19 Feb

What Can You Learn From The Latest Magazine ABC’s

The Magazine ABC’s And What They Mean For Magazine Publishing

The latest magazine ABC’s were published recently with little fanfare…what used to be an event of enormous importance now passed without much fuss.

If you are starting a magazine then what do the ABC’s tell you about what is happening in the magazine market and the health of the industry you are joining.


What Is An ABC Certificate

OK…for the uninitiated an ABC certificate provides your advertisers with proof of sales/distribution across print and digital editions of your magazine.

The figures published are independently audited by the ABC and are used by publishers to provide proof that claims that they make to their advertisers are true.

Click here to learn more on the ABC web site.

A magazines circulation is expressed as an average taken across all of the issues published in the six month ABC period.

The ABC certificate is much more robust than is was in previous years, a subject covered in a previous post What Do The ABC’s Mean To You take a look to see some of the scams that we used to get up to…happy days.

Not Much To Shout About And Not Many Shouting

Of all the newsstand magazines published in the UK only 363 magazines produce an ABC.

Over the past 10 years there has been a decline of 67% in the number of newsstand magazines publishing an ABC certificate down from 525 to 363. This is due to a number of factors…

  • Publishers hiding declining circulations by withdrawing from the ABC…there is plenty of this about.
  • The complexity of submitting a title to ABC and carrying out the audit process.
  • The cost of becoming an ABC member and undertaking the audit.

Whatever the reason far fewer magazines are now producing ABC certificates than was previously the case and the numbers continue to decline.

What Are The Figures Telling US?

In essence the figures are telling us what we should already know…

Sales are continuing to decline but much more slowly.

Digital really isn’t doing much to help.

Year on year circulations for printed newsstand titles that are in constant publication have declined by 7.1%. This may not sounds like cause for celebration but keep in mind that circulations fell by almost 10% only two years ago. Sales are still declining but the trend is more benign and we are no longer seeing the double digit year on year declines in magazine sales that we once were.

It is not all doom and gloom as 1 in 7 newsstand titles have increased their circulation year on year. So there are publishers out there who are doing the right things and building their magazine sales.

Who Are The Winners?

The titles who have produced the biggest increases in circulation this year include…

  • Cbeebies Weekly up 41% and selling over 60,000 copies per issue.
  • Baby magazine Gurgle up 28% and selling 9,537 copies.
  • Long established title Garden Answers up 14% and selling 10,325 copies per issue at newsstand.

Who Are The Losers?

The titles showing the largest newsstand declines include…

  • The biggest fall in this period Digital SLR Photography down by 38% and selling 3,926 copies at newsstand.
  • Computer gaming magazine Gamesmaster down 37% and now selling 7,900 copies.
  • Tech magazine T3 down 31% and now selling 7,305 copies per issue.

Subscriptions Are Holding Up Well

In general subscription sales are holding up rather better than newsstand.

  • Total subscriptions across all titles published are down by only 1.8%.
  • Subscriptions as a share of all magazine circulation has gown slightly to 20.7%, so on average subscriptions now account for around 20% of all copies sold.

Export Sales

Many publishers are looking carefully at the value of their export sales and taking the decision to cut back or cease exporting altogether. This trend is reflected in the latest ABC figures.

  • Total export sales are down by 10.8%.
  • On average export accounts for around 6% of copies sold although for some magazine segments this figure can be much higher.

Digital Circulations

71 titles published ABC’s for their digital circulations up from only 7 titles in 2011. Publishers continue to concentrate on digital publishing but in general, sales are modest.

  • Digital sales currently account for only around 2% of magazine circulation.
  • Sales of digital versions overseas are far higher than for printed copies.
  • Four segments are doing well Computing, Leisure Interest, Men’s Fashion and Trade magazines. In all of these segments sales of digital versions exceed 5% of the total circulation.

What Does This Mean To You

If you are starting a magazine, or if you are an experienced independent publisher looking for some intelligence on what is happening in the magazine market, what do the ABC’s tell you.

Declining Relevance

Only a very small number of magazines now publish an ABC certificate and the numbers are declining. There was a time when advertisers demanded to see an ABC certificate before they would commit budget to a publication but, truth is, most magazines successfully sell advertising without an ABC certificate

So if you are considering joining the ABC and investing in obtaining a certificate be aware that you are swimming against the tide and question how important the certificate really is.

Digital Still Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be

The big publishers are investing heavily in digital but, aside from very specific markets, they are seeing limited sales.

Think carefully about the amount of investment you are making in digital and in your magazine app. Whilst digital may well become an important source of revenue in the future for now the printed magazine is likely to remain your main source of profit and is likely to remain so for some time to come.

 How Can I Help?

If you are interested in obtaining an ABC certificate I have experience in the approval processes and can help you understand the rules and prepare for an ABC audit.

The magazine ABC is a complicated process and I know that it is one that I can help you navigate so do get in touch if you need a little guidance.




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