Media Talk: Niche magazines take the lead

Media Talk: Niche magazines take the lead
Quality titles we trust: Country Style, The Monthly, Frankie
Their circulations are relatively small, but they've nailed their respective niches in an economic climate that continues to see consumers tighten their purse strings and turn increasingly to the internet for information and entertainment. With stand-out covers, online interaction and content that stand them apart, right now Aussies are turning to quality magazines they can trust like these, for which they are quite happy to wear the expense.

In the Audit Bureau's latest report, The Monthly (up 21.8%), Frankie (up 20.7%) and Country Style (up 9.7%) magazines joined Australian Traveller (up 11.1%), Country Home Ideas (up 14.6%), Caravan and Motorhomes (up 24.6%), Donna Hay (up 8.9%) and Men's Fitness (up 37.5%) in recording the most impressive year-on-year sales gains, though it was Citrus Media's Game Informer magazine that recorded the most impressive results with its circulation rocketing 70%.

Bi-monthly Morrison Media title Frankie bolstered the young women's category, recording a 20.7% rise in circulation, to give it 56,361 copy sales, while Cleo (down 7.1% to 111,545) and Cosmopolitan (down 6.2% to 141,867) saw sales decline. The teen girls' category continued to trend down with DOLLY declining a dramatic 25% to 90,207 monthly copy sales and Girlfriend following suit with a loss of 5.7% (circulation: 85,061).

The fashion and women's lifestyle categories both recorded falls, with marie claire down 7.5% (102,558 copies), Vogue down 3.9% (50,119), InStyle dropping 3.0% (60,067), and Harper's Bazaar falling 2.9% (54,464), though SHOP Til You Drop (down 0.7% to 80,774) and Madison (down 1.6% to 87,693) were more resilient. Proving niche isn't always best, RUSSH magazine's sales fell 11.4% to 18,704 copies.

Pacific Magazines' Women's Health remained steady, posting a 1.6% increase, as did the nation's number-one seller, The Australian Women's Weekly, with the old girl steadying herself with a nominal 0.4% sales decline, recording an average of 491,352 monthly sales in the year to June 2011 likely buffered by the royal wedding and the special souvenir edition that followed. While Rodale's Women's Health has found local success, Prevention has come off second best, recording a fall of 17.1%.

MasterChef has seen its sales tempered after initial consumer enthusiasm: the foodie magazine shed 17.1% of its circulation in the year to June, giving it a still-healthy 124,301 figure after a high of 150,000.  

"We’re really pleased that MasterChef magazine has settled at number three in the category, which is well ahead of our original circulation target of 86,000 copies," said Fiona Nilsson, group publisher, food, at News Magazines. "The MasterChef phenomenon continues to grow with the recent launch of the MasterChef Magazine app for iPad, which became the number one selling app in the Australian iTunes store within weeks of launching." 

Super Food Ideas followed MasterChef's suit with a fall of 13.6% and a circulation of 226,272. Family Circle also lost ground, losing 8.4% of sales, as did delicious, which fell 8.2% to 123,070 copies. With gains made by Donna Hay and Healthy Food Guide (up 8.3%), the food and entertaining category lost 6.2% circulation overall. Diabetic Living did well, gaining 5.6% to give it 56,572 monthly copy sales.

Green thumbs failed to find their way to the magazine stand as Your Garden (down 16.1%), Burke's Backyard (down 14.2%), Earth Garden (down 8.9%) and Gardening Australia (down 2.5%) lost their grip. The biggest selling home and lifestyle title, Pacific's Better Homes & Gardens, lost 5.5% of its sales, registering an average of 362,012 per month, while News Magazines' Inside Out (down 5.7%) and Australian Handyman (down 8.1%) also lost traction.

Aussies' attentions were still focused on the home, however, as Australian County Style (up 9.7% to 63,000), Belle (up 5.8% to 37,216), Australian House & Garden (up 3.2% to 109,041), Home Beautiful (up 1.5% to 74,697) and Real Living (up 0.4% to 62,507) all gained ground. Express Media Group's provincial publication Country Home Ideas posted an impressive 14.6% rise. With news that ACP will be publishing a one-shot tied into The Block, this is one category that may weather knocks to come.

While Men's Fitness bulked up by 37.5%, the last men standing in the men's lifestyle magazine category suffered sorely with FHM down 19.6% to 40,208 copies and Zoo down 18.3% to 82,094. 

Reader's Digest, Australian Geographic and Rolling Stone all posted large circulation losses, dropping 23.4%, 18.7% and 16% respectively. But Game Informer (up 70% to 39,196), The Monthly (up 21.8% to 29,982) and Digital Photography and Design (up 16.5% to 5,350) defied the odds, proving print still holds appeal if you get the offering right.

"I feel like we've delivered on our promises to the Australian gaming public and the local industry while establishing ourselves as a vital link between the game makers, and the consumers," said Game Informer editor Chris Stead talking to last year. "The feedback we're getting from our readers is extremely positive: they love our coverage of the Australian industry and respect our unbiased, mature approach to games journalism."

Famous magazines' Gereurd Roberts, who was recently promoted to publisher of the young celebrity title, has overseen the only year-on-year increase in the women's weekly market, lifting sales 2.2% in the year to June 2011, an average of 90,436 copies each week, and 0.1% between March 2011 and June 2011. ACP's NW experienced the biggest fall in sales over the year to June, shedding 13.1% of its circulation, which now rests at 107,057.  

Woman's Day remains the top selling women's weekly, scooped up by 385,608 Aussies each week. New Idea is selling 308,068 copies each week, a year-on-year decrease of 5.5%; Who sells 131,744 copies (down 2.1% year-on-year); OK! sells 98,426 copies (down 3.1%) and Grazia 54,096 (down 11.4%). The two reality weeklies, That's Life (256,023) and Take 5 (211,397), both lost circulation (6.6% and 5% respectively).

Acknowledging the 5.3% decline in overall magazine circulation in the six months to June 2011, Pacific Magazines' CEO Nick Chan was circumspect when talking to AdNews:

"We had higher expectations but the economic climate has had a hand in the figures we’re looking at today. Part of the problem is that magazines have failed to market the benefits of paid media properly, and until we find a way to compete with the digital market numbers will continue to fall."

While Nine Entertainment Co's ACP Magazines remains the dominant market presence with 51.7% of magazine sales, with Express Media Group, Morrison Media, Citrus Media and other niche publishers standing out in the pack, and further market consolidation, if not big losses, ahead – albeit with Australia somewhat buffered in a climate of global economic fragility – the big guys in town will be looking to the small guys to get back on track.

Girl With a Satchel