Magazines misfire online

Magazines Image copyright Thinkstock

While newspapers face declining sales, at least they can point to the shift to some big readership numbers online.

The free and the international, such as the Daily Mail and the Guardian, may not be turning much of a profit from well over 100 million website visitors each month, but they're showing that the news business can be reinvented.

Magazines are having a tougher time, according to the latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation.

Print sales are down 6.5% in the last six months of 2014, when compared with the previous year.

But few are succeeding at replacing those lost readers with online ones.

Leisure reading

The industry's official stats show few categories are seeing print circulations rise. The exceptions are in leisure; golf, cycling, the outdoors, motoring and aviation.

Far more categories have been falling, with the most affected across a strange range; computing, photography, fishing, football, weddings, teenage entertainment and needlecraft.

Image copyright The Economist

The only category making much progress in the shift to online subscriptions is in news and current affairs, led by The Economist.

The pre-teen First News paper is on a creditable 68,000 print sales, and growing.

Take a Break

A quick glance at the magazine shelves will show you that the women's categories are the biggest sellers.

Women's lifestyle and fashion includes 28 titles, with circulation at 5.8 millon, some 2 million of which are not 'actively purchased'. The total's down only slightly, but so are their online numbers, to only 70,000. Good Housekeeping leads that pack, on more than 400,000 print sales.

Women's weeklies - the brasher ones printed on rather flimsier paper - sell nearly 4.8 million copies per week. But that's down more than 9% on the second half of 2013. And fewer than 24,000 subscriptions have been sold. That's not a good conversion rate.

Take a Break is still clear market leader in that section of the newsagent, on 645,000 sales, though down 7%. It sells more than double its closely-bunched nearest rivals: Women's Weekly, Chat, Closer, New and OK!. The biggest fallers include Heat, Now!, Star and - ironically - Pick Me Up!

The other mega-category is TV listings, selling 3.8 million, down 5% in the year, and with only 6,000 online takers.

TV Choice leads the way on 1.27 million, but it's down 8% and What's On TV sells just over 1 million copies, and growing slightly. Once the market leader, the Radio Times is on 738,000 and down 5%.

Dennis and Gnasher

Few magazines are produced in Scotland, probably because of the traditional penetration of its newspapers, carrying their own glossy supplements.

Image copyright DC Thomson & co ltd

The exception is DC Thomson in Dundee. Besides producing the Courier and Sunday Post, it publishes the Scots Magazine. Recently revamped, its sales were up 2% last year, to 25,000.

It is also, famously, the home of The Beano. Circulation for the hell-raising cartoon characters fell more than 2% last year, to 31,500. The attempts to take the Bash Street Kids into the digital era were hardly worth it, with 362 subscribers.

The separate magazine Dennis and Gnasher fared far worse, with print sales down 16% to 17,000.

And having long since dropped the Jackie, DC Thompson's girls' mags, Shout and Jacqueline Wilson, also saw falling sales.

At the other end of the age range, DC Thompson's venerable People's Friend has lost 6% of sales last year, and done even worse than the Beano in winning online subscribers. But at 225,000 sales, it still has impressive staying power in the magazine market.

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