Media Study: What mags are Aussies buying?

Media Study: What mags are Aussies buying?

Life in print: BRW, Frankie, The Week and The Australian selling well
What with carbon taxes, mortgage repayments, general cost-of- living pressures and pessimism around Australia's ability to buffer itself from Europe's woes, the magazine industry – reliant as it is on discretionary spending dollars – is looking timid. Trivialities have no place in a world of austerity, and magazines are seen as a nice diversion, not a bread-and-butter necessity.  

While circulation results for the year ending December 2011 – a snapshot of the performance of 134 audited titles (there are more than 5,800 available on newsstands) show a general decline in magazine sales: a fall of 3.9 per cent over the year, home-maker titles fared well.

The dominance in this audit period of homemaker titles suggest that Aussies are not averse to spending money on titles who present visually enticing covers and engaging content. Belle (up 6.1 per cent to 38,018 copies sold each month), Home Beautiful (up 5.3 per cent to 76,290), Real Living (up 5 per cent to 65,073), House & Garden (up 4.1 per cent to 112,489) and Country Style (up 3.5 per cent to 64,061) proved that newsstand browsers are attracted to idyllic home settings on covers.

Two other magazine titles to gain circulation last year include NewsLife Media's Donna Hay and Morrison Media's Frankie, both which utilise digital well and have strong, cross-platform brand identities and followings. Frankie increased its sales by 14 per cent to 57,934 bi-monthly copies and boasts 130,645 Facebook friends and 40,224 Twitter followers in addition to its website users (it also increased its readership 21.4 per cent to 233,000)

Donna Hay released a complementary iPad app last year to coincide with its widely publicised 10th anniversary, with 100,000 iPad users engaging with the app which ranks 11th in the iPad App Store for free apps and first for paid apps on Newsstand. A pay TV series also aired on the LifeStyle channel. In turn, the magazine gained 13 per cent more print sales (103,000 on average each month).

And while The Australian Women's Weekly, the top selling magazine in the country, shaved 3.3 per cent off sales year-on-year (resting at 470,221), editor Helen McCabe told The Australian Financial Review that the magazine's website grew 40 per cent over the same period. 

NewsLife Media has also been quick to trumpet its digital prowess. Vogue sales are down 2.3 per cent to 51,013 year-on-year but, says NewsLife: "Over the last 12 months, Vogue Australia has achieved a 546 per cent increase in Facebook fans to 66,000 and remains the dominant fashion or lifestyle magazine brand online, with 17.4 per cent year-on-year growth in unique browsers to 1,149,802 in December 2011. 

The Big Issue proved that getting people to buy a current affairs magazine on the streets is possible provided the right motives (its vendors and Women's Enterprise Centre helped to lift circulation 9.5 per cent to 33,074), while BRW held its ground in an antsy business climate. The Week gained period-on-period traction lifting sales to 26,615 each week. In contrast, The Monthly, which sells 28,435 copies a month, lost circulation.  

Grazia editor Kellie Hush has also emphasised the popularity of her website and its place in gaining sales of 0.5 per cent last year. "We have an incredibly successful website – we're beating Vogue at the moment so digitally we're doing really well," she told Mediaweek. "At this stage it's still very much about holding on to a good circulation and building the brand and developing a great website and magazine."  

While My Kitchen Rules is attracting healthy audiences for Seven, Australians are exhibiting signs of food fatigue. MasterChef magazine lost 33 per cent of sales year-on-year (it's down to 99,872 after an impressive debut), and Super Food Ideas suffered a big drop, too (down 21 per cent to 201,690 copies). On the plus side, Family Circle (up 4.7 per cent) and Healthy Food Guide (up 4.1 per cent) sold well.

Astoundingly, tween magazines managed to hold their ground after year upon year of trending down. The kids' end of town experienced almost across-the-board rises after a prolonged period of consolidation. Little Angel lifted its game by 16.8 per cent (to 22,591 copies), Girl Power added 8.8 per cent (23,206 copies) and DMAG and Mania both added 0.8 per cent (19,849 and 18,620 respectively). 

The teen category wasn't so lucky – Dolly lost 12.42 per cent of its circulation (now 90,318 copies) and Girlfriend lost 11.15 per cent (80,014 copies). Women's lifestyle titles Cosmopolitan (down 16.49 per cent to 125,548), Cleo (down 4.47 per cent to 105,157), SHOP Til You Drop (down 8.06 per cent to 76,549) and Women's Health (down 1.74 per cent to 92,323) also experienced sales losses. 

With so many enticements at the mall and online, with a proliferation of websites, blogs and online magazines vying for money and time, it's little wonder that the young women's category is in decline. As with other categories, the challenge will be creating magazines valuable enough to engender reader loyalty. 

The magazine business is operating under the reality that its advertiser support base isn't what it used to be. Online is expected to command the lion's share of advertising revenue within 18 months and ZenithOptimedia reportedly expects magazines to have a share of global ad spend of 9.4 per cent in 2011 and 8.9 per cent in 2012. 

But with parliament approving the health rebate means-test, and consumer confidence looking up (before the banks announced interest rates would go up, mind you), there is reason for publishers to be somewhat optimistic. If, as the Opposition suggests, the means testing will drive middle to high income earners (target consumers of magazines) away from private health insurance altogether, more funds for discretionary spending may become available. 

An extra $40-$200 a month to spend on goods and services, versus maintaining private insurance without the 30 per cent rebate, could play into the hands of the printing press and its advertisers. This would be a major salve to an industry that is grappling with the reality of the digital economy, but which tirelessly bills itself on the basis of its higher reader engagement. 

How do you engage readers if they are put off by cover prices because groceries, insurance premiums and kids' childcare are expensive and, 'Well, I can read it/see it online, anyway', and, 'This glossy temptation might just make me want to buy more stuff I can't afford or need'?

Still, we consumers can be a fickle bunch and quite short-sighted. An attractive pricing proposition or cover can cause us to forget the bank balance and health insurance with a glance at the checkout, in the event we visit a newsagent or when we see an online promotion.

During a year that started with the Queensland floods, Australians found small comfort inside their abodes. We were nesting and adorning our coffee tables with complementary magazines and engaging with mag-apps at the kitchen bench. It will be interesting to see where Aussies invest their discretionary spend over the next 12 months.

The numbers reflected in this report on the Audit Bureau of Circulations December audit period account for sales for 134 weekly, monthly and bi-monthly titles, excluding newspaper-inserted magazines (NIMs), TV guide inserts and newspaper supplements (which do feature in the report). The industry figures don't account for smaller independent titles, zines and digital-only entities who are not audited.

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