Magazine ABCs prove there is still a healthy appetite for print products

Hearst Magazines

Print is far from being over – reports of its demise have indeed been greatly exaggerated. While there is no doubt the numbers are not where they used to be – as the latest ABCs can attest – this is to be expected in a world where fragmentation has gathered apace across all mediums.

The latest ABC audits for the country's magazine industry have been revealed for the first half of 2016, with overall circulation falling by 5.3 per cent.

Print is still the dominant medium by some distance in terms of both circulation and revenue for publishers. Looking at Cosmopolitan as an example, average issue circulation in the six month period is 413,155 - of that print accounts for 407,010 of editions, while digital is at 6,145.

However, what is often overlooked during ABC day is the way in which print brands have innovated and harnessed other platforms to allow their content to be consumed in a myriad of ways.

While many magazines saw a decline on the newsstand, that doesn’t necessarily mean the readership has been impacted. This was the argument put forward by Sarah Perry, head of magazines and women's media at Northern & Shell, which operates OK! Magazine. The title saw a 11.8 per cent decrease year-on-year in print and digital sales, to 176,386, and 160,951 actively purchased respectively.

What the ABCs fail to take into account, Perry said, is that there has been a general shift from people actively purchasing at the newsstand to consuming their magazine brand through other channels.

“We are still seeing a decline on the newsstand, but that hasn't impacted the readership at all, so the reader copy number has actually gone up. The readership is just under 1.3m in print, combined with online it is over 6.3m. In addition to that you have 44,000 acquisitions of the mobile app and 2.2m in social media.”

Magazine brands have successfully supported themselves online, on apps and through social media as well as by hosting events where they engage their audiences face-to-face. It’s a strategy that appears to be working.

Hearst’s hybrid distribution methodology applied to an ailing Cosmopolitan print product has given a significant shot in the arm for a brand that was hemorrhaging readers in print and digital, with a combined circulation of 257,725 in 2014 an all-time low.

Fast foward to 2016 and Cosmopolitan was the biggest gainer in the top 100, reporting a 59.9 per cent increase year on year in average issue circulation to 413,155, editions. This follows a change in the magazine’s distribution strategy to recruit new readers by giving100,000 free copies to the consumer, in shopping centres, cinemas and airports. The magazine’s success in turning around a period of rapid decline was also helped by a significant reduction in its cover price, from £3.80 to £1.

While the distribution strategy got more copies out to people only 303,584 of the 413,155 total were actively purchased, according to the ABC audit. This equates to a quarter of the Cosmopolitan issues in "bulk" shares.

Anna Jones, chief executive of Hearst Magazines UK, put the success of its brands - with Good Housekeeping reporting a 10.1 per cent year-on-year increase in circulation, retaining its position as Britain’s biggest-selling women’s lifestyle magazine - down to its strategy to “grow the brands across multiple platforms”.

“It is extremely encouraging to see that our dynamic new routes to market are working. Cosmopolitan was the first brand to lead this strategy last year, and the brand continues to grow. Whether in print, digital – including the hugely successful Snapchat platform – or through large-scale consumer events, Cosmopolitan can reach young women on a scale that very few brands can,” she added.

The Spectator was another success story to come out of the ABCs. Its combined print and digital circulation now stands at 76,750, the highest ever posted by the title in its 188-year history. Print sales also peaked, up more than 2 per cent to 57,604 in the first six months of year. What's more, the publisher claims web traffic to the paywalled publication hit an all-time high at 4 million monthly unique users during the EU referendum.

The next step for these brands, said Mediacom’s Richard Cross, is to fully monetise both these increases in print circulation alongside their digital platforms.

“If they can do this then we can see a bright future for some of our most iconic media brands” he mused.

The free titles posted some positive results. Shortlist Media’s free magazines posted slight increases, with Shortlist up 0.7 per cent to a circulation of 505,876, Stylist up 0.3 per cent to 404,408. NME circulation hit an all-time high as a free title, reaching 308,606, up 0.5 per from its first period as a free magazine. Ad revenues were up 13 per cent for the period too, publisher Time Inc UK claimed.

Paul Cheal, group managing director of Time Inc. UK’s Innovation Group, said: “NME has never been more influential and the brand is in a state of healthy growth. We’ve achieved big commercial wins across fashion, film and music this period including our first wholly native issue with Adidas, and advertising revenues have climbed by 13% on the period and 128% on the year. NME now reaches 2.4 million via social and NME.COM has 5.8 million unique users each month.”

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