Unlike the rather pedestrian consumer market, the customer magazine sector is edging ahead strongly with significant growth reported year-on-year, owing to the consistent launch of new titles as well as existing titles being complemented by other brand extensions to reach new markets.
“New titles continue to fuel the growth with little, if any, impact on existing title performance. Some titles appear to dish out the growth without hesitation,” commented Gordon Patterson, managing director of Starcom, in his Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) presentation for the first quarter 2008.
Fact is, the customer magazine sector is now officially bigger than the consumer sector, Bridget McCarney, managing director of New Media Publishing (NMP), points out. Whereas total circulation stood at around 3.5-million copies for the first quarter 2006, it grew to over 6-million copies for the same period in 2008, according the latest ABCs.
During the same period, the consumer sector has been plagued by ups and downs, with a current total circulation of 5.2-million for the first quarter 2008 compared with 5-million for the corresponding period in 2006.
“We have seen many a customer magazine launch in recent years; a clear indication that there is great demand for tailored communication. ABC has seen six magazines join during 2007, totalling 84 registered customer magazines in South Africa. This is greater growth than both business-tobusiness and consumer magazines,” says McCarney.
In South Africa, it is estimated that around 30 of the 100 biggest advertising spenders, according to AdEx, have their own customer magazines. This indicates that a third of big brands in the country regard this form of communication as part of an effective marketing strategy.
It is clear that the potential of custom publications is increasingly been realised, says Joan Kruger, TiP Publishing founding partner.
“These days, customer magazines are relationship media in the true sense of the word, where the commissioning company’s marketing goals are accounted for and the power of relevant content and excellent design is utilised to speak directly to the reader/client. Hence, solid relationships are built between a company and its clients, while it also contributes to the growth of a loyal community around the brand name. This, in turn, delivers a demonstrable return on communication investment.”
At the top end, publishers of customer magazines endeavour to publish ever more sophisticated and effective magazines. Large and established publishers of consumer magazines also increasingly move towards customer magazines, leading to significant editorial value being added to custom titles. At the same time, new and smaller companies, founded by experts with extensive knowledge and experience of customer magazines, provide valuable boutique services, says Kruger.
She believes custom publications are “probably the most exciting development in the publishing industry Ã¢Â€Â“ because it consists of such a tight integration of old and new media, speaks to such clear target groups and is increasingly measurable”.
As brands realise the effectiveness of customer magazines, they continue to explore more innovative and targeted ways of communicating with their customers. Says McCarney, “Using content across several, complementary channels, custom media today is moving swiftly towards interactivity with a diverse audience Ã¢Â€Â“ on its terms, in its mindset, with brands people love.”
Whereas a few years ago branded content was packaged mainly in customer magazines, today the magazine remains the core, but several other methods of engaging with customers are utilised. These include information on new trends posted on the brand’s website, interactive fashion advice, in-store video streaming as well as on the website, and online shopping opportunities.
A trend confirmed in a recent Mintel report by the representative body for custom publishers in the UK, the Association of Publishing Agencies (APA), is that custom publishing is becoming less reliant on third-party advertising to support its magazines. Clients acknowledge the value and return on their investments, especially as the title becomes a tool for dialogue between the client and customer.
It also becomes increasingly evident that clients are not only investing in customer magazines, but also in measuring their effectiveness. “Successful customer magazines work to specific objectives, which must be measured and met. These magazines should balance the needs of the client against the aspirations of the reader. And publishers are increasingly being held accountable for the return on investment,” says McCarney.
Although accurate, quantifiable data of customer magazines’ slice of the advertising pie is not available as all custom publishers have not partnered with research house Nielsen, the latter’s AdEx figures for individual titles reflect healthy adspend in the sector. !_LT_EMJet Club!_LT_/EM, for example, saw adspend grow from R18-million in 2006 to R21.2-million in 2007; !_LT_EMWoolworths Taste!_LT_/EM from R4-million to R6.2-million; !_LT_EMDiscovery!_LT_/EM from R2.6-million to R4.5-million; !_LT_EMIcon!_LT_/EM from R2.4-million to R3-million; !_LT_EMHeart !_LT_/EMfrom R966,309 to R1.4-million, and !_LT_EMA Plus Club Magazine!_LT_/EM from R575,600 to R1.2-million.
While !_LT_EMEdgars Club Magazine!_LT_/EM held its own with stable adspend of R15-million in both years, the !_LT_EMClicks ClubCard Magazine!_LT_/EM slipped somewhat, with adspend down to R15.8-million in 2007, from R17.9-million in 2006. Clearly, the biggest custom titles attract the biggest adspend. Not only do these magazines arrive at the doorstep of a massive market, but advertisers have the added benefit of knowing exactly who they will be reaching. AMPS 2007B confirms solid growth in the custom publishing industry, with a number of customer magazines significantly increasing their reach.
Readership of the Foschini Group’s club magazine, for example, has overshot the million target, at 1.3-million, up from 953,000 in the previous survey. Its reach has grown from 3.1% to 4.5%, especially in the Western Cape and Gauteng. Lewis/Best Electric’s club magazine now has a readership of 981,000, with its reach increasing from 2.8% to 3.2%. !_LT_EMJet Club’!_LT_/EMs readership is firmly in excess of 3-million, growing from nearly 3.1-million to approximately 3.3-million, with a reach of 10.6%, up from 9.9%.
Although circulation of !_LT_EMEdgars Club Magazine!_LT_/EM has remained stable, readership has increased by a remarkable 44% Ã¢Â€Â“ from nearly 1.2-million (AMPS 2006) to almost 2.1-million (AMPS 2007B). This could, in part, be the result of a design and editorial revamp. Locally, custom publishing is experiencing a similar “explosion” as in the UK, where the industry grew by a mammoth 324% in 10 years, according to the country’s APA director, Julia Hutchinson.
For the first half of 2007, a new customer magazine was launched for every working day Ã¢Â€Â“ an indication that the UK is perhaps the most developed custom magazine market. Custom publishing is that country’s second-fastest growing medium after the online sector, while more traditional media such as television and radio are experiencing a downturn. The growth is attributed to custom publishing’s commitment to research, which constantly proves and improves the effectiveness of titles.
As far as the local industry’s future is concerned, custom communication has to be more customer focused than ever before, says McCarney. “Understanding the customer also means that bespoke content has to be generated to engage with a specific customer. The more information we have about the reader, the easier it is to understand him/her and his/her editorial needs. With better editorial, the relationship with the customer is deepened.”R
Wilma de Bruin is a freelance journalist who contributes to various publications.
This article first appeared in The Media magazine (July 2008).