TV guides are still performing strongly in the age of connected TV and digital guides according to 2018 audited figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC). The four largest cumulative circulations for the year were held by TV Choice, The Economist, What’s On TV and the Radio Times.
It is a sentiment Radio Times editorial director Mark Frith shared with The Drum last September on the British weekly's 95th birthday when, perhaps counter-intuitively, he explained: "As TV gets more complicated, we make it simpler."
In 2018, TV Choice boasted the most circulated issues in the UK (59m), followed by The Economist (58m), What’s On TV (42m), Radio Times (29m), Take a Break (23m), Hello! (12m), Women’s Weekly (12m), Chat (10m), That’s Life (9.5m), Closer (9m), The People’s Friend (8.5m) and Bella (8.4m).
The 2018 magazine ABCs show the performance of the UK's top titles and, combing through the spreadsheets of data, trends are apparent.
Paid subscriptions are of growing importance – it is a model magazine companies are looking to embrace online, such as Condé Nast US announcing it will put all of its content behind digital paywalls in the coming year.
The Economist boasts the most paid subscribers (800,727). Following is the Radio Times (253,504), Saga Magazine (238,383), Good Housekeeping (195,728), Private Eye (which has no online presence whatsoever, 149,452), The Week (137,672), BBC Gardeners’ World (125,820), National Geographic (121,153), Women & Home (117,458), BBC GoodFood (115,463), Prima (102,182) and the Spectator (83,961).
There was a reduction in circulation across the board – perhaps because print is expensive, with Ella Dolphin, chief executive of Stylist, having previously admitted to The Drum that "paper is like gold".
The Economist, which boasts the most subscribers of all the titles in the audit, saw a 38% decline in its circulation due to a change in its reporting metrics. It was behind You and Your Wedding (48%) and Now (43%). Hearst’s Cosmopolitan was down by a third.
Marina Haydn, executive vice-president and managing director of circulation at The Economist, outlined how it has changed the measurement of its circulation, consolidating its six regional breakdowns into simply print and digital categories.
“Our audited reporting needed to reflect The Economist’s product neutrality – we allow customers to choose their preference between print and digital. A majority of our readers choose to purchase both together at a premium price. Working with ABC, we now have verified data that meets industry standards and provides greater transparency into our circulation and our global reach.”
However, there are positives – it has changed its messaging and is undergoing a fresh line of marketing. The title has launched its first TV ad in a decade and is pursuing a new audience, championing an ambitious, curious young black woman in its creative.
The National Trust magazine (three issues a year) enjoyed the highest average circulation per issue at 2.47m. Hearst’s Good Living (Asda), Tesco Magazine, TV Choice and The Economist followed.
Men's lifestyle magazine Shortlist – a keen performer on these lists – was shuttered in December. It saw owner Shortlist Group rebrand as Stylist Group, with a grand plan for its sister title. The figures revealed that circulation was the least of the title's concerns (it consistently reached more than 5 million people an issue) as its ad revenue failed to subsidise its mass free distribution.
There is a fightback underway to turn around this failing perception of print and drive up the cost of the ad format. Magnetic, the marketing body for UK consumer magazines, recently united Hearst, Bauer Media Group, Radio Times, Woman & Home, Cyclist and Time Out for a print-only marketing campaign looking to inform media buyers that, despite lower circulations, magazine brands command attention from readers in a unique manner.
Next are a selection of views from the magazine owners explaining the performance of their brands.
Tom Bureau, chief executive of Immediate Media, said: "In a tough market, our specialist interest brands continue to perform well, generating over £122m in retail sales value on the newsstand in 2018. In addition to strong performances in print, our digital portfolio continues to break digital records. The Radio Times and BBC GoodFood brands have cemented their positions as having the highest total brand reach of all weekly and monthly magazines brands in the UK."
James Wildman, chief executive of Hearst UK, said: “These strong results, and the fact that several of our magazines are increasing their readership, highlight the extraordinary quality and continuing appeal of our print products. We are very proud to extend our market leadership position, and this best-in-class performance is testament to the creativity of our editorial teams and continued investment in our print products."
Mark Winterton, managing director of women’s weeklies and TV at TI Media, concluded: “We are starting to see the benefit of our bold decision to go against the grain and remove our women’s weeklies titles from bigger packs. While the overall ABC results reflect the initial impact of stripping out the bigger packs from our promotional activity, which inflates sales figures, these single copy sales are indicative of the rewards of doing so. Our investment in audience research and editorial redevelopment will continue across all titles in the portfolio.”