U.K. Magazine Circulation Up, While Papers Struggle

Newsstand Accounts for Most of the Boost

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LONDON (AdAge.com) -- In the U.K., it's not all bad news for print. Overall magazine circulation grew 3.7% in the last six months of 2008 to more than 81 million, according to figures released Feb. 12, although free magazines and custom-publishing titles account for much of the rise.

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U.K. Magazine Circulation Up, While Papers Struggle
All the major magazine publishers saw circulations slide, and advertising revenue is going in the same direction. Vogue, for example, is seeing a 20% drop in ad pages for its February, March and April 2009 issues.

"Last year, flat was the new up," said Vanessa Clifford, head of press at Mindshare U.K. "Now everyone thinks they've done brilliantly if they have only a 5% decline. My clients are not shifting spend away from press ... but budgets are down, and they are looking for value."

Circulation in the women's lifestyle and fashion sector was up 7.4%, mostly due to free newcomer ASOS.com, a print magazine that promotes a website. The name means "As Seen On Screen" and is all about mimicking the fashions of favorite celebrities. Many titles held steady, and two -- Condé Nast's Vanity Fair and Hachette Filipacchi's Red -- hit record numbers.

In the second half of 2008, falling home prices dulled consumers' interest in the shelter category. Of 24 titles in the sector, 19 saw circulations fall.

Strong newsstands
Unlike in the U.S., newsstand sales account for most of the circulation of major titles -- 84.9% for Cosmopolitan and 69.6% for Vogue, for example.

Three U.K. women's magazines closed in 2008. Eve was a "middle youth" title that launched in 2001 but never really caught on, while New Woman was an established younger-women's monthly that suffered a 45.3% sales decline in the first half of 2007 and never recovered. Women's news weekly First launched in 2006 but also never took off.

Condé Nast is brave enough to launch two new titles in the first quarter of this year: fashion biannual Love and a U.K. edition of Wired.

Clare Rush, U.K. head of magazines at Mediaedge:cia, said Wired will have to fight hard for advertisers. "They are charging a lot for what the product is," she said. "Commercially it will be incredibly tough -- it doesn't fit on the fashion and grooming schedule. Do we need it or can we live without it?"

Wired, launching in April, will not confirm any advertisers, but Love has already sold pages to top fashion brands including Chanel, Prada, Dior, Gucci and Ralph Lauren.

Papers worse off
The picture for newspapers is bleaker. Newspaper ad revenue fell 11.68% in 2008. At the Daily Mail & General Trust, ad revenue fell 23% in January 2009 at its national newspaper division and 40% for its regional newspapers.

News International, publisher of The Times and The Sun, just cut 65 jobs.

At other newspaper groups, the Financial Times has axed its sports coverage; a Russian oligarch bought the loss-making London Evening Standard; and two rival newspaper groups -- Independent News & Media and Associated Newspapers -- are sharing an office to pool back-office resources.

"There is a lot of choice with newspapers," said Mindshare's Ms. Clifford. "Clients are going for the most targeted titles and are more likely to go for a half page instead of a page."

Like Americans, Brits are still reading their papers but online instead of in print. U.K. newspapers collectively rank in the top 10 most viewed sites alongside Google, eBay and Facebook.

In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has announced plans to give all French teenagers a one-year free subscription to a newspaper of their choice on their 18th birthday. The $770 million project -- in which newspapers will cover the cost of the free copies while the government pays for delivery -- is an attempt to boost dwindling readership and lure teens back from the internet.

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