ABC SPECIAL: Trusted brands lead route back to growth (Publisher review)

As the magazine ABC audit shows a tentative return to stability, Media Week reports on how the leading publishers have coped with the challenging market conditions.

The last six months has been one of the toughest periods in living memory for consumer titles, with magazine ad spend falling £56m period on period.

Taking this into account, the UK's leading publishers have proved the resilience of the medium, with pockets of growth tentatively indicating the market may have started to plateau.

Here we round up the major publishers' overall performance for the first half of 2009, presenting not just their biggest fallers, but also the solid brands that will lead the industry to recovery.

Bauer Consumer Media
Bauer emerged as one of the strongest performers in the latest set of ABCs. Recession, a competitive market and rival media biting the feet of its biggest brands failed to seriously dent sales at all but a handful of its titles.

Overall sales at the group were dragged down 6.1% year on year and 3.3% period on period, with double-digit losses at Kerrang!, FHM, Garden Answers, Pregnancy & Birth, Yours and Zoo, which fell 31.2% year on year.

However, Pregnancy & Birth clawed back its losses in the first half of 2009 with a 16.4% increase period on period. It was one of a clutch of mother and baby titles benefiting from the recession-led baby boom - all Bauer's parenting titles reported double-digit growth, period on period.

BBC Worldwide
Fourteen of 27 titles published by BBC Worldwide and its Bristol Magazines subdivision suffered double-digit loses year on year.

Healthy improvements at BBC History, which rose 9.2% year on year to 63,888, helped offset a 36.5% loss year on year at BBC Homes & Antiques, leaving the Bristol division with expansion of 2.9% period on period. The publisher reports Homes & Antiques has been worst hit by the publisher's decision to cut out bulks.

BBC Worldwide suffered heavy losses in its children's division, led by a 39.2% drop year on year at Doctor Who Adventures, although Bob the Builder attempted to fix the gap with an 18.7% increase period on period.

Worldwide's losses were tempered by a healthy debut ABC of 40,702 from Lonely Planet Magazine and flat sales at the perennially popular Top Gear.

Condé Nast
Condé Nast battled recessionary pressures in the first half of 2009 with mixed success.

Although it limited losses to 4% overall period on period and 5.8% year on year,  it relied on bulk copies to staunch the leak from some of its biggest names: GQ, Tatler, House & Garden and Condé Nast Traveller. The biggest falls were at GQ, down 7.7% year on year, and home interest titles House & Garden and World of Interiors, down 6.7% and 6.1% period on period respectively.

Condé Nast Traveller relied mainly on bulks to shore up sales. In the first six months of 2009, only 59% of copies were actively purchased, although, similarly, only 56.6% copies of rival The Sunday Times Travel Magazine were actively purchased.

Meanwhile, Vanity Fair's upmarket readers rose above the global downturn: sales were up 0.5% both period on period and year on year.

H Bauer
H Bauer did not have a strong set of results, with a circulation rise for only one of its seven audited titles - women's weekly Bella, up 8.9% period on period and 27.4% year on year.

The group attributes the rise to readers' need for "me time" in the troubled economic climate, but agencies say the rise marks a recovery from a previous crash, rather than gaining new ground. Meanwhile, Take a Break and That's Life both fell year on year, by 6.3% and 10.8% respectively, but retained their first and third positions in the traditional weeklies' market.

In the TV listings sector, TV Choice retained the top spot with 1,335,894 copies - more than 63,000 copies ahead of IPC's What's on TV - but TV Quick dropped 13.9% over the last six months to 144,270 copies.

IPC Media
Of IPC Media's 25 audited titles, the sector that suffered the biggest fall was men's magazines, with Nuts and Loaded both losing almost a quarter of their circulations over the past 12 months.

NME crashed 27.2% year on year to sell an average of 40,948 copies, although the music title is faring better on the web, recording 4,454,983 unique users in its June ABCe. Other strong IPC web brands include Nuts, What's on TV and Trusted Reviews.

In the women's weekly sector, Pick Me Up, which is aimed at women in their late-twenties, lost 13.7% of its circulation over the last six months, although its relaunch has slowed the rate of decline.

There were brighter spots elsewhere in IPC's women's titles, with Look up 2.6% year on year, InStyle up 1.2% year on year and Women & Home up 4.0% year on year.

In an audit where no publisher is celebrating significant increases, NatMags reported the smallest overall decline in its performance, falling 3.8% year on year.

The publisher can toast Men's Health, Harper's Bazaar and Reveal as its star performers.

Men's Health boosted the men's lifestyle portfolio with its 2.1% rise year on year, while Reveal rose 14% year on year and Harper's Bazaar was up 0.5%.

However, the majority of NatMags' vast portfolio lost circulation, most notably the women's monthly She, which dropped 14.1% year on year. Men's monthly Esquire lost 12.2% of its circulation over the last six months, while Real People and Prima Baby suffered double-digit year-on-year declines of 12.2% and 11.1% respectively.

Views from the top: The UK's leading consumer magazine publishers comment on their latest ABC performances

Paul Keenan, chief executive, Bauer Consumer Media
Bankers, politicians, swine flu and free content seem to own the headlines latterly, but these ABCs speak loudly about the durability and dynamism of the magazine medium. Despite economic meltdown, pandemic doom and gloom and increased competition, magazines that are fresh, surprising and relevant continue to win.

This is amplified as we extend our brands' service through other platforms, deepening our audiences' participation. Grazia and Westfield, Empire's 20th birthday, Q at Glastonbury - this is modern media making a difference. In tough trading conditions, ad revenue concentrates on trusted brands that consistently offer cut-through to high-value audiences.

Nicholas Brett, deputy managing director, BBC Magazines
Having been around for the August ABCs for a number of years, I can say that if it isn't a black day, it's a grey one, and this year there are some very mixed results. In a recession, generalist magazines tend to be hit harder than specialist ones.

We have actively gone down the specialist route, with the view that if you develop strong brands around communities of passion, you can reap rewards, even when we're in the worst global recession any of us have known.

One of our strategies has been to move away from bulking, so our figures reflect a high percentage of active purchases.

Nicholas Coleridge, managing director, Condé Nast
Given the current economic climate, it is reassuring that glossy magazines are still selling in considerable numbers. It is noticeable that the high end of the monthly market is outperforming the mass market and weeklies, as readers prioritise quality journalism and sophistication. Upmarket and journalistically interesting magazines have fared the best this time.

And the disintegration of the red-top mens' magazines continues to fascinate. Will there be any left three years from now, I wonder? Looking ahead, I expect the market will maintain its current level for the next six months, followed by some renewed circulation expansion in 2010.

David Goodchild, managing director, H Bauer
I am guessing there has been trepidation among media analysts as to what might be thrown up in this set of ABCs, given the economic climate and competition from new media. However, despite a fall in total sales, these results show just how resilient magazines are.

I am very pleased with H Bauer's performance. Despite a major emphasis on value-based marketing promotions by our competitors, our share has risen in each of our market categories. We have the biggest-selling magazine in the country (TV Choice) and the biggest-selling women's weekly (Take a Break), while Bella has shown the biggest increase of any title year on year, up more than 52,000 copies.

Evelyn Webster, chief executive, IPC Media
IPC has delivered a robust set of results, with particularly strong performances from Essentials, InStyle, Look, Woman & Home and Soaplife. So despite the current economy, consumers will continue to engage with their favourite, trusted brands.

We're driving share expansion on the UK news-stand, in terms of volume and value, and our reach is growing across platforms, through brands such as, and Our focus on innovation and investment is delivering premium products. And with very recent retail data showing a tentative improvement in market conditions, IPC is well placed for the next six months.

Arnaud de Puyfontaine, chief executive, NatMags
Considering the difficult market, NatMags' performance at group level is very encouraging; we are outperforming our key competitors year on year.

What is striking is the fantastic performance from Men's Health, which has enjoyed 15 consecutive periods of growth and is the number one monthly men's magazine in the UK. Other outstanding performances came from Reveal and luxury title Harper's Bazaar.

It is all about innovation: our readers want to spend their time and money on high-quality products. NatMags is well positioned to ride out the storm - although every sector has been under pressure, we are maintaining share.

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