With magazine circulations plummeting, FHM closing and rumours rife on future ownership of ACP Magazines, Paul Merrill says the only way forward is launching new titles.
Eight years ago in the UK, nearly a quarter of all magazine sales came from magazines that were less than four years old. In Australia, the figure was slightly lower, but still significant. Today, the situation is very different. For a start there are so few new magazines. Yes, Masterchef briefly flared, and Top Gear made an initial impact. But Grazia and Alpha fizzled, and now ACP has shelved their plans to launch Elle.
In any industry, innovation is the lifeblood. Without it, existing markets falter and decay without the renewal essential for survival. And the magazine market is decaying faster than most.
Yes, there has been investment in the digital sphere, but that just isn’t enough.
The men’s market is a case in point. Four years ago, there was a weekly selling 120,000, and two monthlies both bubbling just under 100,000. Now one monthly (Ralph) has closed, another (FHM) is closing and the weekly (my old mag, Zoo) has lost nearly half of its sale in those four years.
It’s not the fault of the individual mags, as they all have a finite life cycle, but it does mean the sector could soon be wiped out as there is nothing to take their place. Even the still-buoyant Men’s Health is showing signs of plateauing.
The volume of women’s mags has declined by a smaller percentage, but by a bigger volume. Where will the next major weekly come from? Zoo and Famous were the last two six years ago.
The recession is partly to blame, but it is no excuse to stop investing in the future because the future has a nasty habit of becoming the present.
And if some of our biggest magazine publishers are keen to sell, a prospective buyer might wonder about investing in a company so shy about ring fencing its own long-term future.
Most recently the editor of Zoo Weekly, Paul Merrill has been in magazines for 18 years.
- This piece first appeared in the April issue of Encore. Subscribe to the print edition here or download the iPad edition here.