC Good Food all posted significant falls in circulation.
Radio Times saw its circulation eroded by 4 per cent and its publisher must be wondering if it will ever hit the one million average circulation mark again (its ABC figure was 960,839). Top Gear Magazine's circulation fell by 4.6 per cent to 191,539 while Good Food was down 5.5 per cent to 332,198.
There was more encouraging news for Olive, the lifestyle food title, which recorded a 2.9 per cent increase in circulation to reach an average of 96,034. BBC History Magazine was among the publisher's star performers with a 7.2 per cent rise to an average circulation of 69, 353. And the publisher continued with its strategy of building titles on the back of successful BBC TV shows with BBC Who Do You Think You Are? posting a circulation of 22,373.
Peter Phippen, the managing director of BBC Magazines, says: "The market - and the weather - have proved to be challenging to magazine publishers over the past six months but BBC Magazines' brands have shown resilience."
Hats off to Conde Nast for attempting to introduce some creativity into a drab magazine scene with wheezes such as the launch of a newsagent next to its offices and this week's 15th birthday party for Vogue.com. Otherwise, the publisher was left to talk about a rise in subscriptions of 9 per cent despite an overall average circulation decline of 1.8 per cent across its titles.
The glossy titles Vogue and GQ recorded stable circulations. GQ was static on an average circulation of 120,087, while Vogue's circulation rose by 0.4 per cent to 211,277.
Tatler and Wired both recorded circulation increases (of 1.1 per cent and 3.7 per cent respectively) but the publisher's biggest-selling title, Glamour, suffered a 2.9 per cent decline in its circulation. However, the monthly magazine's average circulation remains above the half a million mark at 500,591.
Conde Nast's monthly women's title Easy Living also continued its pattern of shedding readers, posting a circulation of 160,061, down by 5.9 per cent. House & Garden's circulation declined by 2.8 per cent while World of Interiors and Vanity Fair showed small increases.
Nicholas Coleridge, the Conde Nast managing director, says that, despite difficult economic times, the ad market for its titles has proved resilient: "Commercially, after double-digit growth in advertising pages last year, we're seeing a continuing bounce in 2011."
PUBLISHERS RANKED BY THEIR TOTAL ABCS
Publisher Total ABC Year-on-year Period-on-period
% change % change
IPC Media 6,562,956 -1.1 15.4
Bauer Consumer Media 3,569,610 -8.6 26.8
NatMag 3,112,939 -2.4 2.0
BBC Worldwide 3,110,197 0.5 5.5
H Bauer 2,969,968 -1.9 0.1
Conde Nast 1,566,536 -1.8 1.7
Northern & Shell 1,443,554 -14.1 -3.6
Future Publishing 1,300,553 -6.9 n/a
Shortlist Media 945,820 2.4 0.07
Hachette Filipacchi 887,009 0.1 0.05
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations, July-December 2010
Circulation 2010 210,204
Circulation 2009 189,201
% change 11.1
The sluggish UK economy, combined with international political and social unrest, has fuelled the thirst for news and current affairs magazines. While the domestic sector was up 2.4 per cent, The Economist proved to be the star performer breaching the 200,000 mark for the first time.
Circulation: 2010 126,379
Circulation: 2009 112,135
% change: 12.7
IPC's lifestyle monthly for "modern, suburban women" posted the largest circulation increase for the six months to December 2010 and year on year. Its initiative to use real women as cover models can, therefore, be judged to be a success.
TOTAL TV GUIDE
Circulation: 2010 121,379
Circulation: 2009 110,748
% change: 9.6
Despite operating in a crowded market, H Bauer's Total TV Guide reported the biggest increases both year on year and period on period. While this makes it a relative minnow compared with its big sister TV Choice (which was up 4.6 per cent to 1,362,384 copies), Bauer believes there is further growth to come.
Circulation: 2010 443,750
Circulation: 2009 430,089
% change: 3.2
NatMag's Good Housekeeping has now become the tenth biggest-selling magazine in the UK and has recorded its highest ABC since the July-December 2007 period. Subscriptions stand at 219,416, while it performed strongly at the newsstand with sales up 5.1 per cent year on year.
Circulation: 2010 231,028
Circulation: 2009 226,502
% change: 2.0
Red, which relaunched its website at the end of last year, kept its lead against its rival in the thirtysomething market, Conde Nast's Easy Living. A more judicious use of covermounts seems to have been a success - Red had just one in the latest period, a Neal's Yard moisturiser in its September issue.
Circulation: 2010 68,610
Circulation: 2009 102,043
% change: -32.8
The death of the age of the lad has been a protracted one, but Zoo's loss of nearly one-third of its circulation was still startling. Quite whether a planned revamp that includes a cut in the nipple count will resurrect it will be interesting to see.
Circulation: 2010 49,448
Circulation: 2009 71,251
% change: -30.6
A change of ownership - IPC offloaded the title to Vitality in October - couldn't prevent the lads' sector's trailblazing title continue to nosedive, slipping below the crucial 50,000 mark. Vitality needs to come up with a plan and fast.
Circulation: 2010 450,946
Circulation: 2009 588,546
% change: -23.4
There was bad news across the board for Richard Desmond's stable of celebrity titles, suggesting a deep malaise in the market most evident by Bauer's Heat losing nearly 20 per cent of its readers. OK! was hit by the biggest fall year on year - down 23.4 per cent.
Circulation: 2010 32,166
Circulation: 2009 38,486
% change: -16.4
From a high of 76,792 five years ago, NME's decline has been startling and it is in danger of slipping out of the top ten film and music titles. Too much of a focus on digital extensions might be to blame for a decline in its core magazine product.
Circulation: 2010 400,575
Circulation: 2009 430,353
% change: -6.9
Despite a relatively stable women's glossies market, Cosmopolitan performed relatively poorly, particularly in contrast to its direct rival, Conde Nast's Glamour, which has increased its lead over Cosmo from 93,000 to 109,000, despite experiencing a 2.9 per cent fall over the year.