Mags ABCs analysis: Free success masks paid-for decline

The PPA says they're "encouraging", IPC Media cites them as evidence that its investment in "compelling content" is "paying off", while a host of other publishers heralded yesterday's ABC magazine figures for the first half of 2010 as a victory for "quality" publishing.

And sure enough there are reasons to be cheerful. Women's lifestyle titles are up 14.6 per cent year on year, with IPC Media's Essentials posting a 12.9 per cent rise on its 2009 first-half performance.

On the news and current affairs magazine shelves, science titles are up 6.9 per cent; business & finance finds itself 5.5 per cent better off and UK news and politics manages a 2.6 per cent lift. The Economist is a healthy 4.2 per cent up in the UK year on year, to 195,000.

But what can't be ignored are the pillars holding these figures up. Men's lifetstyle is holding up resiliently with just a 3.8 per cent drop year on year, but what happens when you take the two leading titles out of the equation, the free weekly giveaway duo Shortlist (508,222) and Sport (305,479)?

 

Similarly, the women's lifestyle figure is less impressive without Shortlist's sister title Stylist, which gives away 421,158 each week.

The sector is then 813,701 worse off and that 14.6 per cent growth disappears. Both titles have established themselves on the media scene and are courted by advertisers – the question now is how the established men's and lad's mags respond and reverse some dreadful figures. With an already shrunken audience base, Zoo magazine can simply not afford too many more year-on-year losses of more than 27 per cent.

What of the big picture? The overall circulation for the UK consumer magazines industry in the year to July is 62,048,488 – a full 13.31m fewer than in the last half of 2009.

Cause for alarm? Not really: publishers don't have to release figures on both the February and August ABC reporting days – many (roughly half) only report in February, making meaingful period-on-period comparisons areimpossible.

But the forget comparisons, these figures are clear: magazines have a tough job ahead holding on to their audiences and the paid-for titles that are increasing their print readership organically – whether through subscriptions, newsstand sales or both – are becoming rarer.

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