ABC results show overall circulation decline but success for some sectors

Richard Stuart-Turner
Friday, August 12, 2016

Consumer magazine circulation figures are down overall but some sectors and titles are still showing notable growth, according to the latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

The figures, released yesterday (11 August), show that overall circulation – including both print and digital editions - fell by an average of 5.3% in the first six months of the year, with the majority of audited titles losing circulation year-on-year. Print-only circulation for the period fell by 5.83% year-on-year.

Among the hardest hit sectors once again was women’s weeklies, the biggest loser being Heat, which saw both its print and combined totals fall by more than 22% year-on-year, with its overall circulation figure standing at 144,074.

Also falling significantly were Now, down 21% combined to 109,661, and OK! Magazine, down 11.8% combined to 176,386. The sector’s best performing title, Take A Break, fell 7.6% year-on-year to 562,412.

Lucy Hubbard, publishing account director at media agency Vizeum, said this sector is having to adapt to changing media consumption methods to keep up: “In terms of celebrity news, you can generally get a lot of that sort of content quicker online nowadays.

“A lot of the weeklies are now investing quite a lot in social media, video content and events so it’s not just the print number that’s the be-all and end-all for them although it is obviously our trading currency.”

Glossies had a more mixed fortune, with the best performer in the sector being Cosmopolitan, which saw print circulation rise by 60% to 407,010 after reducing its cover price to £1 and giving away 100,000 copies for free.

“This monitored free activity seems to be happening quite a lot. Elle and Esquire are also doing it and The Week do sampling at stations, which I think is clever because you have to applaud someone who tries to reach readers in a different way,” said Hubbard.

“It will be interesting to see if other publishers pick up on that as it seems that only a few are doing it at the moment.”

The majority of 'freemium' titles bucked the general decline by posting small growth figures, with Shortlist up 0.7% year-on-year to 505,876, Stylist up 0.3% to 404,408 and Time Out up 0.3% to 308,989.

“There have been new freemium launches in the period. For example Coach [reporting a first circulation of 300,997] has got its first set of numbers out and it’s interesting to see some of the more traditional monthlies are maybe seeing the effect of something like Coach launching into the market,” said Hubbard.

Many news and current affairs titles saw a small spike – with Private Eye up 0.8% year-on-year to 230,099, The Week up by 0.7% to 204,197 and the UK edition of The Economist jumping 3.7% to 236,342 - though Hubbard expected larger increases in the sector due to the EU Referendum.

“That market is normally quite stable anyway and I expected a lot of people to turn to it more over the Referendum but I think a lot of people went to newspapers, whose online figures were through the roof – in some cases 400% or 500% more than what they would normally be.”

She added: “It seems that for the more immediate insight people were going online specifically but for more in-depth coverage people were maintaining their readership of those titles.”

Michael Brunt, chief marketing officer and managing director of circulation at The Economist, noted the title has also seen a 15% growth in paid digital subscriptions, which has enabled it to cut 100,000 free bulk print copies from its circulation.

“Now, every copy of The Economist we sell is profitable, ensuring our editorial independence is secured for the future,” said Brunt.

“This impressive growth in paid subscriptions demonstrates that demand for quality journalism is on the rise in a world overshadowed by low-quality free content.”

The most successful title in the six-month period was Asda’s Good Living, though its circulation was down 6.7% year-on-year at 1,969,160. Tesco Magazine was flat year-on-year and just behind on 1,956,827 and Waitrose Food was fifth with 695,858, down 0.4% year-on-year.

Completing the top five were TV Choice in third place, with circulation down 3.4% year-on-year to 1,232,038, and What’s On TV in fourth - the only title in the top five with a digital edition - down 7% year-on-year to 945,252. Its print edition, which contributed 943,512 of that figure, was down 6.9% year-on-year.

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