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?