Magazine readers shun their homes for gardens

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The Independent Online

The British love affair with home makeovers appears to have run out of steam, if the latest magazine circulation figures are anything to go by. Instead of marbling and MDF, householders are turning to wisteria and water features.

The British love affair with home makeovers appears to have run out of steam, if the latest magazine circulation figures are anything to go by. Instead of marbling and MDF, householders are turning to wisteria and water features.

Six-monthly figures show that 12 of the 19 "home improvement" titles have suffered drops in circulation, many for the second consecutive period. Homes and Ideas has dropped 32.6 per cent, while Inspirations has lost 13.5 per cent of its circulation. Others to have lost sales include Homes and Gardens, BBC Good Homes, and the biggest-selling home improvements magazine, House Beautiful.

While home improvement shows such as Home Front and Changing Rooms still dominate the television schedules, only a handful of magazines bucked the literary trend, including Living Etc, Country Living and Elle Decoration.

In contrast, and despite the lack of summery weather, the gardening market appears to be positively blooming, with nearly all titles recording double-figure increases in circulation over the past six months, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the official monitor of sales for the industry.

The best performer is Your Garden, with a massive 35 per cent increase over the past six months, followed by Amateur Gardening, which was up 20.7 per cent. Others to show sizeable increases include The English Garden, Garden Answers, and BBC Gardeners' World, which tops the market with sales of 382,000.

Adrian Bishop, editor of Amateur Gardening, said that the popularity of television gardening shows had helped boost the market over several years. "What we saw is an interest in general in gardening taking off, but the minute that happens publishers want to launch new magazines, and then there are so many everyone suffers."

He pointed to the recent collapse of the "trendy" gardening magazine New Eden as an example, and said the market was not quite as lush as it appeared. Much of the higher circulation could be ascribed to the gardener's fondness forseed packet giveaways during the early part of the year.

"Our January-to-June figures are always higher, because of the gardening calendar, but because of the weather the market has actually been very difficult."

A sector that is definitely looking less than perky is men's magazines, raising the question of whether the once-buoyant market is suffering detumescence. The "lad mags" Loaded, Sky and Later have all suffered ( Sky shouldering a 39.2 per cent drop in the past six months, and almost half its circulation over the full year), while even the more "grown-up" end is looking droopy.

Esquire, which recently adopted a policy of excluding scantily clad women from itscovers, has lost 29.8 per cent of its sales over the past year, while GQ is down 4.8 per cent. By contrast, Maxim, which has recently been redesigned, is up 5.2 per cent in the same period.

"Unlike the majority of our competitors who have depended on the success of outdated formulas, we have looked carefully at the design and content of the magazine and worked very hard on creating a magazine that readers will grow into rather than out of," said the publisher of Maxim, Andy Semple.

Meanwhile, Hello! was celebrating overtaking its bitter rival OK! in the celebrity magazine wars, after taking second place in the last set of figures. But it was unlikely to be celebrating too hard - both magazines' circulation was down, OK!'s by 17.5 per cent and Hello!'s by 7.4 per cent over the past six months.

Ian Locks, chief executive of the Periodical Publishers' Association, said it was still "onwards and upwards" for magazines. "While the headlines may highlight the titles which are not currently enjoying success, overall magazines are continuing to grow, new titles are being launched, most publishers are enjoying great success and continuing to give the lie to those who would try to show otherwise," he said.

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