ABCs analysis: market stabilises - but for how long?

They might not be too impressive but yesterday's Audit Bureau of Circulations results for the second half of 2009 are at least stable – giving hope to a battered consumer magazine industry that future losses in circulation and revenue could be manageable.

Total UK magazine circulation during the period was 75,367,795 – a drop of just under 2,000 compared to the second half of 2008 – but the reality is still grim for many publishers.

Out of the 112 publishing sectors identified by ABC, only 29 managed a positive year-on-year circulation growth; eight recorded a double-digit growth.

The PPA calculates that more than one billion magazines were sold in 2009 and that consumer paid-for circulation fell by 1.3 per cent in the second half. PPA chief executive Barry McIlheney said in a statement: "Readers have a unique relationship with their magazines… In an increasingly cluttered world, magazines offer an oasis of private time."

Maybe so, but the PPA's figures include controlled circulation, free magazines – the country's top three titles by size alone are Sky's complimentary customer title and magazines from Tesco and Asda. On the newstand, for many publishers, the picture isn't so rosy.

However, there are still some success stories: Private Eye's impressive 3.4 per cent lift to 210,218 copies an issue is its highest sales level since 1992 – and this from a title that has invested relatively little in its digital offering and focused instead on its core product.


And there is still space for new launches: Conde Nast's Wired is on course to reach its target of a 50,000 average per-issue sale by its first anniversary in May – it recorded an average sale of 48,275 in the last half of 2009.

Stylist, the free, female-focused sister title of Mike Soutar's Shortlist men's mag, clocked up an average distribution of 410,674 on UK city streets, making it the country's fifth most-read women's weekly.

But the truth is – as paidContent:UK point out – that that paid-for circulation among the top 100 titles has dropped 17 per cent in the last decade. And that's a trend that's only going in one direction.

Total sales (and year-on-year percentage change) in key sectors in the last six months of 2009:


  • Men's Lifestyle – 2,312,709 (-4.4%)
  • Music: Rock – 570,349 (-7.0%)
  • News & Current Affairs: Business & Finance – 1,724,966 (5.7%)
  • News & Current Affairs: Domestic – 557,513 (3.4%)
  • News & Current Affairs: International – 829,273 (0.0%)
  • News & Current Affairs: Science – 151,324 (-9.2%)
  • TV Listings: Radio & TV Guides – 4,845,410 (-5.8%)
  • Women's Interests: Women's Lifestyle/Fashion – 6,580,758 (4.7%)
  • Women's Interests: Women's Weeklies – 8,612,830 (2.9%)


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