RIP Popworld Pulp and So London - what went wrong?

Disastrous launch sales and misjudged research are at the heart of the swift declines of two recently-launched weekly magazines, according to industry experts.

Last week, Brooklands Group closed its music weekly Popworld Pulp after two issues. And in early April, So London – an upmarket weekly for the capital – closed after producing just three issues.

Brooklands had hoped for a settle down circulation of around 40,000 but sold only 9,000 on its first issue, out of a total distribution of 130,000.

Managing partner of media consultancy Wessenden Marketing, Jim Bilton, said Brooklands had very little option but to pull the title because most lose sales after launch, rather than grow in circulation.

“Titles that work the other way of settling up are fairly few and far between,”

said Bilton. “The general rule of thumb when you are blasting all your promotion in the first few weeks is, if you can’t make it work in the first few weeks you are never going to. Popworld Pulp was so bad [in terms of sales] they just didn’t know what to do with it. You can’t relaunch it. You’re just pumping bad money after good.”

In a statement issued last week, Brooklands CEO Darren Styles said that despite almost a year in gestation, consultation with advertisers, the newstrade and consumers, “the readers were absent”.

Bilton said this brought into question magazines’ pre-launch research.

“Launch products are very difficult to research. Clearly Brooklands’ sample of people for research weren’t typical of the audience, so there must be a question mark against how valid and well done the research actually was.”

Matt Bielby, who is a launching a sci fi title from his own company BlackFish Publishing, agreed that Brooklands were right to pull the plug.

“The amount of money you have to invest in a weekly title is absolutely crippling and you’ve already invested an incredible amount of money by the time you get your first figures back. It must be so tempting just to can it if its not looking brilliant.”

The decline was strikingly similar to that of So London, which closed earlier this month after management decided there was “no long term future for the title in the current marketplace” after “testing it” with three issues.

Alex Randall, head of press for media buyers Vizeum, said of the Popworld Pulp launch: ” I think the message that sends out is that if you’re going to launch a national newsstand magazine you’re going to need very deep pockets, both to research it properly to make sure the advertising market is there, and most importantly, to make sure the consumer market is there.”

Randall cited Development Hell’s The Word as a good example of a small launch that has survived. The music monthly published its 50th issue this year. Jerry Perkins, The Word publisher, said: “We knew there were several gaps in the market, but obviously you need to make sure there’s a market in the gap.” Perkins said that they set low advertising targets for the first few issues, and realistic rates.

He advised new titles to start small and “prove the concept” first, and to be cautious on the newsstand. “Retailers will give you a good listing on the first issue if you want, but then if you don’t deliver the sales they’ll start cutting back, and all of a sudden you’re in a downwards spiral which is difficult to get out of.”

WHY THE MAGAZINES CRASHED Ad buyer’s view Alex Randall, head of press at Vizeum … on Popworld Pulp As a new start-up, one – you don’t have the strength in the market, and two – presumably you need to start getting advertising revenue and sales revenue from day one because your pockets aren’t as deep.

The other challenge for Popworld Pulp was that the teen magazine sector has imploded over the last few years and doesn’t really exist any more. People watch Popworld on TV, and obviously they consume a lot of their [entertainment] content online now, which is why the press-teen market doesn’t exist any more. It looks like they misread the market. That comes down to research; major publishers have significant research budgets and often research magazines for years before they launch them.

… on So London I felt So London was trying to do two jobs. It’s one thing to bring out a very upmarket London centred business lifestyle and arts magazine, and there may have been a gap in the market for that sort of magazine. The problem for me is that it had a property slant, and – albeit upmarket – a lot of real estate advertising right at the front, effectively a classified section, which made it look like the expensive, glossy property magazines that come free through people’s doors in west London and have very little content and lots of advertising.

It wasn’t actually like that, but I think the editorial was polluted by the real estate advertising. I think if people looked at it and flicked through it on the newsstand and saw all the property and classified advertising up front they’d think “I’m not paying £3 for that”.

I’m guessing this was launched by private backers, and they won’t have done the depth of research that a major publisher would have done – it’s showed the market wasn’t really there.

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