The slow death of the magazine

Britain's best-known consumer titles, from lads' mags to women's weeklies, are steadily losing their readers as new launches and digital rivals continue to eat into circulation

Every six months, a huge set of numbers descends like confetti on the good people of medialand showing the audited circulation figures for every UK magazine.

Time was, not so very long ago, when the publication of those figures was a pretty cheerful event. Sure, there were winners and losers, but the prevailing mood tended to be of a buoyant industry sailing serenely through the choppy waters that threatened to sink other ships around them.

Indeed, the envious souls clinging to the hulls of their regional and national newspapers would look across with longing in their eyes as they tried to keep their sales pitches afloat with long-winded explanations of how well their websites were doing. Some of them even tried - generally unsuccessfully - to set up magazine divisions themselves.

But yesterday, when the Audit Bureau of Circulation released its figures for the first six months of 2007, the boardrooms of Soho and the South Bank were less likely to be resounding to the chink of champagne flutes than to the sucked-in cheeks of circulation directors wondering why the graphs of their biggest magazines are suddenly pointing so steeply in the wrong direction.

In every significant sector, the big newsstand brands are clearly feeling the pain. Glamour, the top-selling women's monthly, has lost 41,000 readers - 7 per cent of its total - since last year. Emap's Yours lost 14 per cent. Of the weeklies, Bauer Publishing's market leader Take A Break dropped 6 per cent. The once-exponential growth of Emap's Heat is starting to go the other way, down 4 per cent.

In the men's market, there's even more blood on the walls. FHM has lost more than 100,000 of its buyers in twelve months - that's a quarter of them. Similar percentages afflict Maxim and Arena. Loaded is 35 per cent down, and even the newer weeklies Nuts and Zoo suffered steep drops in the number of men prepared to cough up for them.

Those are not isolated examples. The trend is clear if we take a look at the 100 best selling, paid-for magazines in the country - making a distinction between these "actively purchased" titles and the magazines that come free with a Sky subscription, an AA membership, or those annoying loyalty cards that you never have with you at the checkout.

Twelve months ago, the Top 100 had total top-line circulation figures of 31 million between them, ranging from the top-selling What's On TV (1.5 million a week) to Zest (96,467 a week).

This week's Top 100 still sees What's On TV at the top of the pile at 1.4 million but this time the 100th title, All About Soap, only needs 87,000 or so sales to make it on to the chart. And the total circulation figure of the 100 is just 24 million - that's a full 20 per cent down.

Does that mean it's all over for the magazine industry? Are we all too busy poking each other on Facebook to have time to nip to the newsagents?

Well, not quite. The Periodical Publishers Association reckons that expenditure on magazines is actually on the rise. It estimates a figure of £1.58bn for annual cover price revenue, based on this set of circulation figures -a number very slightly up on last year. So even though we're buying fewer magazines, we're spending slightly more on them because of price increases.

Similar estimates from the Advertising Association show customer expenditure on magazines rose for the first half of the decade, peaked in 2005, and started to slide downwards. Its 2007 figures aren't published yet.

But if the big brands are suffering so badly, who is making up for the shortfall? Well partly it's that there are simply more titles around than ever before. In 2000, there were 15 women's weeklies. Now there are 24. Back then, there was no such thing as a men's weekly; Nuts and Zoo were merely glints in a special projects editor's eye. Furthermore, the PPA reckons there is still, on average, a new magazine launching every day of the year.

If the overall cake's the same size, everybody has to take a smaller slice.

Certainly there are seem to be plenty of niche titles whose performance bears that out. Titles such as Doctor Who Adventures - a great favourite in the Reeves household - is up a whopping 99 per cent in a year. The excellent Psychologies is bucking the women's monthly trend, up 25 per cent. Dennis Publishing's The Week recorded its 18th consecutive ABC rise, thanks to a concentration on selling subscriptions rather than newsstand sales.

There also continues to be a growth in free magazines. The success of Sport, given away in London every Friday, has been duly noted. In the coming weeks we'll see the launch of AlphaOne, backed by some big industry names including former IPC editorial director Mike Soutar, shaking things up still further as it aims for a 500,000 distribution given away to punters on the streets of large cities.

It all points to a significant change in the shape of the market. The pyramid is flattening out. The revenue model is changing. But that is where things get difficult if you're IPC or Nat Mags or Emap - currently without a chief executive and perhaps in the process of being broken up. Big brands are what you do. You spend a vast fortune ensuring that your top-selling titles are among the few that Tesco and Sainsbury's - increasingly important outlets for sales of magazines - will feel it worthwhile stacking on their shelves.

And if you're honest, you'd also admit to a fear that things might yet take a turn for the worse. You're already investing heavily in digital publishing and, in some cases, have closed print titles in favour of cheaper digital magazines - CosmoGirl's demise to make way for Jellyfish being a case in point.

The trouble is, advertisers just won't pay you anywhere near the same amount, no matter how many mouse clicks you can show them, than they will for a lovingly-printed spread on 100gsm premium silk paper.

Until they do, you probably won't be looking forward with any degree of enthusiasm to the next set of figures, which are due out in six months time.

Ian Reeves is a former editor of 'UK Press Gazette' and is a media consultant

News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
PROMOTED VIDEO
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
musicReview: 1989's songs attempt to encapsulate dramatic emotional change in a few striking lines
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
I'm not worried about United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Arts and Entertainment
Saw point: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Serena’
filmReview: Serena is a strangely dour and downbeat affair
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Markit EDM (CADIS) Developer

£50000 - £90000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CA...

SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfordshire - £350 - £360

£350 - £360 per day: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfor...

Chief Financial Officer

120-150k: Accountancy Action: We are looking for an experienced CFO from a min...

IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

£24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker