ABC results January-June 2017: The Dead Canary

The ABC results for January to June 2017 have been released, signalling the next 6 months of trading viability for titles. Circulation, whether it be print or digital, is always the bellwether of brand health.  It also offers insight into changing consumer behaviours and succinctly illustrates the new ways through which audiences seek information and inspiration.

Total Combined Circulation (average month between January-June 2017) and Year on Year Change (circles)


We have focused our analysis on the sectors that matter most to our clients: women’s and men’s lifestyle magazines, news, travel, and homes titles. While the key story remains the continued decline of print circulation, we have noticed three main trends:

-Movement towards platform-agnostic publishing

-Disruptive distribution strategies redefine the industry

-Consumer appetite for curated news & current affairs maintains momentum

Platform-agnostic publishing

In a culture of mass digitisation, print publications must work harder to retain relevance amongst an audience conditioned towards immediacy of content. The sector that continues to suffer the most from this evolving consumer mindset are the women’s weeklies, with Look notably dropping 35.4% year on year. Whilst these titles cover up to date fashion trends and celebrity news, the lag versus the real-time content offered on Instagram or direct from celebrities, influencers and brands makes the print publications feel increasingly obsolete. Power has truly been dispersed away from print, which no longer offers the only leading voice for digitally connected millennials.

Brands should take heed of this metaphorical ‘canary down the mine’, and continue to consider their unique voice and proposition in a diversified media landscape. Any print publication operating in a more democratised fashion and lifestyle arena must offer something substantially different and elevated versus what the audience can already receive at the touch of a button. Year after year we see Vogue’s circulation remain stable, as it is still holds a clearly articulated position at the epicentre of the fashion industry. It will be interesting to see how Edward Enniful will adapt the voice of British Vogue, their new Snapchat Discover channel already signally an exciting time for the brand, finding new platforms to reach their loyal audience.

Similarly, it will be interesting to see the evolution of Elle’s platforms under Anne-Marie Curtis, who has taken clear visual direction from influential fashion titles such as Dazed & Confused, i-D and The Gentlewoman. These titles have always positioned themselves as print-first products, and remain fetishised for their luxurious paper stock and the pride of place given to photography. As they aren’t audited it’s difficult to comment on their commercial success. However, they access an audience who seek valuable interactions with physical magazines. Over the coming years we might see more mass-market print titles adapt towards this ethos, positioning their print product as covetable and in no way equivalent to their digital offering.

Hearst continue to invest heavily into experiences and events as a way to keep readers loyal to the brand despite their diversified media habits. The Esquire Townhouse reopens its doors later this year, and Harper’s Bazaar will evolve its Bazaar at Work proposition into a summit, bringing together leading voices of women in business.

Disruptive distribution strategies

Free titles published by Shortlist media revolutionised the UK print market at their launch, changing consumer expectations of the accessibility of premium editorial opinion, and highlighting the opportunity for publishers to reach audiences of value through free circulations.

Across the market, actively purchased copies are down over 7% year on year, indicative of print titles continuing to experiment with new blends of distribution model. Cosmopolitan’s approach to free distribution in social hubs, university campuses and gyms has seen them stabilise their circulation (-2% year on year), whilst publishers such as Harper’s Bazaar continue to seek affluent readers with free distribution in Eurostar 1st class seats and brand adjacent environments such as Masterpiece and Frieze Art Fair. Even successful news weeklies including The Week are experimenting with direct to hand free distribution in business hubs around the city, and The Economist have rolled out branded kiosks selling discounted subscriptions around London.

Of course, this strategy comes with inherent risk, with income from cover price making up a smaller proportion of revenue stream. These magazines will rely even more on the support of advertisers to maintain profitability. Perhaps dynamic distribution will be the future of all print propositions, but publishers will continue to struggle with the short-term losses it may represent.

Circulation broken down by Distribution Strategies: January 2015-July 2017


Total Consumer Magazine Sector Circulations by Constituent Distribution Type


The need for trusted stories is greater than ever

Contextually, recent world events such as Brexit and Trump and the rise of fake news on social media has had a knock-on effect on readers’ consumption habits.  People are looking for longer form ways to consume news – they want to feel more reassured and informed, and luxuriate in the detail of information. Fake news has also made long form print feel more trusted than social feed sources.

As a result of this, news titles continued their ABC reign this period, and cemented themselves as the authoritative voice of print. These titles are experiencing the most success in a challenging environment. The Spectator, Private Eye, Monocle, and the Economist (UK), have seen significant increase in total combined circulation year on year, on average increasing by 7.98%.

In other areas where people value expert opinion we see circulation staying strong. Travel and Home titles have also fared well, second only to news, and demonstrate the continued demand for expert and specialist content on more specified topics. Country Living’s circulation is up 3.6% year on year, and ELLE Decoration’s is up 3.3%, offering havens for countryside dwellers and interior style mavens alike. Sunday Times Travel Magazine is up a staggering 19.1% thanks to converting subscribers with special offers as well as driving registered access users across the Times Online platform to 1.5 million. Time Out circulation has remained static – a positive outcome in a challenging environment.

Brands and titles should take note – authoritative content is the lifeblood of every print brand. Consumers demand the reassurance of quality, and leading editorial offering interesting perspectives will ensure that a media brand wins as many eyeballs as possible, irrespective of device or platform.


While it has been another challenging period for many, print is advancing through a rapid phase of adaptation to the threats posed by digital. As the vibrant news sector shows, print will always be the bastion of authoritative and credible content, offering brands the opportunity to build voice.

Short term, more titles will either adapt or die. Long term, the titles which succeed are likely to be early adopters and pioneers, not just the oldest or most prestigious in their category.

Proportion of Title’s Total Circulation that is Not Actively Purchased


Total Combined Circulation (average month between January-June 2017) and Period on Period change (circles)


  If you require extra information on any of the ABC results or would like to chat through sector or title specifics, please don’t hesitate to contact me at