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Magazine circulation growth fuelled by digital subscriptions

People are increasingly choosing digital-only subscriptions over print and digital hybrids, according to the latest ABC audit, though more publishers appear to be successfully turning their print titles into premium advertising channels.

It’s becoming a moot point, but digital growth’s continues to offset slowing magazine sales nationwide.

The average circulation of magazines fell on average by 5 per cent in the first half of 2015, while digital circulation rose to 409,414 in the period, up 21 per cent year-on-year. Interestingly, more than a third (37) of the 90 digital editions audited by the ABC posted dips in their circulations as titles like Empire (down 12.5 per cent to 11,443) and Men’s Health (down 12 per cent 9,113) are hampered by both tough competition and also shifting consumer attitudes toward their content from online-first to online-only.

It’s a trend that’s not yet affected every title. The Economist sold the most digital editions during the period, boasting a 22 per cent jump in worldwide circulation over the last six months and a 69 per cent rise year-on-year. The current affairs title’s total digital circulation is now at a record 282,829 copies off the back of a 69 per cent jump in digital subscriptions.

The publication’s chief marketing officer Michael Brunt talked up the impact of digital subscriptions on its bi-annual performance, a benefit dependent on the fact that its digital edition closely resembles the content in its print format.

Many publishers tend to prioritise bundle subscriptions instead of digital only for the digital certificate because they’re unable to include many of their apps in the ABC audit due to the fact that digital editions need to be less than 10 per cent different to the print version - which is normally due to ads.

“Our latest circulation numbers are in line with what we have seen over the last few years – a steady migration to digital, said Brunt.

“Whilst the majority of our new customers still choose a subscription that provides both print and digital formats, the number choosing digital-only circulation has grown tremendously. This is making our circulation increasingly profitable, as our revenues are increasing and at the same time, our costs are decreasing. We’ve enjoyed the benefits of this trend for some time and it’s a great position to be in.”

It’s a similar story for Dennis Publishing. The publisher said The Week was its standout performer so far this year, increasing its paid-for digital magazine circulation to 30.750, up from 17 per cent year-on-year. Despite this Dennis’ focus for The Week has always been on bundle subscriptions instead of digital only for the digital accreditation for the aforementioned reason.

James Tye, chief executive of Dennis, said, the ABC’s rule that digital editions so closely resemble their print counterpart was “frustrating” but said the certificate remains a key reference for media planners and buyers amid a wider move toward more real-time analysis of the media.

“It’s in our interest those paid-for digital subscribers because it’s a valuable part of the audience as you can see with the The Week’s laterst results,” added Tye. “You will see some analytics tools that provide that real-time analysis for tablet and mobile advertising and that’s what planners are going to use when they want to see engagement. Publishers are increasingly starting to realise that it’s all about the scale and viewability of that audience you have. Print isn’t the issue. Yes, it’s declining as an overall channel but the engagement it can generate is still a valid part of any media mix.

It’s a familiar story across the board in the latest ABC audit with certain titles taking encouragement from their Jan-Jun sales performance, whilst others are dealing with double digit declines. This sub-plot has been the case for previous releases and will no doubt form the narrative for future data.

The largest paid-for-titles TV choice and What’s On TV saw circulation down 21 per cent to 1,276,045 and 2.1 per cent to 1,015,862 respectively in the period. Meanwhile, the top performing paid-for-titles were Mega, up 43 per cent to 34,495 and CBeebies Magazine with a 25 per cent jump to 69,466.

Despite the varying results of the core print magazine product, there are signs that publishers are starting to consider increasingly the importance of brand impact from events, radio and TV, all of which tap into passion points and interests that form the underlying attraction of magazines.

Sales figures are an important factor for media buyers to assess rates and ensure that they are aware of the specific numbers the printed product is reaching, but a decline would not mean that they wouldn’t book into a title,” said Carat’s account director for publishing Mitchell Droppa.

“Cosmo, for example, is still a key magazine brand and alongside its print version, has successful events such as Fash Fest, high profile awards like Ultimate Woman of the Year, and over 1.3 million Twitter followers – all of which are unaudited audience extensions.”

Time Inc UK’s beauty and fashion title InStyle reported a 2 per cent year-on-year increase in sales, its second in a year. The publisher attributed the rise, which defied a challenging women’s glossies market, to the brand flourishing on new channels.

“Across our multi-platform portfolio, we engage with almost half of all UK adults in print, reach over 28 million global users every month through our websites and run nearly 300 live consumer events every year,” said Time Inc UK’s chief executive Marcus Rich.

“We continue to transform our business and reposition ourselves for growth, seeing real opportunities in e-commerce, e-learning, video and building new revenue streams through a combination of organic investments and acquisitions.”

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Seb Joseph

Hi, I'm the news editor at The Drum. Give me a shout if you have any questions about our news coverage or would like to pitch in a story.

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