BRITAIN’S BURST OF AD ENERGY
Byline: James Fallon
LONDON — Britain is hot and so are its fashion magazines — at least in terms of revenue: Advertising volumes are their highest in seven years and waves of new titles keep coming.
But as Britain’s economy is booming, circulation of the leading fashion titles is flat. Consumers are spending more on their homes and interiors than on their clothes.
“It’s not the growth market in circulation terms it was two or three years ago,” said Heather Love, publishing director of Marie Claire. “There’s a reasonable degree of convergence among the leading titles in the U.K., where there hasn’t been a major launch since Marie Claire in 1988. The market itself needs a bit of a shakeup and change.”
The shakeup many observers believe British magazines need could come from the sale of British publishing company IPC, the U.K. market leader in consumer titles, that publishes Marie Claire..
Reed Elsevier, the company’s parent, announced earlier this week it was considering selling IPC as part of its plan to concentrate on information and technical publishing. Potential bidders are expected to include Hearst Corp.’s U.K. operation National Magazines, IPC’s main competitor EMAP PLC, Conde Nast, Hachette United News & Media of the U.K., Bertelsmann and Axel Springer of Germany and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., which bought Reed’s British provincial newspapers several years ago.
Several publishing companies, such as EMAP, might face antitrust hurdles, however, and are hoping Reed Elsevier finds it difficult to sell IPC en masse. But Reed Elsevier said it was determined to sell the company in one block; it is expected to cost more than $1.14 billion (700 million pounds).
In addition to Marie Claire, IPC publishes 70 other titles, including the men’s magazine Loaded, Country Life, Woman, Woman’s Own, Homes & Gardens and Horse & Hound.
The magazines up for sale had profits before interest and tax of $102.69 million (63 million pounds) on sales of $511.82 million (314 million pounds) in the year ending Dec. 31, 1996.
Reed Elsevier — which is due to merge with Dutch publisher Wolters Kluwer NW to create an $29.34 billion (18 billion pounds) company — said it wants to complete the sale by early 1998.
Meanwhile, new titles continue to proliferate, although none of the magazines launched in Britain the last six months is likely to cause much change in the market, despite all the advertising energy, industry executives believe.
The leading — and most awaited — of these was Frank from Wagadon, publisher of The Face, Arena and Arena Homme Plus. The general reaction to Frank’s launch in September has ranged from wait-and-see to disappointment.
“It didn’t live up to its promise of bringing something new to the market,” one rival publisher claimed, a view backed up by her peers. “It will be interesting to see how it develops, but if you say you’re going to be different, you better deliver it.”
Wagadon claims the first issue of Frank sold more than 115,000 copies, which was within its target of 90,000 to 120,000. However, independent audits by rival publishers showed it sold only about 75,000.
Rod Sopp, Wagadon’s publishing director, said the first issue had 88 ad pages, although the company initially projected 100 pages.
The second issue, which appeared in mid-October, had about 70 ad pages.
“We’ve had a very positive reaction to Frank,” Sopp said. “We promised people something interesting and different, and we think we delivered it. We’re aiming at women who are dissatisfied with their current magazines.”
Executives said one of the reasons for the criticism of Frank is that British readers are no longer willing to see a magazine develop over time. Readers have such a variety of titles available to them that any new one has to grab its audience from the first issue.
“The market is no longer willing to see a magazine grow into itself,” one publisher said. “They want things that are fully formed. The only exception to that in recent years has been Wallpaper, which has had a lot of goodwill behind it since it was introduced last year. Frankly, it’s had more goodwill than it’s had quality, at least up to now.”
Wallpaper, which was bought by Time Inc. Atlantic in mid-June, sells about 30,000 copies in the U.K. and a similar number in the U.S., said Tyler Brule, its founder and editor. The big stride forward will be made with its November/December issue, when the magazine is expected to sell close to 50,000 copies in the U.S., making America its largest market.
The bigger presence is a result of the link with Time and the next step is to print the magazine in America rather than in the U.K., Brule said. Wallpaper also continues to gain new fashion advertisers. Club Monaco is taking 16 pages in the next issue; it will be joined by Coach and Abercrombie & Fitch for the first time.
“With Time, we now are able to develop Wallpaper into the world’s first truly global magazine,” Brule said. “The joining with Time has worked fantastically well.”
The other major titles introduced in the U.K. this year were GQ Active and Conde Nast Traveller from Conde Nast. Smaller launches included So, considered a female version of Loaded, an aggressive men’s magazine, and the conversion of Scene, a women’s fashion magazine, from a bimonthly to a monthly.
In a breakdown of ad pages for the year, the biggest increases were at Vanity Fair, up 24 percent to 720 from 580, and Cosmopolitan, up 16 percent to 1,610 from 1,387. Other strong double-digit increases were shown by Vogue, up 13 percent to 1,727 from 1,533; Elle, also up 13 percent to 1,531 from 1,356, and Marie Claire and Harpers & Queen, both up 10 percent. Marie Claire’s ad pages rose to 1,952 from 1,780, while Harpers & Queen’s rose to 1,250 from 1,137. Tatler increased ad pages only 4 percent to 1,094 from 1,049.
Overall, a relative stability has come over the women’s fashion and lifestyle sector that is likely to continue well into next year, industry executives said.
Those publications focusing on the more affluent reader — Vogue, Tatler and Harpers & Queen — have carved out their own niches, as have those aiming for readers one level below. British Elle has returned to form under its new editor, Marie O’Riordan. Marie Claire remains the largest-circulation title, but is no longer the trendsetter it was three years ago.
Elle’s circulation in the first half was up 9.8 percent to 210,067 from 191,243, while Marie Claire’s fell 4.5 percent to 435,006 from 455,477, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation. “Magazines have polarized,” said Jamie Bill, publishing director of Harpers & Queen, where circulation in the first half fell 0.2 percent to 92,492 from 92,655.
“Three years ago, Vogue, Harpers & Queen and Tatler were all lumped together, but now each has its own identity.”
Watches and jewelry were particularly buoyant, while fashion also grew, helped by a strong presence from such American designers as Donna Karan, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. Beauty, while important, suffered from the lack of launches this year, Bill said.
The industry view is that Vogue remains the premier fashion title, while Harpers & Queen aims at the slightly older reader, perhaps living outside London, who is interested in fashion, but not obsessed by it.
Tatler, where circulation was almost flat at 87,341 compared with 87,310, is “all about success; it’s about achievers and what they’ve done with their lives. It’s quite irreverent and funny,” said Annie Holcroft, publishing director of Tatler and Vanity Fair.
“Advertisers now are looking for magazines with a real direction and personality of their own,” she added. “Budgets aren’t that much bigger, but they are becoming more focused and targeted.” Probably worst hit has been the middle market.
According to the latest circulation figures compiled by ABC, Vogue’s circulation rose 3.4 percent to 200,113 in the first half from 193,539 in the corresponding period a year earlier. Vogue’s success in 1997 stemmed from a variety of factors, including a growth in the number of British designers advertising in the magazine; a boom in beauty and jewelry advertising, and Conde Nast’s release early this year of an $81,000 survey of women’s magazines and the beauty market.
While Conde Nast Traveller, which made its debut in October, has fashion and beauty advertising from Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, Giorgio Armani and Alfred Dunhill, publishers said it is drawing from a much broader market and fashion companies aren’t willing to give up their primary titles for the sake of a travel title.
There continues to be skepticism over the long-term success of a travel magazine in Britain; several other companies have tried it.
Publishing executives said all the leading fashion titles have travel sections, as do all the daily and Sunday newspapers. “If new magazines open in a completely different sector, there is no pressure on the core fashion magazines,” Marie Claire’s Love said, adding the upcoming launch she’s most concerned about is the new title expected next year from EMAP/Elan, publisher of Elle.
EMAP is keeping mum about the details, but the magazine, code named Project Miriam, is aimed at women in their 30s and reportedly will focus on interiors, entertainment and travel.
“But right now, the market is incredibly buoyant and we think it will stay that way,” said Love. “Advertising volumes are up, but equally important, yields are up, too. In the end, we’re all making more money.”