Magazines still have a future.  But it’s very different from their past.

First published in What’s New in Publishing

Wessenden Marketing, the UK insights consultancy and author of the annual mediafutures survey, has released its overview of the UK magazine market entitled, “Good News & Bad News in 2020’s Magazine Launches”.

Its main finding is that the number of magazine launches dived by almost 60% in 2020 to 113 regular frequency titles: in short, the magazine business has taken a massive hit from ongoing structural trends and the COVID-19 pandemic, but is still very active.

However, in a trend that mirrors the evolution of the music industry and vinyl records, Wessenden’s briefing notes argue that whilst print still has a future, it’s more as a low-volume, low-frequency, high-premium product that occupies tight, vertical niches.

Other key data points from its research data show:

  • The number of magazine deaths surged and outnumbered launches by almost 4:1: there has been a major clear-out and the size of the market, in terms of the number of magazine brands, has shrunk by 16% year-on-year.
  • The size of launch, as measured by the number of copies distributed, dropped by 22% to an average of only 8,400 copies. The largest launch of the year, Lego Super Hero Legends, had a launch distribution of only 64,000 copies on the newsstands. Launches are squeezing into tight, vertical niches rather than filling broader-based “gaps”.
  • Linked to that, the average cover price of all the launches jumped by 11% year-on-year to a record £4.52. This is in comparison to the £2.23 price seen in the total magazine market. Print magazines are increasingly premium-priced.
  • Monthlies are still the most common frequency accounting for 47% of all launches, up from 44% a year ago.  The number of one-shots and annuals also dropped by 60% to 177 products.

Jim Bilton, Managing Director, Wessenden Marketing says, “Given the horrendous trading conditions, to see 113 new products come on to the newsstands shows that the magazine business is still very much alive. Yet it continues to change rapidly. True digital-only magazine launches are rare. The vast majority have a print companion alongside digital platforms. Yet that print product is becoming lower frequency, lower volume, higher-priced and – usually – better quality in terms of pages and paper.”

Bilton also says that there has been a profound structural change in the magazine market with growth driven not by larger publishers but by smaller passion publishers, “Go back 15 years, and the launch scene was very different. In 2005, there were 33 titles with launch distributions of over 100,000 copies and three with over 1 million: Full House, TV Easy and Pick Me Up with Grazia close behind. By contrast, in 2020, the biggest launch was 64,000 copies.

“Also, look at the publishing companies behind them. Fifteen years ago, it was Burda, IPC, EMAP, Condé Nast and Hachette. In 2020, the big publishers are thin on the ground. The real creativity in magazines is currently coming from the smaller, ‘passion publishers’ as the big multinationals downsize and reshape their operations.”

Regarding magazine ‘hotspots’, Wessenden’s data shows that children’s magazines dominate, perhaps not surprising given many schools have been shut for prolonged periods and magazines are perceived by many parents as a safer alternative than online browsing. Specifically, children’s magazines accounted for a quarter of all launches in 2020 and additionally have some of the largest distributions.

Other categories showing a healthy trajectory are again what one might expect given the circumstances over the past twelve months: Puzzles, gardening, cookery, health & fitness and mindfulness being particularly popular categories for launches and brand extensions.

Wessenden also adds that lying behind the aforementioned growth areas are “the normal eccentric mix of subjects that always drive the magazine business” from Outrageous Bride to Rolls Royce & Bentley Driver to Mindful Gardening to Vape Retailer and on to Cocoa Girl.

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