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August 20, 2015updated 24 Aug 2015 3:45pm

How print is still a growing market for some UK magazines

By Conori Bell-Bhuiyan

While average UK magazine circulations fell down by 5.3% in the first half of this year some titles continue to buck the trend and grow sales.

News and current affairs titles saw  a combined increase of 3.8% with Private Eye up 4.6 per cent to 228,264, its highest circulation since 1986

Reader’s Digest has begun to recover its sales after years of rapid decline, growing 14.7 per cent to 153,175. 

Monocle grew its monthly sale by 4.1 per cent to 80,171 and news weekly The Spectator grew by 2.6 per cent 55,669 . 

Current affairs title The Week  saw its 34th consecutive circulation increase this year – up another 1.7 per cent to 202,842, something chief executive Kerin O’Connor puts down to good marketing and a “loyal readership”.

“We’re good at looking after our customers”, said O’Connor, “I think a lot of people now spend too much time thinking about acquisition and not about retention”.

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And while the UK print edition of The Economist fell 22.3 per cent to 156,961 the digital edition made up for it by more than tripling its circulation by 225.8 to 70,953.

Michael Brunt, chief marketing officer for the Economist, said: “Over the last few years the profitability of our circulation has really shot up…enabling us to secure our editorial independence.”

Despite the fact that digital circulation was the big grower for the Economist this year Brunt said he was surprised by how popular print-inclusive subscriptions still were, with around 75 per cent of subscribers picking some kind of print issue, either print-only or a digital and print bundle option.

“What we’ve found is that just over half of our new subscribers and renewing subscribers choose the bundle, and of the rest about half-and-half choose the digital only and the print only. That’s really been the driver of the digital growth.”

“We thought that our print circulation would be much smaller now. The migration from print to digital is consistent…but slower than we thought it would be. We’re definitely committed to keeping print going for the meanwhile. I think it will decline, but we’re not gearing up for print to go away any time soon.”

Another growing sector is children’s magazines – pre-teen titles have increased their combined circulation by 12.4 per cent. One stand-out success story is First News, a children’s newspaper aimed at 7-14 year-olds, which saw a circulation rise 12.4 per cent, to 79,431, in the last year.

First News editor Nicky Cox said this growing circulation shows it’s not true that younger readers aren’t interested in print.

“Children have grown up with the digital age so they don’t have the same sense of excitement about it as adults do – because it’s something they’ve always known. So actually something that’s ‘real’ and that’s in front of them that they can hold and touch has more appeal than something digital.”

First News has also seen success “through the relationships we’ve established with schools”, said Cox, who claims that the First News readership is much higher than circulation figures suggest due to copies being bought for classrooms of children.

Schools buy the children’s newspapers in bulk and First News provides them with lesson plans and resources to go along with them. It’s a good way for schools to teach the tricky subject of current affairs and a good business model for First News, said Cox.

She also said that creating a younger generation of newspaper readers is something that will benefit all print publications in the long run: “I think that all the adult newspapers should be welcoming us with open arms…because our readers who are now getting the newspaper habit will hopefully be a generation that grows up to read the adult papers.”

Most women’s fashion magazines have seen significant circulation declines in the last year. Worst performer Candis saw a drop of 20.3 per cent and competitors Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire saw declines of 10.6 per cent and 8 per cent.

However a few titles bucked the trend – ELLE saw a year-on-year increase of 5.7 per cent and Women’s Health also increased its circulation by 8 per cent.

The men’s lifestyle magazine sector’s combined circulation fell 2.6 per cent in the first half of the year.

But Forever Sports, launched last year by the Haymarket Network, was one of the few growing men’s health magazines with a yearly increase of 45.4% bringing it to the position of UK’s fourth best selling men’s magazine.

“We’re taking an entirely new distribution approach”, said Forever Sports publisher Rachel Marks. The magazine was launched in partnership with Sports Direct, meaning it is available to buy in sports shops all over the country. 

“The male 18-30 target audience aren’t really at the traditional newsstand any more but they are in shops like this”, said Marks, “so we have to go where they are”.

“Someone could go into a sports store and buy their kit, some gear, some clothes…and the magazine is for sale alongside the products it’s advertising inside. It’s like a perfect circle.”

Another newcomer showing promise is the women’s fashion and lifestyle mag Hello! Fashion Monthly (HFM).

Targeted at a slightly younger audience than sister publication Hello! and with a scaled-down compact size, more ‘newsy’ content and a low £1 cover price – HFM’s first ever ABCs show a total print circulation of 90,892. Internal figures claiming 61 per cent of those sales have come from readers new to the fashion magazine market.

HFM editor Juliet Herd believes this “winning formula” has “found a gap in the market for busy readers who don’t have the time for traditional longer fashion magazines”.

 “We’ve shown there’s an appetite in the market and we’re in it for the long haul.” 

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