Which magazines should you focus on if you stock a basic range? And which titles offer the best profit opportunities if you choose to specialise? Neville Rhodes analyses the latest sales data from the Audit Bureau of Circulations to find out

Although newstrade sales of magazines have been declining steadily for more than a decade, they still make up a valuable market, with the titles audited by the Audit Bureau of Circulations in its latest report generating £692m of revenue for retailers last year, according to Marketforce. 

This revenue is highly geared towards the mass-market titles most stores sell, with more than half of it, £375m, coming from just three categories – TV listings, women’s weeklies and children’s.

For specialist magazine outlets, with ranges of 300 titles or more, the challenge is to develop smaller categories, such as gardening, current affairs, and the countryside, to tap into the rest of the magazine market’s revenues.

Mainstream magazines: Three sectors to focus on if you stock a basic range

TV Listings
TV listings is the newstrade’s great survivor. It’s the category that faces the stiffest competition from free listings in newspapers and electronic programme guides, yet has proved over the years to be the most resilient.

Led by the phenomenal TV Choice, the newstrade’s only million-selling weekly, the category continues to outperform the rest of the market, holding on to more of its copy sales and RSV than any of the others.

What’s on TV, in second place with average weekly sales of nearly 900,000 copies, is more than half a million copies ahead of Radio Times, which now has 42% of its sales on subscription.

But Radio Times’s contribution to newstrade revenues, thanks to its huge cover price, is immense at just over £1m a week – by far the newsstand’s biggest earner.

Time Inc UK’s fortnightly Soaplife, which is about to switch to weekly publication, enjoyed a very successful second half of 2017, increasing its sale by more than 9% to 41,000. Definitely one to follow this year.

The children’s category’s reign continues, with a record 29 of its titles in the newstrade’s July-December 2017 top 100 and 36 selling more than 20,000 copies per issue, of which seven had average sales of more than 50,000.

The rise and fall in popularity of characters and crazes leads to high volatility in the category, so each ABC reporting period shows several new entrants and big falls for previously popular titles.

Peppa Pig titles – Bag-o-Fun and Fun to Learn, monthly and fortnightly respectively – are top and fourth in the category’s bestseller charts, with a combined annual RSV of around £9.6m.

Lego-themed titles also continue to perform strongly, with Lego Specials recording average sales of 44,000 copies, while Lego Friends was up 14%.

Among new titles PJ Masks, based on the cartoon TV show, performed strongly with a first ABC of 39,111.

Women’s weeklies
Bauer Media’s Take a Break continues to top the women’s weeklies listings, beating the rest of the category by a distance, and is well supported by its monthly specials series, which grew by a remarkable 25% last year to an average of 207,000 copies per issue.

Celebrity titles, with one exception, continued to lose newstrade sales, while losses were generally much smaller among the real life and classic women’s weeklies.

Time Inc UK’s Woman’s Weekly, which has the category’s best newstrade sales record over the past five years, is now the second biggest seller. Bella, another relatively stable title, was down only 1.1%, and is now in the top third of the category’s 24 titles.

The one celebrity title bucking the downward sales trend was Hello!, which reported a 6.1% newstrade increase to 160,000 copies, while Hello! Fashion Monthly grew by 8% to 75,000 copies.

The only other women’s weekly to report an increase was Love It!, up 3.3% after several years of heavy losses.

Specialist magazines: Three sectors to focus on if you stock a wider range

Current affairs
The majority of current affairs magazine sales are through subscriptions, but high cover prices of the weekly titles provide good revenue opportunities for specialist retailers. The Economist, for example, priced at £5.99, generated annual RSV of almost £5m from weekly newstrade sales of fewer than 16,000 copies last year.

The category’s pillar brand, Private Eye, provided similar revenue from fortnightly newstrade sales averaging more than 93,000 copies.

The New Scientist’s 19,000 newsstand sales at £4.99 also yield around £5m a year, while smaller weeklies such as the Spectator, New Statesman, Time and others can help to build a profitable category – as well as creating a significant point of difference.

Gardening magazines usually pick up in the spring, and this year they start from a healthy position, with several increasing their newstrade sales during 2017.

The biggest and best-known title, BBC Gardeners’ World, grew its newstrade sales by 16% to more than 46,000 copies a month, and at a £4.75 cover price generated around £2.6m in annual RSV.

Garden News, now the category’s only ABC-certified weekly, was also in growth, adding 4.4% to its newsstand sales for a weekly average of 21,000 copies.

There were increases also for Garden Answers (6.6%) and the English Garden (1.1%).

Traditionally, March and April are the main months for publishers’ promotions within the category, and in-store support in rural and suburban areas should bring extra sales.

Interest in the countryside is probably greater than ever been before, as overall circulations of magazines covering the subject demonstrate.

The majority of the category’s sales are on subscription, but there are around 10 titles from leading UK publishers with significant newsstand sales.

Bauer has Country Walking, Bird Watching and Trail; Time Inc UK has Country Life and The Field; and Immediate Media has BBC Countryfile and BBC Wildlife.

The nine monthlies have combined newsstand sales of around 60,000 copies a month at average cover prices of more than £4, Country Life has weekly newstrade sales of 15,000 copies at £3.50.