Of course ACP will close mags, but the big question is what happens after that?

I doubt it was his intention, but there was only one topic of conversation on the press table after new ACP Magazines boss Matt Stanton faced the media for the first time: which magazines is he about to close?

It came after a refreshingly bullshit free assessment of the company’s position. There was a nod towards the fact that ACP had been slow to start implementing a digital strategy, and an acknowledgement that more magazines will go.

None of it came as a surprise to hear, but oddly it was much more confidence building than the company’s previous whistling-in-the-graveyard approach that all is well.

And of course it’s worth remembering that the point of the lunch was to remind the market of the strength of one if its key titles – the redoubtable Australian Women’s Weekly.

But we’ve perhaps got so caught up in the drama of magazine deaths, that we’ve forgotten that titles closing has always been part of the life cycle of mags. They always have come and gone faster than other media.

But with fewer launches these days, the deaths are more noticeable.

Number one on the list of possibilities discussed around the table was Grazia, published under licence from Italian mag house Mondadori. A circulation of 53,742 leaves it vulnerable, but there’s always been a rumour in the market that the licencing conditions were so onerous it would cost ACP more to close than to keep it going.

Other possibilities among ACP’s weeklies? It looks like the bottom has dropped out of the soft porn market. People dropped 26% to 29,000 or so in the last set of ABCs. Perhaps if they closed that it would give sister title Picture – down 24% to a fractionally healthier 42,000 – another year or two of life.

Similarly, Zoo Weekly, now with a lot of its cost stripped, out may survive another year or two on the back of sister men’s title FHM’s closure earlier this month.

In the monthlies, would anyone notice if Trader (down 20% to 12,000) went?

Burke’s Backyard, down 15% to 45,000 suddenly looks vulnerable if we’re looking for closures.

Or even (whisper it) Harpers Bazaar, down 8% to 54,000. How about Empire magazine, with a circulation of just 23,000?

Would Wheels (49,000, down 4.5%) be sacrificed to save Top Gear (72,000, down 5%)?

And is Rolling Stone viable with a circulation of less than 20,000?

Knowing when to close or offload a magazine isn’t as easy a business decision as it may seem. Subscriber refunds and redundancies have to be factored in. And each time you close a magazine, the company’s central costs are spread more heavily around the remaining titles and its buying power diminishes slightly.

Nevertheless, all of the above titles might be up for the chop, or offloading to someone else, particularly with the company apparently for sale to help pay down the debts on parent company Nine Entertainment Co.

But let’s assume for now that ACP remains as a standalone magazine company.

How will it look in a few years time? That’s where Stanton impressed today. It’s easy to say that the future is digital, than it is to actually deliver on a future proofing strategy. And the three-legged race with ninemsn can’t help with that. But, desperately late as it is, Stanton gave the impression of being the first person in charge of that company who’s actually making the move to digital a priority.

As he pointed out, what magazines deliver is deep engagement with a reader. Clearly there’s no comparison between a single online display ad impression from someone who’s just dropped by from Google versus an ad inside a magazine – whether in print or on tablet – that somebody has paid their own money for, and will spend a couple of hours with. And of course there should be no comparison in the ad rate either.

Yet recent years have seen ACP – and indeed the magazine industry as a whole – fail to effectively sell that engagement message to the market.

Yet it’s this engagement that will save magazines, whatever their platform

The ones that don’t get culled first, that is.

Tim Burrowes



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