Sales of most magazine titles are slipping but across this incredibly creative market there are still many publications with large circulations, writes Siobhán O’Connell
Like newspapers, the magazine sector has had to cope with a decline in advertising revenue in recent years. Circulation has also been under pressure though popular titles are still bought in substantial numbers. The UK has a long-established and diverse magazine sector, with c.240 consumer titles whose circulation is audited and verified by the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC). Overall, UK magazine sales declined by c.6% last year, but some sectors did better than others.
Outside of the TV mags and supermarket freebies, this is the largest magazine market segment, divided into lifestyle, fashion and beauty (18 titles); weeklies (18 titles); and home interest (22 titles). The category with the sharpest circulation decline in 2020 was weeklies, down 15%. The principal players here are Take A Break (369k), Woman’s Weekly (205k) and Hello! (166k). Titles with weekly sales over 100k include That’s Life, Chat, Bella, Closer and Woman.
In the lifestyle, fashion and beauty segment, big titles like Cosmopolitan (175k), Vogue (190k), Woman & Home (248k), Good Housekeeping (424k) and Red (134,000) all performed well. As did Harper’s Bazaar (100k), Prima (212k), Grazia (85k), Tatler (78k) and Elle-UK (107k).
Shoppers in the UK and Ireland purchase just on three million TV-related magazines every week. Radio Times (498k) and TV Times (127k) used to rule this roost, but the segment leaders now are What’s on TV (691k) and TV Choice (1,042k).
The fortnightly London Review of Books has a strong following (88k) while The Spectator garners 91k sales per week, ahead of the left-wing New Statesman (37k). The Week has an ABC of 132k, while going very strong is the fortnightly Private Eye (237k). Among business titles, The Economist averages 709k circulation per fortnight, with 80% of sales sourced outside the UK. Meanwhile, Money Week (34,000) and Investors’ Chronicle (31,000) are still popular.
COMPUTING AND MEN
Newsagent shelves used to be stacked with computer titles. The last two standing in the ABC are the fortnightly Computeractive (60k) and the monthly PC Pro (20k). In the ‘men’s lifestyle’ magazine category, notable titles are Stuff (29k), T3 (32k) and Wired (48k). Segment leaders GQ (95k) and Men’s Health (98k) also had decent results in 2020.
In this category, there are nine UK titles with ABC membership, led by The Garden, distributed monthly to 450k members of the Royal Horticultural Society. Shop title BBC Gardeners’ World, published every two months, has an average issue circulation of 227k, while the weekly Garden News attracts 40k buyers per issue. The segment enjoyed 10% circulation growth year-on-year in 2020.
Some niche magazine titles continue to be popular. Saga, a bi-monthly for the retired, has an average issue circulation of 213k. New Scientist, bought recently by the publisher of the Daily Mail for €80m, has a weekly circulation of 58k, while Angling Times has 18k weekly purchasers.
The children’s magazine segment has 32 titles serving pre-school and primary-school children. It’s also buoyant, with titles aimed at kids in primary school enjoying 30% growth in 2020. The bestseller for infants is Peppa Pig Bag-o-Fun (67k per month), and there are six Lego titles with a monthly circulation from 20k to 54k. The pre-teen bestseller is the weekly First News (58k). And The Beano hasn’t gone away, with a weekly sale of 46k. Not strictly for children, but enjoyed by them anyway is Viz (43k), now published ten times a year.