Shelflife from top to bottom

Despite predictions of their demise, British magazines posted sales of £2.16bn last year. One MP says lads' mags should be exiled to the top shelf. Ian Burrell investigates
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The Independent Online


One might have thought that the porn magazine might have had its day, under threat on the one hand - shall we say - from the increasingly-salacious men's lifestyle and lads' weekly titles and on the other from the prevalence of sex websites online. That and the fact that Richard Desmond, owner of Express Newspapers, was persuaded to sell off his adult magazines in order to further his other publishing ambitions. Although the sector is in gradual long-term decline it continues to attempt to evolve. Launches of adult magazines were up from nine in 2004 to 32 last year. The expansion in adult publishing includes some imaginative initiatives such as Scarlet, which offers erotica for women and sells around 30,000, and the soon-to-be-launched Paradis, which attempts to combine fine writing on the arts world with photographs of naked women. Just like Playboy aficionados of old, Paradis readers will no doubt argue that they only subscribe "for the articles".

Women's lifestyle

The big success story of 2005 was Emap's weekly Grazia, which launched in February with a cover price of £1.50 and now sells around 700,000 copies a month. Condé Nast launched Easy Living the following month to sit alongside its younger and top-selling (585,984 circulation) monthly stablemate Glamour. But - just as in the men's market - the monthlies are having to fight hard to maintain circulation. Cover mounts of handbags and shoes are an expensive weapon in this battle and the women's monthly equivalent of the newspaper DVD. Free designer flip flops have been especially popular this summer, for example with In Style (LK Bennett) and Glamour (Warehouse). To try to protect the long-term future of the monthlies publishers are trying to persuade readers to commit to subscriptions rather than rely on casual news-stand sales.

News and periodicals

Despite the availability of 24-hour news on television and online there has been major growth in the current affairs magazine sector with 13 new launches in 2005 (up from six the year before) and a further nine in the first five months of 2006, most notably the picture-led weekly Emap title First. Competition is hotting up among the established periodicals, with the left-leaning New Statesman understood to have enjoyed a marked uplift in sales following a radical overhaul. The right-of-centre Spectator is also entering a new era following Matthew d'Ancona's accession to the editorship in place of the Tory MP Boris Johnson. Felix Dennis's The Week, a digest of the past seven days' newspapers, continues to go from strength to strength with sales now at 108,207. The BBC is also expected to capitalise on its own current affairs resources to launch a weekly news magazine.


A money-spinning sector that is dominated by H Bauer titles Take A Break (1,155,886 sales) and Chat (602,308). The same publisher is expected to shortly launch a new title, rumoured to be called Life & Living. News International has recently shown its confidence in the British magazine market by launching its own division and the first title it chose to launch was a woman's weekly, Love It. Last year IPC entered the sector with its real- life title Pick Me Up, which was an immediate success, shifting 500,000 copies. The same publisher was also convinced that the veteran title Woman could continue to exist in the weekly market and recently gave it a major overhaul. Phil Cutts, marketing director of the Periodical Publishers Association, said: "Eight or nine years ago consumers would have gone into a newsagent's and had the choice of one or two gossip titles. Now they have got five or six to choose from and instead of the single purchase they will make two or three." Emap's Closer (578,337) and Heat (575,267) continue to set the standard in the celebrity gossip area of this sector and Desmond has also enjoyed success with a skilful pricing strategy. These titles account for vast and rapid-fire purchases and as such are the first magazines made available to consumers walking into newsagents, said a spokeswoman for WH Smith.

Sports and cars

Top Gear, the BBC Worldwide magazine teamed with the Jeremy Clarkson show, continues to shift 175,218 per issue, but the car magazine sector, like the men's lifestyle sector, is generally struggling. Sales of Auto Trader are believed to have been hit by the success of the title's own website and the sector has splintered to reflect niche interests with titles to represent specific vehicles. Sport magazines are not flourishing either. The World Cup gave the sector a fillip (five new titles launched in May) but this is a declining market too. Football magazines that were essential reads for previous generations have become dispensable as bigger football clubs produce their own magazines. Publishers have scored some successes in niche areas that are less well served by television, with examples being the Daily Mail Ski Magazine, a series of popular skateboarding titles, and angling. WH Smith puts sports titles as close as possible to the Men's Lifestyle magazines, which means they are well off the floor.

Men's lifestyle

Times have become tougher for the men's sector after the phenomenal year of 2004 when the head-to-head launches of IPC's Nuts and Emap's Zoo transformed the sector by creating a new weekly market. The titles have come under growing criticism for their rising nipple counts and many newsagents already stock them on the top shelf, something that a body of MPs led by Claire Curtis-Thomas would like to be made compulsory. Nuts and Zoo now sell more than two million copies a month but there is evidence that they have damaged the rest of the men's lifestyle titles. FHM, the biggest seller at 500,865, has broadened to make content available on other platforms including online and mobile phones. Felix Dennis's Maxim, which recently shed its editor Greg Gutfeld, is believed to be in particular trouble and will struggle to hit anything like its last 185,000 circulation when new figures are released in the autumn. But male magazine readers shouldn't despair. Dennis is thought to be planning something new (Project Danny) and so is Emap (Project Dizzy). Men's magazines are stocked by WH Smith on shelves of 1.2 metres or more in height to keep them away from the gaze of children.


In the teen sector, Smash Hits closed earlier this year after its circulation fell from over a million to 120,000. Top of the Pops magazine has also suffered a decline, although the BBC gave it a reprieve when announcing the demise of the TV show this month. Plan B is an exciting new arrival in the sector but as an independent it will have to fight hard to expand. Emap's Kerrang! - which is aided by a radio station and TV channel of the same name - is selling well (76,000) after 25 years. Fads have always provided a boost to the entertainment sector and last year's was Sudoku, which spawned a flurry of magazine launches including Fundoku, Kakuro, Sudoku and Sudoku Puzzles (all Puzzler Media). Home improvements titles continue to generate enormous magazine sales and new arrivals on the newsagents' shelves since the start of last year have included Property Ladder (Brooklands) and House & Home Ideas (Giraffe Media).


The BBC has the strongest portfolio of titles in this sector, with its closest rival being Egmont, publisher of the Disney titles. The children's market has grown increasingly competitive, mirroring the women's monthly magazines by trying to entice readers with the offer of cover-mounted gifts; in this case painting sets, felt tips, plastic jewellery and the like. Many titles that launched in this sector last year were linked to favourite characters from children's TV shows, including Wallace & Gromit (Titan), Postman Pat (Panini), Daisy (Egmont), Fifi & The Flowertots (BBC), Muffin the Mule (Future) and Roly Mo Show (BBC). The sector will also have to take account of the launch of the new weekly children's newspaper First News, produced by the former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan and friends. Naturally enough, the children's magazines are stocked by WH Smith and other major newsagents on the bottom shelves, within the reach of their customer base.