The lastest ABC results for UK consumer magazines saw circulations decrease by an average of four percent year on year in 2015. That’s to be expected, and continues the trend we discussed last year in a post entitled ‘Stagnation not Stability‘.

Overall print circulation at seven of the major publishers – Future, Dennis, Condé Nast, Bauer, Immediate, Hearst UK, and Time Inc UK – fell 2.47 percent. Though still bad news, that figure is an improvement from period June 2013 – June 2014, which saw total print circulation for those publishers fall 4.83 percent.


Hearst’s relatively strong performance in that time period is partially due to it having grown the print circulation of Cosmopolitan by 57 percent.

“We are delighted to see that the new marketing and distribution strategy for Cosmopolitan is working. Our innovative new route to market programmes, together with unmissable point of sale promotion through traditional retailers, has allowed us to get its brilliant content out to an even bigger audience.

“We’re also reaching 4.8 million unique users every month online, and through Snapchat Discover, which has carried Cosmopolitan content since September last year, we are able to reach more women than ever before.”

… though Press Gazette notes that “around half of the increase was due to more free pick-up copies. Cosmopolitan was also helped by a big reduction in cover price, from £3.80 to £1, and increased promotional activity including use of ‘pop-up’ distribution points”. Additionally, of its monthly brands, nine out of the fourteen included in Heart’s email saw their circulations decrease year on year.

Another brand that saw an uptick in its circulation figures was the relaunched NME, which went free for the first time in September last year, and reported circulation figures of 307,217. From Time Inc UK’s CEO Marcus Rich:

“We continue to increase the number of distribution locations and have added more universities, retail outlets and more recently supermarkets. Under the leadership of editor-in-chief Mike Williams, the refreshed magazine has been positively received by consumers who love the new content mix and are proactively seeking out the magazine. Our commercial partners are also taking advantage of the new opportunities with the brand and advertising revenues are up 42%. Our strategy has been a huge success and it truly is an exciting new era for this iconic brand.”

Instead, most of the publishers who’ve sent out emails about their ABCs have focused on the print products that have increased circulation (obviously, since print is still integral to their business models) but, crucially, have reported them using the combined print and digital figures. 

The conflation of the two isn’t ideal, as was pointed out in this interesting Twitter conversation between Dennis CTO Paul Lomax and David Hicks


So many of the magazine publishers who are reporting success are doing so either because the central proposition of that brand has changed i.e. NME or Cosmopolitan (which is no bad thing!) or because the digital circulation changes affect print circulation in a positive way.

Huge circulation figures haven’t been representative of a brand’s ultimate success for a while now, so the fact that overall circulation declined four percent isn’t necessarily a bad thing – but the way the publishers are choosing to report the ABCs makes it clear they’re at least a little bit worried about the decline.