The story for magazines in 2009 had a happier ending than many anticipated. There are even murmurings of sales stabilisation - news that must be as surprising as it is welcome for publishing houses. Though the headline figures are far from the full story, the encouraging signs from the Audit Bureau of Circulations last week are worth celebrating, considering the myriad pressures on the print medium in 2009.
PPA figures showed a decline in the total number of actively purchased sales of 1.8 per cent across 2009, compared with 2008. However, the period-on-period increase of 1.3 per cent in the second half indicated an improvement in the market. Distribution of customer magazines rose 6 per cent on 2008, according to the Association of Publishing Agencies' analysis of the ABC figures.
Despite overall circulation declines for most major publishers during 2009, Andy Taylor, the head of magazines at Carat, is positive about the future: "Titles with heritage and editorial quality remain strong and retain their position."
Taylor also notes that subscription sales, previously a cause for concern, are marginally up: "I think people were expecting it to be a positive set of results but it's exceeded my expectations. Magazines have come out of the year and scored a solid eight out of ten."
The women's glossy titles, which made room for a new launch last year in the shape of the free weekly Stylist, came out of the ABCs remarkably unscathed, with not one double-digit fall. The men's lifestyle sector, on the other hand, had notable losses, mostly among the usual suspects at the more laddish end. But it wasn't the extreme haemorrhaging of readers we've seen in recent times (even Loaded, though heavily down on the year, stemmed its losses and only fell 2 per cent in the second half).
Sales of business, news and current affairs titles continued an inexorable rise with the circulation of Private Eye at an 18-year high, prompting its editor, Ian Hislop, to quip that the figures were like John Terry's shorts: "In the past they may have been down - but now they are firmly up again." And the former England captain's exploits should keep the celebrity titles in business for another few months - the public's desire for gossip is seemingly unquenchable, with Northern & Shell's OK! still cashing in on its celebrity exclusives.
However, notably in the celebrity sector, the thorny issue of multi-packing raised its head. OK!'s sister titles New! and Star showed significant rises, with Star seeing growth of 83 per cent thanks, rivals say, to multipacking with OK!. Multipacking was also the cause of a pre-ABC spat between Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. While a common marketing strategy for publishing houses, there have been growing accusations that this tactic is overused in a bid to enhance headline ABC figures.
Sectors that didn't fare well in the latest set of ABC figures included music and motoring - seemingly still taking a hit from readers' migration to online.
IPC Media had a patchy set of results. There were bright spots in the women's market with Woman & Home (up 4.3 per cent) and Essentials (up 13.9 per cent), offset by poor performances elsewhere from NME (down 20.6 per cent) and Nuts (down 24.4 per cent).
Fortunes for IPC's men's titles weren't all bad, with Loaded possibly turning a corner, while the publisher is still continuing to invest in Nuts with a new redesign and a £500,000 marketing campaign.
And IPC will have been relieved to see Marie Claire's sales virtually flat period on period, after investing in a major relaunch under the editor, Trish Halpin, to reconnect with readers after declines in sales.
The publishing house, under its chief executive, Evelyn Webster, has been streamlining of late. It restructured at the end of 2009, folding its TV listings arm into its mass-market women's division, IPC Connect. IPC Ignite, the men's lifestyle and music division, moved into the specialist leisure division, IPC Inspire. The move was an effort to create a "market-facing" structure, and saw Ignite's managing director, Eric Fuller, depart.
The company can take heart from its female-focused titles, with Wedding and Woman's Weekly showing gains. TV listings mags were mixed, however: TV Times, TV & Satellite Week and What's On TV were largely flat, with big drops for TV Easy and Soaplife.
IPC continues to invest in print and launched the monthly cookery magazine Goodtoknow Recipes, a spin-off from the IPC online portal for women, Goodtoknow.co.uk. Digital was also a focus, with the launch of a free digital photography magazine. Webster also intends to increasingly invest in experiential marketing for titles, such as Look, which is hosting its own fashion show at London Fashion Week.
She says: "We base everything we do on consumer insight. We focus our resources on creating premium quality, trusted content. Together, those two things will ensure we sell more copies on the newsstand."
Webster underlines the fact that her company's strategy is to create content that readers will pay full price for "in the midst of a market of price cuts and discounts".
She adds: "They are a strong set of results on what has been a tough year for everyone. I am particularly pleased with Woman & Home and Essentials. The result really does reflect the strength of the editors and the editorial proposition."
Bauer Consumer Media's performance was broadly in line with the market and the publisher also attempted to talk up its investment in radio, internet and mobile.
There was some good news for Bauer in that its celebrity weeklies Closer and Heat seemed to halt a pattern of decline, with period-on-period sales increases of 1.7 per cent and 3.1 per cent respectively. With a new editor, Sam Delaney, seemingly settling in at Heat, the title's circulation was down 2.5 per cent year on year to 458,858 in the face of some aggressive marketing tactics from OK!.
Impressive performers for Bauer included the film title Empire, which boosted its year-on-year circulation by 2.4 per cent to 194,239 as cinema enjoyed a strong 2009, and the weekly glossy Grazia, which added 1.1 per cent to its circulation to reach 229,732. And the publisher's perseverance with the fortnightly title More! appears to be paying off, with a 6.4 per cent year-on-year increase to 192,860.
However, FHM and Zoo continued to suffer with a revamped FHM slowing but not altogether halting a sales decline. The title's circulation fell 15.2 per cent year on year but just 1.6 per cent period on period. Zoo's circulation fell 29.9 per cent year on year to 102,043, and though Emap remains committed to the title, launching a less "laddish" entertainment format under the new editor, Tom Etherington, its future success as a brand could be tied to its success online.
Paul Keenan, the chief executive of Bauer Consumer Media, comments: "In 2009, quality magazines generated quality revenues ...
our advertising partners can amplify and extend that conversation through our radio, internet and mobile phone properties."
The weeklies division H Bauer saw its new food title, Eat In, debuting with a circulation of 22,173, while the traditional women's weekly Bella posted a 12.9 per cent year-on-year sales increase to reach a circulation of 253,001.
While sales of TV Choice declined by 4.9 per cent to 1,302,382, the title remains the UK's top-selling consumer magazine, extending its lead above IPC's What's On TV. Liz Watkinson, the publishing director of H Bauer's TV listings titles, says that high levels of TV viewing have helped some titles maintain sales: "These magazines continue to have an important role to play at the heart of family life."
The National Magazine Company
The National Magazine Company, under the chief executive, Arnaud de Puyfontaine, put in a strong performance with several titles showing gains. The publisher's portfolio demonstrated stability, which rival Conde Nast sought to undermine with finger-wagging at the NatMag multipacking of magazines such as Harper's Bazaar, which posted an impressive 14th consecutive rise in circulation. Tess Macleod-Smith, the luxury group publishing director for NatMag, rebutted Conde Nast's accusation that Harper's was dragging its audience downmarket through a multi-pack with Coast and She. Macleod-Smith says the practice allowed Harper's to reach a wider audience of upmarket, high disposable income females.
NatMag-Rodale's Men's Health increased its lead at the top of the men's market, while Reveal, the celebrity weekly title now edited by Jane Ennis, boosted sales by 22.6 per cent to 330,911. However, Cosmopolitan dropped circulation and She also saw a significant fall of 9.1 per cent over the year but rallied in the second half. NatMag will be hoping She's new editor, Claire Irvin, who joined from Grazia in December, will continue to turn around the title's fortunes.
De Puyfontaine is bringing steady change to the publisher's operations and, so far, has staved off dramatic cost-cutting at the company. However, NatMag has parted ways with its managing director of eight years, Jessica Burley. It remains unclear whether she will be replaced but the publisher recently announced it is bringing its search and contextual ad sales in-house and launching its own classified ad network, in a bid to increase ad revenues and yields.
NatMag continues to invest in print, with plans to launch the biannual style title The High Street Edit, a spin-off of Company, with a print run of more than 100,000. In addition, one-off super-sized and hardback editions of Harper's Bazaar and the men's title Esquire appeared in September last year.
De Puyfontaine says that he wants to grow the core business and believes that diversifying and creating multimedia platforms for titles is the key to success. He comments: "The market is beginning to recover and publishers who reinvent themselves, invest in innovation and cross-platform opportunities are well placed to ride out the financial storm.
"NatMag continues to show resilience and strength in what have been difficult trading conditions. Our portfolio is outperforming the tough magazine market, subscriptions have increased, advertisers continue to invest in our titles and we have grown market share in many sectors. It shows our readers remain loyal and our brands continue to attract new audiences."
It was a relatively strong 2009 for the BBC's portfolio of titles, with overall circulation declines a fraction of the market's and growth in the second half of the year of 8.1 per cent. The publisher's top seller, the Radio Times, fitted into this circulation pattern with a year-on-year sales decline of 2.2 per cent to 1,000, 648 but a second period sales increase of 3.6 per cent. BBC Magazines, led by its managing director, Peter Phippen, says that the arrival of Ben Preston as the editor of the Radio Times has led to a "reinvigoration" of the title.
Fortunes for the publisher's food titles were mixed, with Olive one of its star performers after posting a year-on-year circulation rise of 4.9 per cent to 93,330. The flagship food title Good Food was down 2.3 per cent year on year to 351,430.
Despite declines among other motoring titles, Top Gear maintained its circulation (which rose by 0.02 per cent or an average of 40 copies) at 200,796. The recently arrived editor, Conor McNicholas, will hope to capitalise on the success of the brand during 2010.
The flagship gardening title Gardener's World remained relatively stable, posting a circulation of 216,936, down 1.9 per cent year on year, while the relaunched Lonely Planet, which the BBC controversially acquired in 2007, increased its circulation by 10.7 per cent period on period (a year-on-year comparison was unavailable) to 45,052.
Phippen says that while the recession has hit ad revenues, it has had little impact on circulation: "Our strategy is, and has been for many years, to invest in long-term marketing, excellent editorial content and good value for money. We're not into bulking and short-term promotions but in building a long-term franchise."
The sophisticates of Vogue House managed to hold their own during 2009, with overall circulation strengthening in the second half. And although it is based in an office around the corner from its stablemates, Conde Nast's launch title Wired posted a first ABC of 48,275, on-track to reach its target of 50,000 within a year of launch.
Conde Nast's strongest performer was Vanity Fair, which posted a record UK circulation of 102,421, a year-on-year rise of 1.2 per cent. This was due to an increase in newsstand sales in the second half of the year of 17 per cent.
The flagship fashion title Vogue suffered a 4.5 per cent year-on-year fall in circulation to 210,526 as the downturn hit even the most eminent of titles. However, Conde Nast can point to an improved performance in the second half, which saw overall sales flatten out and newsstand sales rise by 6 per cent.
Although Glamour maintained its position as the number one women's lifestyle title, its circulation fell by 5.9 per cent to 515,281. And while Easy Living's circulation decline of 8.1 per cent showed that the mature end of the women's market was not immune to the downturn, Tatler celebrated the end of its 300th anniversary year with an overall 0.3 per cent increase in circulation to 86,345.
At the premium end of the homes sector, House & Garden's circulation was down 6.6 per cent over 2009 but rose slightly during the second period to reach 130,777, while World Of Interiors was down by 6 per cent across the year but halted this decline in the second half to record 62,032.
Conde Nast's strategy of launching occasional fashion specials continued to provide revenue as the biannual title Love published its third issue and GQ Style attracted advertisers to the men's brand.
2009 also saw Conde Nast increase its investment in the digital side of its business with the promotion of Wired's publisher, Jamie Jouning, to the new role of publisher of Conde Nast Digital Britain in a bid to increase revenues from its online operations.
Nicholas Coleridge, the managing director of Conde Nast, says: "Almost all of our super glossy titles have seen growth in the past six months. It is further evidence of the strength of quality magazines, even in a nasty recession."
PUBLISHERS RANKED BY THEIR TOTAL ABCs
PUBLISHER Total ABC Period-on-period Year-on-year
% change % change
IPC Media 7,012,378 18.1 -6.4
Bauer Consumer Media 3,925,611 31.3 -5.2
H Bauer 3,453,374 7.9 -4.8
The National Magazine Company 3,190,936 6.1 1.3
BBC Magazines 3,095,278 8.1 -1.3
Northern & Shell 1,681,354 27.6 37.8
Conde Nast 1,595,364 6.5 -2.1
Future Publishing 1,413,715 602.2 -7.0
Hachette Filipacchi 1,027,498 -0.5 -4.7
Dennis Publishing 750,802 73.7 -3.7
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations, July-December 2009
FIVE RECESSION-BEATING TITLES
Circulation: Dec 2009 194,239
Circulation: Dec 2008 189,619
Year-on-year: % change +2.4
Bauer's film title had a good 2009 as it celebrated its 20th anniversary in style with an issue guest-edited by Steven Spielberg. A blockbusting year for cinema helped the title, which ran a series of special covers around films including Avatar.
Circulation: Dec 2009 588,546
Circulation: Dec 2008 508,504
Year-on-year: % change +15.7
Northern & Shell's celebrity title was boosted, according to some, by various "multi-bagged" issues that also contained copies of its sister titles New! and Star. Nonetheless, its continued success shows an undimmed demand for celebrity news.
Circulation: Dec 2009 71,242
Circulation: Dec 2008 70,188
Year-on-year: % change +1.5
Future's title swam against a rather difficult tide in the music sector by delivering a strong set of figures for 2009. While its sister title Metal Hammer had a tough year, Classic Rock's boost in sales provides some hope for publishers of music titles.
Circulation Dec: 2009 169,690
Circulation: Dec 2008 154,512
Year-on-year: % change +9.8
Dennis Publishing's weekly news digest continued its remarkable run of circulation growth by posting both year-on-year and period-on-period increases. News and current affairs magazine publishing seemed a good sector to be in during 2009.
Circulation: Dec 2009 184,141
Circulation: Dec 2008 180,987
Year-on-year: % change +1.7
The women's lifestyle sector proved to be surprisingly resilient last year and IPC's glossy, which appointed Eilidh MacAskill as the editor at the start of 2009, did better than most as investment in the title's content paid off with an increased circulation.
This article was first published on Campaign