Magazine sector finds ways to buck the trend

By Simon Creasey, Monday 25 June 2018

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When women’s fashion and celebrity weekly title Look published its last ever issue last month the publication dedicated an entire page listing its rivals and implored its readers “if you have a top read, go out and buy it, otherwise the closure of our beloved brands will continue”.


Look launched in 2007 and at its peak was selling 300,000 copies a week. However, the title’s latest ABC figures to the end of December last year showed its circulation had dropped to just over 51,000 and in the six month period to the end of 2017 it endured a 37% decline in year-on-year sales. 

On announcing the closure the magazine’s owner Time Inc cited changes in how readers consume media, with increasing numbers accessing information via websites or social media, often for free. 

Look isn’t an isolated example. The last decade or so has been a particularly bloody period for consumer magazine publishers, with many rationalising their portfolio of titles by either shuttering them completely, reducing the frequency of their publication or turning them into online only entities. On the flipside, over the same period there has been an increase in launches of short-run magazines published on high-quality stock that have gained traction with readers. And some long-standing titles such as Private Eye and The Spectator have seen a revival in sales.

New model market

So what’s going on in today’s magazine sector and how are publishers adapting to the new ways in which readers are consuming information that traditionally would have just involved putting ink on paper?

If you look at the cold hard statistics you wouldn’t think that the vast majority of publishers active in the magazine sector have been in the doldrums of late. As Owen Meredith, director of external affairs at the PPA points out: “The shape of the industry is as dynamic as it’s ever been. Last year there were more than 400 launches – that shows you the market is still active and excited about magazine media and print content as well as digital content.” 

Meredith’s assessment of the market is underscored by data from PAMCo, which produces readership estimates. According to PAMCo, 68% of the UK population (aged 15 and over) consume magazine media across all platforms, 88% of magazine readers believe that reading magazine content is time well spent and 80% trust what they read in their magazines, which shows they have huge engagement with the brands they are consuming. 

That’s not to say the market isn’t challenging. Meredith admits that if you analyse ABC data it’s clear there has been an overall decline in print circulations, but he says there have also been some great success stories.

Vogue’s relaunch issue under a new editor had some great numbers as did Hello’s most recent issues around the royal wedding. People still turn to print magazines to get their news, information, gossip and whatever else they are looking for,” he says. 

Alfie Lewis, publishing director, contract and branded content at special interest content and platform company Immediate Media, is equally bullish about the future prospects of the sector. 

“Across the market it is clear that print magazines continue to attract readers and their spending with total sales for magazines at retail last year amounting to just under £1bn, despite a 4% space erosion at retail,” says Lewis. “If you add subscription and then the free sector, the numbers are higher still and at Immediate our paid print subscriptions business is one of our most robust and stable revenue streams. 

“Newsstand sales revenue, too, is stable, up 1% on last year. New launches are the lifeblood of the industry and last year there were almost 500; and at Immediate we continue to launch new print products, especially in the children’s market, which is especially encouraging for the future, and in the area of specials and bookazines.”

Another brand that is currently pumping out new titles and seeing its sales revenue and circulation thrive is global affairs and lifestyle magazine Monocle. Anders Braso, publisher at Monocle, admits that the UK market is “challenging and volatile”, but the monthly title is on newstands in 60 markets globally and is enjoying “considerable growth” in places such as North America, south east Asia, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France.

Monocle is bucking the trend in a declining market; in fact, Monocle has more readers globally than ever and continues to grow and flourish,” says Braso. “Our latest audited circulation figure (Jul-Dec 2017), 84,286, represents a growth of 5% year-on-year. On newsstands globally, Monocle grew 14% year-on-year.”

The outlook is equally as rosy for the automotive titles at Haymarket, according to Rachael Prasher, managing director of Haymarket Automotive, but for entirely different reasons.

“There are pockets of specialist magazines that are still performing well in print because their audience is nowhere near digitally far forward,” says Prasher. 

“A really good example of that in our case is a title like Classic & Sports Car, which is remarkably robust on the newsstand because people largely want to get their copy through the post and pore through the huge amount of content, and particularly the classified content, which still works better in print than it does online. Also it’s a market where the move to online has been very slow. The ABC on Classic & Sports Car is still 60,000, which for a relatively narrow subject is very strong.”

One of the big areas of focus for Haymarket Automotive has been building the subscriber base by offering special content as part of subscription bundles.

“Whilst newsstand is still really important to us and very profitable in most cases our focus has really been on subscriptions because that’s something we can better control and then you’re really targeting your core audience who are very engaged with the brand,” says Prasher.

This idea of publishers building a much deeper engagement with readers of their magazines is something that Meredith has also detected. 

“You’re seeing more publishers describing their customers as ‘members’ and offering a membership package, rather than a subscription, with the different perks and offers that come with that,” he says. 

Monocle is one of the best examples of a title that has gone beyond the traditional relationship a magazine used to have with its readers. Its innovative approach has been very much part of the title’s DNA from the outset, according to Braso. 

“Many publishers have been forced to change or review their business models as a response to new technologies, competitive forces and changes in consumer behaviour that result from that,” he explains. “At Monocle we have not had to adapt or change, but rather we have always believed in making our own rules. Monocle was more than just a monthly magazine already when it launched in 2007. The core of our strategy has been to deliver products, services and experiences for a globally minded audience hungry for opportunities and experiences beyond their borders.”

Brand extensions

So in addition to print media (the magazine is published 10 times a year and produces two annuals – The Escapist and The Forecast – seasonal newspapers and this year it launched three new print products include the new Monocle Drinking & Dining Directory) you can watch Monocle films and listen to Monocle 24 radio on, you can download podcasts or you can pop into The Monocle Shop in London, Toronto, Zurich, Merano, Hong Kong, and Tokyo, have a drink or bite to eat at The Monocle Café in London, Zurich and Tokyo, or buy magazines and newspapers at the brand’s Kioskafé in London’s Paddington.

But while Monocle is more than just a print title the company is fully committed to a printed future due to the uniqueness of the media, says Braso. 

“The tactile nature of print is what differentiates it,” he explains. “Look, feel, smell. In any one issue of Monocle, we use different paper stocks, insert binding methods and finishes. While of course we are in the media business, we believe we are also in manufacturing. Each magazine or newspaper that we put out represents craftsmanship and printers have a key role to play. Publishers need dynamic printing partners that deliver on stability and investment in new presses and technology. Quality remains important, particularly if you are a premium media brand.”

It’s a view shared by Prasher who says Haymarket made a small increase in the quality of paper used in Autocar magazine to reduce show-through, “and the number of letters we got from our readers was astonishing. We kinda think readers don’t notice this stuff, but they do and printers play a huge role in that”.

Going forward Meredith thinks that printers can play an even greater role thanks to technological advances in terms of the quality of paper and print methods available, which open up opportunities to publishers – both old and new.

“We are seeing a thriving what you might call ‘hobby sector’ of people who are not publishing necessarily on a weekly or monthly frequency, but who might publish three or four issues of a magazine a year, or maybe just one or two issues and they might only sell a few hundred or thousand copies via their own website,” says Meredith. “Where this has become possible is because it’s now a lot cheaper to do small print runs of beautiful magazines that are incredibly well-crafted on quality paper and that continued innovation in the print sector can help publishers to be creative and innovative in what they can deliver to the marketplace.” 

As a result of these factors he thinks the future outlook for the print magazine sector looks bright. “Brands are extending their reach and contact points with audiences and that gives new opportunities to [publishers] to bring revenue through from e-commerce, subscriptions and paid content,” explains Meredith. “It’s challenging – the [print] advertising market is an incredibly challenging place at the moment – but there are new ways and different models that are replacing that and magazine publishers are finding ways to weave through the tough times to deliver great content to consumers as they have always done.” 

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