ABC’s for magazines show storm may be abating

Here’s a bold prediction: the perfect storm which has engulfed the UK magazine sector is abating.

The latest ABC figures show some signs of stability: at a much lower level then before the storm but keeping afloat in the storm is success.

Women’s weeklies down slightly

That bell weather of the sector, the women’s weekly circulation figures, went down only 0.6% in the 6 months to December.  And some in other sectors  rode the storm well: particularly contract magazines such as Asda Magazine and Waitrose Kitchen. But you did not have to be a contract mag to increase circulation: Esquire  put on 4.2% in the 6 months.

4 reasons

The perfect storm has raged since 2007 caused by the financial recession and the impact of digital technology.  Why might I be right that the storm is abating?

  • Many of the numbers in the latest figures for circulation are stable or close to stable;
  • Many publishers are making a go of digital platforms: Future Publishing is doing rather well here;
  • Many publishers are using the “free content” model, either in the contract sector or with publications such as Stylist, to grab circulation; and
  • There does not seem to be a destabilising technology on the horizon which the magazine publishers cannot use as a platform to get their content to readers.

3 concerns

There are causes for concern:

  • How profitable is all of this stability given the extra publishers have to spend on using new digital platforms?
  • Will shareholders demand larger margins than they can now earn in this abated storm and so make management slash yet more into the muscle of the sector?  Slashing the muscle lowers the quality of the content and the appeal to readers;
  • Is this stability built on cover price cuts which gain only a pyrrhic victory?

Some are still sinking and surely will go under: how long can NME last with sales below 20,000?

Of course, it may be that as I analyse the ABC figures of over 150 magazines the sun is shining and the winds are mild.

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