Friday, February 29, 2008

Booster shot for Men's Titles

Booster shot for Men's Titles
ShortList and Sport are now the largest magazines
By Heidi Dawley
After several ferociously competitive years and declining circulations, Britain's men's magazines have just gotten a real boost. Circulation has rebounded for the category.

"The men's market was up something like 11 percent," says Dan Pimm, head of print media at Universal McCann's London operation, referring to just-released circulation data. "For the men's market that's amazing."

Now here's the not-so-good news. The gains are being enjoyed not by all titles but by two of the newest publications, and both are free and with hefty distributions, ShortList, an upscale men's weekly, and Sport, also a weekly.

The figures reveal several things, and one is to put the kibosh on the idea that men were drifting off to the internet and away from print titles.

"For those that say men are moving away from magazines and going online, this shows the opposite," says Mike Soutar, ShortList's founder and a former editorial director at IPC, a major UK publishing house.

"If you get the content right, men's magazines have never been more engaging. There has never been a greater number of men's magazines read than today."

But it also speaks volumes about the potential for free magazine in the UK and perhaps elsewhere, including the U.S.

In just the last 18 months, three free titles have launched, two men's and one women's magazine.

Sport, a British reworking of a successful French concept that launched in 2006 as a weekly, distributes 317,209 copies each week in London on Friday mornings.

ShortList debuted in London and five other cities last September, and each Thursday it hands out close to 500,000 copies. ABC figures for second-half 2007, its first audit period, show that ShortList averaged 462,731 copies a week. It aims to reach 500,000.

Shortlist and Sport are now the two largest circulation men's magazines in the country.

"We are seeing a real shift in the way consumers expect to engage with the men's magazine market," says Soutar. "Before there was only one route--to choose from the newsstand. Now we are seeing a small amount of cannibalization but also a lot of new readers in the market."

Earlier this month, Dare, a women's monthly, went free, upping its distribution to 750,000. It's handed out at London tube and train stations.

While it's too early to judge Dare's impact on the women's category, that cannot be said about ShortList and Sport. They appear to be doing some damage to the paid-for weeklies.

Circulation at Bauer Consumer Media's Zoo was down 12.5 percent, to 179,006 from July to December 2007 compared to the same period the year before, while IPC Media's Nuts was down 8.5 percent, to 270,053.

ShortList and Sport solve a problem for marketers by offering the sort of mass distribution that was difficult with paid titles. As Alan Brydon, head of press communications at Media Planning Group, notes, most existing men's titles were either too small or their content too salacious for a lot of advertisers.

While Brydon worries that a big chunk of ShortList's circulation may be going to those outside its target demographic--the title is handed out at stations to men who look to be of the right age--he says it still amounts to a big magazine in the men's market at the moment, making it worth using.

For his part, Soutar says the readership study they commissioned showed that 86 percent of readers are men and 82 percent fall into the affluent bands they are targeting.

Both titles say they think their concepts could work in other countries.