Decline in popularity of gossip magazines no idle rumour, sales figures show


MEDIA & MARKETING:Falling sales suggest consumers are growing sick of celebrity culture, writes SIOBHAN O'CONNELL.

THE MEDIA focus on Jade Goody’s terminal illness has marked a new low in society’s celebrity voyeurism. But there are tentative signs that the public is growing weary of the celebrity gossip and photos that have provided a bonanza for magazine publishers in recent years.

According to latest circulation figures released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, OK! Magazine, which bought the rights to Goody’s recent wedding, saw its shop sales fall by 20 per cent through 2008 to 480,000 copies.

It was a similar story with two other tittle-tattle titles, Chatand Heat, which were both down 10 per cent. In response, Heatis to launch a new spin-off, Heatworld, which promises to be celebrity-free with a humorous take instead on, for example, haircuts and wedding dresses.

H ello, which still favours European royalty over reality TV show contestants, dropped 22,000 shop sales year on year, though the title’s overall average sale advanced by 7 per cent when discounted sales were counted.

The women’s weeklies category is one of the largest in the magazine sector, and through 2008, category sales fell by 8 per cent in the UK and Ireland.

That is partly due to the impact of the recession on the category’s downmarket readership, but another reason is increased competition from free titles.

In Ireland, sales of Woman’s Waydeclined by 13 per cent in 2008 and circulation of the fortnightly U Magazine, also published by Harmonia, dropped by 10 per cent.

Among the monthlies, Imageand Prudencegrew circulation by 2 per cent and 3 per cent, while Irish Tatlerenjoyed growth of 4 per cent.

According to ABC, 13 of the top 20 magazines by circulation in the UK and Ireland are now freebies.

Rupert Murdoch is responsible for many of them, with six titles linked to Sky Television, including Skymag Ireland, which saw its average distribution jump 14 per cent to 520,000 copies last year.

The more serious advertising competition for established women’s titles is the supermarket freebies.

Asda’s monthly inhouse magazine has a circulation of 2.9 million copies, which is three times the circulation of the biggest-selling actively purchased women’s title, Take A Break.

The men’s lifestyle sector has also been affected by giveaways. In the UK, the two titles with the largest circulation are ShortListand Sport, both of them freebies.

ShortListwas launched in September 2007 and distributes 500,000 copies a week at train stations, bus terminals, car parks and airports. Sales of paid-for men’s weeklies such as Nutsand Zoohave tumbled as a result.

This week, the 22-year-old Arenamagazine suspended publication.

Excluding customer magazines, the magazines most people buy are TV listing titles. TV Choice, What’s on TVand Radio Timesall sell over one million copies every week. However, former powerhouse TV Times is now down to an average weekly sale of 340,000. Irish title TV Now dropped its average weekly sale by 9 per cent last year to 30,000 copies.

These days, people are spending less money moving house and renovating their homes and gardens and this has taken its toll on magazines operating in that space.

Circulation of House and Homewas down 8 per cent, while Image Interiors saw circulation fall by 27 per cent and circulation of The Irish Gardenwas down by 11 per cent.

However, the economic downturn has led to an increased interest in financial and business affairs, with the sector recording a 73 per cent circulation increase.

As a category, weddings and brides magazines in the UK are relatively resilient, according to the ABC.

However, the Ireland-published titles Irish Wedding Diary, Confettiand Ireland’s Wedding Journalall dropped sales in 2008.