Media Analysis: Consumer Magazines in Motion

Article excerpt

2005's PPA award-winners underline the market's appetite for launches, redesigns and going global.

Everyone needs a battle cry to motivate them. However, when editor-in-chief of Time Inc Norman Pearlstine told delegates at the Periodical Publishers Association (PPA) Magazines 2005 conference earlier this month that 'if we don't launch or acquire, we don't survive', he was preaching to the converted.

Looking at the recent winners of the PPA awards for editorial and publishing excellence, it is clear that consumer magazine publishers have been acting on the first part of Pearlstine's mantra for some time. Just two years old and already profitable, Emap's Closer took the title of consumer magazine of the year. Elsewhere, FHM won the international magazine category for the roll-out of editions in new territories, while at IPC NME's Conor McNicholas won editor of the year for leading the successful overhaul of the 51-year-old music title.

Chief executive of Emap Consumer Media Paul Keenan points out that there are real benefits to having a hefty launch programme. 'A quarter of UK magazine sales are going to magazines less than five years old,' he says.

'You have to launch to defend your position, but it is also a terrific source of profitable growth.'

Sylvia Auton, chief executive of IPC Media, which has been in continual launch mode for the past couple of years, adds: 'Perpetual innovation is the only way to stay ahead of the game.'

In fact, there is so much activity now that almost every market sector is being regarded as ripe for a launch, with new opportunities driven by changes in society and readership.

'With Grazia, the research showed publishers that because women's lives are changing, upmarket women have more time, maybe because they have extra help at home,' says Kelly Harrold, head of press at ZenithOptimedia.

Social change

'Titles such as Golf Punk work as the crowd playing golf now are a lot younger than was the case 10 years ago,' adds Caroline Jones, group head of press buying at Starcom Mediavest. 'Publishers have to keep up with consumer behaviour.'

Even the specialist titles are benefiting from social change. 'I think people now see their enthusiasm and passion as a status symbol: it's not what kind of car you have got, it's what do you do at the weekend,' says Keenan.

Conde Nast managing director and PPA chairman Nicholas Coleridge cites a number of reasons for the launch mania: magazines have benefited from readers' longer commutes, the current UK distribution system is strong and efficient, and the business has attracted a lot of bright people.

'Magazines have been gaining market share against newspapers and TV in advertising. Most of the big companies have been doing quite well because people are buying a lot of magazines,' he adds. 'If business is struggling, you do not get launches. You get them when the big players are feeling confident and optimistic about the future.'

One reason for that optimism, Coleridge argues, is a change in the advertising market. 'The days of big TV campaigns aimed at all men or women are over - except for big advertisers, they are too expensive. Most advertisers prefer the precision of a magazine,' he says.

Market turnaround

The result of this feel-good scenario is that even hard-nosed City analysts believe magazines are a growth business. 'Back in 2001 analysts were all saying the magazine market is mature, that it's beyond growth, it's not an exciting market,' says one senior publisher executive. 'The conversations we are having today are all about what a fantastic market it is - it's a hot market right now.'

According to TMB Weekly, the number of newsstand launches has not increased dramatically - there were 64 from January to May this year compared with 54 in the same period of 2004 and 74 in 2003. What has changed is the scale and ambition of the titles. …