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ANALYSIS

Jan-June 2015 ABCs: a media buyer’s view

With some notable exceptions, print circulations continued their slide southwards and digital editions have, so far, not been able to plug the gap. However, just as the royal family has done over the years, publishers are continuing to reinvent themselves. In fact, Emily Woollins finds a number of other royal parallels in this particular set of ABC results…

Emily Woollins

Posted on: 24 September 2015


Hello!’s editorial overhaul three years ago has evidently paid dividends.
A Royal Arrival

In a period in which Princess Charlotte stole the limelight and became the talking point of the nation, the ABC figures came out telling the same old story. As press circulations continue to decline, the age old question of the future of print remains on the tips of many media analysts’ tongues. On purely print circulations alone, it would be hard to deny the future does look bleak, but much like the royals, there is a new wave coming with which to reinvigorate the once-adored print sector.

A shift to content marketing across a range of touchpoints is the latest attempt by publishers to offset the evident declines in print display advertising and deliver a viable business model. The much discussed adage goes ‘Content is king but context is queen’, and the press industry should be living by this mantra going forward. With the ability to offer top-end content in trusted environments at scale, print brands are likely to deliver a regal performance in this area for the foreseeable future.

A Game of Thrones

At first viewing, the ABC figures for the last six months do not paint a pretty picture for those who are still ardent print advocates. With an overall decline of 8% in actively purchased copies, traditional print continues on its decline. It is no surprise that, once again, Celebrity & Fashion Weeklies is one of the worst performing sectors (-12.0% PoP print circulation). It has been clear for some years now that magazines are no longer the go-to medium for celebrity gossip. However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom with Hello! (down only 1.3% YoY) who must thank both the young princess as well as the Essex prince, Mark Wright, for appealing and exclusive content over the period. What is clear from this is the importance of content to brand success, and that consumers will still engage with magazines if publishers get it right. Hello!’s editorial overhaul three years ago, moving to focus on more lifestyle content, in addition to its bread and butter, exclusives, has evidently paid dividends.

“It has been clear for some years now that magazines are no longer the go-to medium for celebrity gossip.”

The downward curve in print figures is seen when looking at a range of sectors year-on-year, with digital editions unable to stem the decline: TV Weeklies -4.1% (combined print and digital circulation -4.1%); Men’s Weeklies & Monthlies -4.4% (-4.3%); Women’s Monthlies 0.0% (0.0%); Celebrity & Fashion Weeklies -16.8% (-16.8%); Health & Wellbeing +10.2% (+9.9%); Food & Travel +2.4% (+2.2%); Home & Gardening -7.3% (-7.2%); Fashion & Luxury -2.4% (-2.3%); News & Business -9.1% (-2.2%); Motoring -5.9% (-3.4%); Music -16.2% (-16.8%); Film +0.1% (-0.4%); Traditional Weeklies & Real Life -7.2% (-7.2%); Teen & Pre-Teen -7.8% (-7.8%); Grey -11.2% (-11.1%); Baby & Parenting -23.9% (-24.8%).

Struggling just as much is the total investment into the print sector. Print advertising has declined 60% since 2000 in an advertising market up 31.6% in the last fifteen years. Much like one of the Queen’s state visits to a distant part of the Commonwealth, the UK public aren’t as interested in something that has, until now, been a traditional part of their lives.

Of course, print brands have been working tirelessly over the past few years to keep up with the fast-paced changes in their audience’s consumption habits, and the success of OK!’s digital strategy, as seen by a 125% rise in mobile unique users in the latest figures, shows the incremental reach a publisher can attain with a multi-touchpoint portfolio. However, the saviour that is the digital edition is struggling to keep up, with results showing they are not growing as quickly as expected. While the majority are on the increase, they still represent only 1% of the total combined circulation. This, of course, is only digital editions and discounts the volume of traffic on web and mobile to a publisher site. Until the industry has access to a cross platform measurement system that can de-duplicate audiences across all platforms, the true value of modern print brands will never be realised.


“Health and Wellbeing is by far the most successful sector both PoP and YoY.”
The ABC results, however, do show some silver linings. Health & Wellbeing is by far the most successful sector both PoP and YoY. This is unsurprising given the nation’s recently invigorated interest in exercise and healthy eating as shown by Google searches for ‘healthy’ being up 150% since 2012. Slimming World and Women’s Health are primarily responsible for this with increases of 16.0% and 9.3% respectively year-on-year. Women’s Health’s blend of content and context, in the form of lifestyle and fitness editorial makes the title as accessible to a broad female audience as Kate Middleton is to the masses.

While BBC Good Food’s combined print and digital figure is down 12.0% PoP (in a Food & Travel sector averaging a rise of 1.7% PoP), BBCgoodfood.com is now reaching 7 million unique users monthly, an 11.6% increase since the last period. Breadth of content is at the heart of the success of Good Food’s digital offering; with a seemingly unlimited number of recipes, it has tapped into the hunger for instant and inspiring content at the tap of a screen.

In a precarious position are the Men’s Weeklies & Monthlies who find themselves unable to halt the freefall, with Zoo (-19.3% PoP) and FHM (-19.0% PoP) the main cause for concern. The closure of Nuts in 2014 and Bizarre earlier this year is still fresh in our minds and that will be a worry for Bauer. The success story for both brands, however, is their impressive social following (Zoo now has more than 2.5 million Facebook likes), but the question remains as to how Bauer will monetise this audience and attempt to stem the decline in print revenue.

Long Live The King

After digital, the next phase of the print rejuvenation is emerging in the form of content marketing. With brand investment in the format growing faster than the number of heirs to the throne, at 25% per annum, the opportunity is there for publishers to jump on the trend and bring to the fore two of their key assets: content and context. Established publishers should play to their strengths, offering the ability for a brand to speak to a loyal audience and deepen consideration amongst that group. That insight is backed up by the latest Millward Brown research, ‘The Power of Magazines’, in which the engagement delivered through more specific and longer messages is proven to be more effective in this medium over the mass broadcast of TV. And with consumers looking past a traditional digital display ad faster than they do a Prince Philip faux pas, as shown by a recent Infolinks study, that element of engagement is more crucial than ever.

Magazines are also able to offer what a majority of brands lack, and that is trust (62% of respondents in a recent global Nielsen survey stated that they trust magazine ads, second only to newspapers at 63%). The trust and credibility magazines have built over time continues to guarantee a core audience.

It’s not to say a move into content is an easy one, however. For one, it requires the old model to be reinvented – long gone are the days of only using declining ABC circulations as a negotiation tactic; media agencies should now also be demanding the opportunity to invest in guaranteed views across multiple platforms. The true monetary, and perceived, value of content marketing will remain a hot topic for some time to come. And secondly, the blurring of editorial and sponsored content is something which requires the journalists and sales teams to be walking the same line. Much like the government and the royals, one is effectively powerless without the other.

“Print advertising has declined 60% since 2000 in an advertising market up 31.6% in the last fifteen years.”

Let Them Eat Cake

One way to overcome a declining circulation is to abdicate and switch to a free model, as we have seen in NME’s latest news. The former king of the music sector with a circulation of over 300,000 back in the 70s had no real option other than to take drastic action given the last ABC figures showed little over 12,000 copies being purchased each week. They will be hoping the switch to free will bring readers back into the brand and their rationale is sound given what we’ve seen in the latest ABCs. With a combined distribution of over 1.5 million, ShortList, Stylist, Sport and Time Out go to show there are plenty of willing hands out there should the content be right. NME are not the only ones to opt for the world of the freesheet with Dennis soon to launch a title targeted at fitness-focused males in Coach. With two free titles entering the freemium market in a matter of weeks, the question is whether it is becoming over-saturated. I would argue that good quality content will find an audience, and the prosperity of a free title will be dependent on the relevance and quality of the content for the intended target audience. This, along with a suitable distribution strategy, has so far guaranteed success and that is not likely to change any time soon.

The freemium market, however, is a little like Prince George. It created hysteria within the UK print sector at the time of arrival but is no longer the new kid on the block. The market has moved on a long way since ShortList magazine delivered their content free at scale back in 2007, and the latest arrival that has us all talking is Apple News. The successor to Newsstand will aggregate content in a similar fashion to the more niche Flipboard. The increased exposure for magazines can only increase reader figures as users will be served the content which most suits their interests. And with readers comes revenue. With Apple offering up to 100% of ad revenue generated from advertising on the hosted content directly to the publishers, they will be hoping this turns into a cash cow. However, the question remains how many will browse for unknown content rather than using the app as a means to read their favourites in a new way. The effect may well be similar to the book market in the age of online purchases: the big become bigger, the niche find an audience, but the mid-range find themselves ever more squeezed.

A Royal Wedding

While the traditional print of the magazine sector remains loved but on the wane, the future does look to have been reinvigorated by modernisation and the potential for new additions, if not successors, to the old model. The strength of magazines comes from the combination of all of its assets – the ones on the throne upholding the brand image, supported by a number of new ways to reach out to the public in ways they want and understand. If the elements can continue to work in harmony, and embrace new family members such as mobile and content marketing, the monarchy that is the magazine sector will continue to reign for generations to come.

“Until the industry has access to a cross platform measurement system that can de-duplicate audiences across all platforms, the true value of modern print brands will never be realised.”

About Emily Woollins
(Details last updated: 21 September 2015)

Emily Woollins is a manager in the Connect department at MediaCom. Specialising in planning print brand campaigns, Emily joined the London team in March 2011.

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