"Recession? What recession?" booms the voice of one magazine head as he's quizzed about how he's managed to make his business recession-proof.
Certainly, bulging magazine shelves with new titles constantly vying for attention back up his claim.
So, beneath the gloss and the glamour, are things really as good as they seem? Have magazines introduced new revenue streams to paper over gaps in advertising? Or have magazines gone back to basics and focused on making their magazines succeed?
Four years ago there was much talk about the money that could be made spinning magazine brands on to the web, as well as the opportunities of extending brands into everything from credit cards to yoghurts. IPC Media sank £40 million into its online operation, IPC Electric, and The National Magazine Company kicked off UK.Women.com. Within six weeks of launching the latter, NatMags pulled out, and IPC Electric is no more, after being reabsorbed into the relevant magazine departments. And there's still no sign of Cosmo yoghurts.
The false confidence created by the dotcom boom and the impact of fallout from TV and other media taught the magazine industry that it should stick to what it knows best. Duncan Edwards, the managing director of NatMags, says: "Dotcoms and telecoms didn't use consumer magazine advertising, so we have stuck to our knitting and built relationships with the big FMCG companies."
Georgina Crace, the advertising director of IPC Media, has sought to buck the trend, ramping up IPC's advertising operations to fortify the company against a tougher market. "We split corporate sales in two with key accounts and business development when the recession was on the horizon. We needed to invest more in developing partnerships and creating advertising solutions, and it paid off. We were able to offer clients flexible, creative solutions and tailor advertising packages," she says.
Speaking to the heads of magazine houses, there appear to be few chinks in the magazine armour. Nicholas Coleridge, the managing director of Conde Nast, declares: "In advertising terms, we are 299 pages ahead of last year, which represents growth of 2.5 per cent year on year. Last year itself was a record year. So the big picture is that we have seen no slowdown and are very lucky not to be in newspapers. Fashion advertisers are way off pulling out of Vogue because it says something bad about them."
For Conde Nast, the launch of Glamour at a time when other media were wringing their hands over the impact of an economic downturn turned the perfect trick. Coleridge observes: "One doesn't normally choose to launch a magazine into a recession but, for us, it was perfect and has made a positive impact on the bottom line." And with its phenomenal success, it seems to have reinvigorated the glossies market, with other titles copying the handbag-sized format in the hope of boosting sales.
Emap Consumer Magazines' chief executive, Paul Keenan, says that focusing on magazine growth rather than looking at brand extensions outside magazines is essential. "In a market like this, Emap is well positioned to take market share because we are focusing our energy and cash resources into winning share battles, which is fundamental to our future. We are investing significantly in celebrity, men's performance and youth titles so we have a large number of assets and we will make sure that those titles that can win share have the resource to do it."
Ian Locks, the chief executive of the Periodical Publishers' Association, says that magazines may be more expensive than other media, but the ability to target niche sectors of consumers makes them a popular alternative when advertisers are watching every penny of their shrinking marketing budget. He adds: "It's the new brands that attract the interest and that's a long-term feature of magazines. One new title is launched every day."
But is blood being shed behind magazine doors? Media agency press experts say that not all magazine titles are brimming over with good fortune, but as a whole the industry has held up very well. Tim McCloskey, a managing partner at OMD UK, says: "Magazines aren't doing as badly as some other media. They are often the last ones into recession and the last ones out." Steve Goodman, MediaCom's head of press, adds: "Some sectors are holding up well, such as the weeklies market, while others, such as home interest, are struggling."
The key to holding up while other media are down is the magazine industry's ability to adapt its offer to an advertiser. McCloskey states: "Magazines are very flexible in terms of their advertising. They can do product placement, promotions, advertorials, supplements and inserts as well as offering pages of advertising. They have five or six weapons in their armoury that other media can't do."
The fact that magazines can pull so many different tricks out of the hat means they have been rewarded for their loyalty. McCloskey says: "Magazines have pretty strong client relationships and maybe they have a more unique role on schedules, with better aftercare than on other competitive media. They are certainly doing a lot more direct selling to advertisers."
Looking at advertising spend in the main magazine sectors across January and February 2001-2003, the medium has chalked up a respectable rate of growth. The only category that saw a fall in advertising in the first two months of this year is one of the smallest, music titles, which fell just under 6 per cent.
While magazine publishers have concentrated on building circulation and ad revenue, some have also developed other revenue streams. Conde Nast now has eight titles in its contract publishing division, and is producing more supplements and magazine fairs.
Emap has managed to turn a profit on some of its websites, while the first Cosmopolitan Spirit cafe and beauty bar has just opened in Manchester.
None of these activities would be enough to stave off any real shortfall in main revenues. So the decision by magazine publishers to stick to what they know best appears to have paid dividends.
MAGAZINES' SHARE OF ADSPEND
2002 2001 2000 1999 1998
pounds pounds pounds pounds pounds
All display 8,478.5m 8,499.5m 9,167m 8,422m 7,924m
Consumer titles 7.31% 7.30% 6.46% 6.71% 6.98%
us. and prof. titles 7.19% 8.06% 8.27% 8.86% 9.54%
Source: Advertising Association.
This article was first published on Campaign