MEDIA: The magazine sector is back with a vengeance

Cherie Blair guest edits Prima!. Punch comes back like Lazarus from the grave - if only to send us all to sleep. The political classes chatter about why The Spectator has gone off the boil but how the New Statesman is more interesting than it’s been for 20 years. And every magazine company, large, small and embryonic, either has new products on the market, or advanced plans for them.

Cherie Blair guest edits Prima!. Punch comes back like Lazarus from the

grave - if only to send us all to sleep. The political classes chatter

about why The Spectator has gone off the boil but how the New Statesman

is more interesting than it’s been for 20 years. And every magazine

company, large, small and embryonic, either has new products on the

market, or advanced plans for them.



Eat Soup! targets foodie lads, Minx aims at Loaded girls, Wallpaper woos

urban loft-living wannabes, Here! cheers up office workers with cruel

pictures of overweight celebrities. The sector is going through a period

of expansion of a kind not seen since the 1980s - and this time

companies such as IPC, Conde Nast and National Magazines are taking

part, rather than being outflanked by newcomers.



The interesting question is why it is happening now. The economic

reasons are fairly obvious - print prices have stabilised then dipped,

cover prices are firm and advertising is rising at around double the

rate of inflation, with upmarket glossies benefiting even more. The

industry emerged from the 1990/92 recession in good shape, having

learned tough lessons about keeping in touch with readers rather than

relying on advertisers: despite the casualties, there are still 360 more

consumer titles on sale than ten years ago.



Furthermore, it is striking how well magazines are performing. In the

five years between 1990 and 1995, magazine sales rose by 65 million

copies a year, compared with newspapers (down 421 million), average

radio listening (down an hour per week), and television viewing (dropped

eight minutes, although, to be fair, during 1996 the viewing started to

recover as multi-channel choice spread).



Vast new markets have been opened up. Nearly six out of every ten men

now read a magazine. I think this is because, for all their reliance on

oldish technology and distribution networks, magazines can be niche

products carefully geared to specific groups, in a way that newspapers

simply cannot. They are tuned into the same imperatives which are

powering the move into 500-channel television. And their structure, of

having small central editing staffs commissioning in material fashioned

to individual publication’s needs, is very cost-effective - newspapers

are only bumbling towards this solution.



They can also home in selectively on single editorial strands, and spin

off subsidiary editions with little risk: Zest and GQActive are all part

of this recipe for organic growth pioneered by Elle in the late 1980s,

but temporarily stalled by recession.



Now magazines are on the verge of being able to transfer their brands

and content to cable and satellite programmes. It’s a natural fit. Punch

for the Mogadon channel?



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