An ever-increasing number of specialist magazines are targeting readers in search of personal finance advice. Iain Morse reports.
What is it with personal finance magazines? Every few months, it seems, another is launched - each one aiming to grab a slice of the burgeoning market for financial information that can help turn us all into millionaires.

Perhaps more prosaically, magazine readers are reacting to a development, initiated by the Tories but continued under Labour, whereby the traditional welfare safety net is gradually being withdrawn. Providing for oneself, be that in the field of pensions, health insurance or long-term care, has become more crucial. Financial magazines, along with personal finance sections such as this one, are there to help us sort out the wheat from the chaff.

Earlier this month, Bloomberg Money, yet another consumer magazine, hit the news stands, aiming to inform its readers of the perils and profits of personal investment. The question publishers of all these mags, including Bloomberg Money, must answer is: what kind of market are they aiming at?

At one level, the potential readership is still largely untapped. Put in perspective, the personal finance sector is a small one; while Cosmopolitan and FHM magazines each have monthly sales in excess of 450,000, the 28 personal finance titles sold in the UK achieve joint monthly sales of just over 200,000.

According to Sarah Marshall, of distributor Comag: "This is a niche market which surprisingly has not much increased in recent years." Generating total annual turnover of around pounds 6.5m, titles rely on loyal readerships, with annual subscriptions an important source of revenue.

Most titles offer generous discounts on subscription due to the high cost of selling off newsstands. Each time you buy a magazine, about half its cover price goes to the publisher, with the rest split between distributor and retailer. Industry estimates suggest that as many as two-thirds of copies sold go by subscription.

Launching a new title is expensive. Ms Marshall reckons it will cost about pounds 5 in promotion per copy sold, and the minimum launch period is at least three months. Because these magazines go to retailers on a sale or return basis, it takes four weeks before the publisher knows how many copies have been sold, or receives its share of cover price.

History in this sector is littered with heroic failures. Barely two years ago, another glossy mag, Inside Money, was pulled after barely six issues, after sales remained stubbornly low.

This should make the launch of Bloomberg Money a nerve-wracking affair. But the magazine's editor-in-chief, Lawrence Gosling, is a confident man. "With more people buying financial products, we see a gap in the market. Existing titles are either too specialised or just too general. We don't just want to take readers from rival publications, but reach a new readership."

Mr Gosling's comments give a clue to the approach taken by the publishers of the various financial magazines. Their starting point is that not all potential readers are the same. They may be relatively new to savings and investment, in which case a more "poppy" magazine such as Moneywise, published by Reader's Digest, is most likely to suit their needs.

Or they may see themselves as more sophisticated, whereupon the share- tipping strategy of Investors Chronicle, part of the Financial Times stable, is a preferred read. Or they may be fiercely loyal to the more iconoclastic editorial approach of Money Observer, a bizarre offshoot of the Guardian media empire.

Either way, there are plenty of choices for most types of readers out in the market.

One possible threat to editorial quality (and independence) comes from the fact that advertising revenue can account for as much as 80 per cent of a title's total income. Navigating between the giving of straight - and occasionally critical - information about finance and not offending your advertisers can be difficult. Most manage to steer clear of selling themselves to the devil. Ultimately, their readers will decide.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg Money's launch copy carries a picture of Richard Branson wearing inflatable horns and a sinister expression. Is there anything he won't do for publicity?

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