May 06, 2007

Advertising and Magazines

Advertising and Magazines

Return to Lifestyle Magazines Hub

Advertising and Circulation

As has been noted elsewhere one of the main sources of income for a magazine is through its advertising. Advertisers will pay advertising rates based upon the size and nature of the readership and sales of a magazine. Most magazines belong to the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) system of assessing the circulation of magazines. The ABC are an independent not-for profit organisation for the publishing industry. The BBC who are now a big producer of magazines produced this press report in August 2004 reviewing how well their magazines were doing set against the rest on figures provided by the ABC.

ABC explanation of their funding:

The whole concept and structure of ABC is based upon objectivity and integrity. As a tripartite association, ABC is funded by dues and service fees paid by the three groups it serves: advertisers, advertising agencies, and publishers.

BBC Magazines

As you would expect from a publicly accountable body information about the BBC magazines is easy to research. Below is a clear statement of how the BBC magazine arm is placed in the organisation as a whole. The extract also emphasises that the magazines are totally ring-fenced from the licence fee. This means they must survive on thier own merits as fully commercial publications. Naturally they have the advantage of a global brand but also play a role in extending that brand thus making an ovrall contribution to the licence payers as a whole.  

BBC Magazines is a division of BBC Worldwide Ltd, the commercial consumer arm of the BBC. It is the UK's third largest consumer magazines publisher, with a portfolio of over 35 regular titles for adults, teenagers and children, and also owns Origin Publishing, which publishes a further range of contract titles and specialist consumer magazines.

BBC Worldwide does not use licence fee income for its activities and re-invests in public service programming. In 2003/2004 BBC Worldwide returned £141 million to the BBC.

Circulation Management

Circulation  management is extremly important to the life and success of a magazine. Any serious decline in a magazine's circulation will lead to a decline in advertising revenue. This combination can quickly lead to a spiral of decline. Magazines managers will have a range of marketing tools at thier disposal to try and turnaround any flagging figures but firstly they need to know what their problems are and how they have arisen. If there is a general downturn in magazine circulation as a whole because of national economic decline for example then a magazine can benchmark its expectations against the competition in a falling market. There are several comapnies in existence which provide specialist services to magazines such as Mediatel and the Circulation Management Magazine.  

Mediatel Reports on ABC circulation figures 

Mediatel is a company which does number crunching for advertisers and media production companies. As soon as the raw data on circulation is released from ABC the infromation is produced for subscribers. This information is particualrly important for media buyers who are the people who reserve space for advertisements in magazines. If you go to the Mediatel figures on Men's Lifestyle magazines for example you will see that there has been a huge drop in circulation from 2005 - 2006 for the magazine 'Loaded' of nearly 25%. It is these figures rather than the direct content which concerns advertisers and which will dictate how much they are prepared to pay for advertising space.  This graph giving the February sales figures is revealing of a downward trend in this market place.

Circulation Management Magazine 

Although aimed at the American market-place this magazine was investigating an important conundrum which has emerged in the magazine market place which applies equally to the UK industry and also to Europe.  

Baird Davis in Circ Levels Remain Precariously High in Second Half 2006
Monday, April 30, 2007 poses a fundamental issue: 

In this article we’ll address the conundrum of how consumer magazine publishers are sustaining lofty circ levels in the face of stiff Internet competition and an apparent decline in magazine readership. We’ll explore the market trends that influence publisher’s high circ level behavior and conclude by taking an in-depth look at the mysterious alternative circulation sources (described in paragraph 6 of ABC Publisher’s Statements) that publishers are deploying  to help sustain elevated circ levels. (My emphasis).

Circulators have been exceedingly creative in adjusting to an ever more advertising-centric environment, one resistant to lowering circ levels.

In the article Davis explores the methods which are used to verify circulation figures. Obviously this is an important issue which is fundamental for those buying advertising space to be certain of. With more and more advertising being attracted to the internet it appears as though anomolies are beginning to creep into the system.  

As one enthusiastic blogger John Fine has noted in his US based blog posting "Circulation Bummer's List":

Magazines sell ads based on rate base. Rate base is circulation you guarantee to advertisers. If you miss rate base, your advertisers sort of have carte blanche to make your life miserable--demand cash or free ads; hammer you for future discounts because your circ is weak, etc.

How Far is a Magazinejust a Vehicle for Advertising?

Now we have established the importance of circulation to magazines it seems clear that advertisers have a powerful relationship to magazines it is clear that there is a direct relationship between advertising and profits however it is important to distinguish between different types of magazine before one jumps to an overhasty conclusion that all magazines are just there to provide adverts to willing consumer victims.

One useful way of beginning to assess a magazine is to analyse its target market. It seems clear that generically  GQ is a men's lifestyle magazine which seems to be targeted at a more aspirant type of man in terms of thier clothing and how they spend their leasure time. The fact that its circulation is little over 120,000 out of a population of over 60 million tells us it is only reaching a very narrow target audience. Advertisers obviously pay attention to this.

GQ a Lifestyle Magazine Case Study 

In GQ there is a noticeable lack of car adverts aimed at 'boy-racers' for example which one might have expected. In fact there are very few car adverts at all although there is a regular motoring column.  Car advertising buyers clearly recognise that this isn't a sensible place to sell their products and concentrate on Car magazines or magazines in more upmarket newspares which clearly reach the advertisers target audience. Having analysed GQ advertising for the run up to two Xmases in a row it can quickly be seen that they run a special watches section which attracts watchmaking advertisers. Many of these watches advertised are several thousand pounds such as Breitlings and unlikely to be in the financial reach of most of the readership. As the adverts are the same as ones which appear in magazines such as the Financial Times monthly 'How to Spend It' colour supplement there is a clear discrepancy. The reality is that buying space in the Financial Times will be very expensive whilst in GQ it will be realtively cheap. for these advertisers it allows fantasies about high status items such as Swiss watches to enter into the lives of aspirants. 

A useful exercise is to count up the pages devoted to advertising in GQ. We quickly find that in a typical issue over 50% of the magazine is made up of direct advertising. This is before we get to such things as advertorials in which the magazine has made a special deal with say a clothes company like Diesel to run an advertising shoot which will only be featured in GQ. This is mutually beneficial to both companies and reinforces the notion that some magazines seem to be clearly constructed as a vehicle for adverts. when one adds into the equation the fact that many pages are little more than a set of images of consumer items set out as a sort of 'swatch' we rapidly reach the conclusion that this 'lifestyle magazine at least is merely a vehicle for advertising. This is quickly confirmed when flicking though what passes for editorial content. Almost all the GQs I looked at with my students were often  well over 70% advertising. Conceived of as a sort of catalogue is money on the cover price well spent? The ABC 2004 Sectors breakdown of magazine sales placed the Men's lifestyle sales sector at 5:

  • Top 30 dominated by Women’s magazines - 10 different sectors
  • Women’s interests rank 1, 2, 4 and 9 in top 10
  • TV listings still high – ranking 3
  • Men’s magazines rank at 5

Classical Music Magazines

Let us take a radically different marketplace such as the world of classical music.  It is noticeable that the Mediatel page analysing music magazines includes no classical, jazz, folk or World music magazines at all. This tells us that they are trying to attract advertisers making products and services such as concerts for a youth market. This market is perceived as having high disposable income and willing to spend it easily without much concern for 'value for money'. These are magazines which can be analysed separately. The ABC 2004 figures for the sector "Music Rock" showed this was the 14th best selling sector.

The classical music market is rather different. The consumers are more likely to be middle-class and are likely to have a very discerning core of people who are able to play instruments themselves and will have familiarity with the what is usually  called the classical canon, in other words those pieces of music generslly deemed to be the most important ones historically.

The classical music magazine market is comprised of a growing number of magazines. In the 1980s the only magazine regularly serving this market was Gramophone which was started in the 1920s and was aimed at providing an interface between the growing market of recorded music and potential consumers providing serious reviews and comparisons of recorded music by recognised experts  within the specialist fields of the genre. During the 1990s the market started to grow. Interestingly the 1990 Broadcasting Act laid the basis for this expansion. The BBC was forced to become more competitive and enterprising so it established BBC Music Magazine which primarily deals with classical music with a little jazz and world music. The Broadcasting Act also opened the doors to commerce and Classic FM started broadcasting. Aimed at a target audience less familiar with classical music and played less challenging music from the repertoire they too brought out a magazine to complement their broadcasting and to help build thier brand. 

BBC Music Magazine 

The 2001 sales figures for the magazine showed it to be the World's top selling classical music magazine as it celebrated its 10th anniversary:

BBC Music Magazine is the world's best-selling monthly classical music magazine, with a monthly circulation of 78,707 (ABC: Jan to Dec 2001) and is published by BBC Magazines - a division of BBC Worldwide Ltd, the main commercial arm of the BBC. BBC Worldwide does not use licence fee income for its activities and re-invests in public service programming. In 2001/2002 BBC Worldwide returned £106 million to the BBC.

The sales circulation figures are lower than GQs for example. Looking through the May 2007 edition I found 37.5 pages of direct advertising out of 133 pages including back and front covers.  clearly this is a magazine for a specialist interest market which probably remains at a fairly constant level. It is unlikely that this target audience would put up with magazines largely devoid of editorial content comprising mainly of adverts. This compares with the Male lifestyle market which appears to be very volatile.

In the table below you can see the average monthly figures for the music magazine sector as a whole.  Of course the actual readership of these magazines is likely to be much wider however it gives an idea of the size of the relative markets as a whole. These figures can be compared with the women' magazines sections with the women's weekly magazines market being huge by comparison. 

Music Magazine Market Sales July - Dec 2004


Q – 162,574 – up 0.6% 
Uncut – 114,034 – up 2.6% 
Mojo – 111,815 – up 7.1% 
The Fly – 107,943 – up 1.3% 
NME – 70,017 – down 3.5% 
Kerrang! – 61,844 – down 10.7% 
BBC Music – 56,096 – down 8.1% 
Classic FM – 43,077 – up 5.5% 
Gramophone – 42,791 – down 4.5% 
Classic Rock – 42,030 – up 4.2%

Womens' Magazines Overall 

  • Top 30 dominated by Women’s magazines - 10 different sectors
  • Women’s interests rank 1, 2, 4 and 9 in top 10

Women's monthly magazine Sales July - Dec 2004 

Debenham’s Desire – 973,116 – n/a 
Glamour – 620,391 – up 6.5% 
Cosmopolitan – 478,394 – up 3.9% 
Yours – 438,872 – up 8.7% 
Good Housekeeping – 435,076 – up 4.7% 
Marie Claire – 384,502 – up 6.6% 
Woman & Home – 332,646 – up 12.6% 
Company – 332.603 – up 0.6% 
Candis – 321,050 – up 4.7% 
Prima – 317,308 – down 3.9% 
New Woman – 280,448 – down 3.5% 
More – 274,635 – up 5.8% 
Red – 210,027 – up 6.8% 
Vogue – 206,834 – up 0.8% 
Elle – 202,074 – up 0.4% 
Real – 197,031 – down 4.2% 
Instyle UK – 191,001 – up 2% 
She – 180,160 – down 5.2% 
B – 166,145 – up 0.3% 
Eve – 160,210 – up 12.5% 
Family Circle – 140,305 – down 13.5%

Women's Weeklies 

During this period it was the top sector for magazines  it was the TOP Sector by circulation

- Women’s weeklies - 8,601,393 (average net circ / distribution per issue)

Take A Break – 1,222,774 – down 0.4% 
Chat – 636,310 – up 5.2% 
Now – 619,186 – up 4.6% 
That’s Life – 601,806 – up 0.7% 
Heat – 552,215 – down 2.6% 
Ok! – 529,492 – down 7.3% 
Woman – 527,764 – down 6.7% 
Closer – 504,350 – up 31% 
Woman’s Own – 449,688 – down 6.1% 
Woman’s Weekly – 447,696 – down 1.2% 
Bella – 428,028 – down 0.3% 
Best – 411,060 – down 2.2% 
New! – 396,079 – up 18% 
Hello! – 382,391 – up 9.1% 
Peoples Friend – 372,743 – down 1%

One can see from these figures that the women's magazine market was very variegated in the last six months of 2004 with a wide range of both monthly and weekly magazines on offer. The target markets for these magazines are fairly specific with age and class being the key factors in deciding the target market.  the fact that the women's weekly was the top selling sector may be explained by the fact that women still tend to be more responsible for domestic affairs and shopping. Many of these magazines provide tips and tricks for hosehold and child management and are conveniently and temptingly placed in supermarkets near checkouts.  

Reviewing the various sectors  it is easy to see that gender plays a huge part in the division of sales. As well as all the magazines specifically targeted at women the separate Health and Beauty section is primarily aimed at women. Magazines like 'Hair' for example have a few pages aimed at men. 

Health & Beauty

Boots Health and Beauty – 1,766,893 – down 2% 
Healthy – 280,075 – up 31.8% 
Slimming World – 261,426 – up 2.8% 
Weight Watchers – 243,010 – up 10.1% 
Top Sante Healthy & Beauty – 141,191 – up 8.5% 
Hair – 131,735 – down 16.4% 
Zest – 110,764 – up 5.4% 
Toni & Guy Magazine – 90,000 – n/a 
Slimming – 64,587 – down 5.3% 
Hair Ideas – 53,900 – n/a


The full range of sectors can't be covered here however it should be clear that the magazine sector is primarily driven by advertising. Age, class / status / communities of interest / lifestyle / consumer products magazines (computers / motors) dominate this sector comprise the main range of magazines. Interestingly the figures don't show anything about political or economical magazines sush as the New Statesman or the Economist.  The Economist is covered in a separate section about news magazines. As it has a clear global market without different editions this makes it different to many of the other magazinse such as Vogwhich will come out in a wide range of country editions which makes it more difficult to assess the size and influence of the magazines as a whole.  

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