UK magazines

UK magazines are mainly based in London, though some groups, such as Future in Bath and DC Thomson in Dundee, are based in other cities. The Periodical Publishers Association represents about 400 companies, accounting for some 2,300 consumer, business and professional magazines - 80 per cent of the UK magazine market by turnover. There are more than 8,000 titles published in Britain and they can be categorised as belonging to one of these sectors:

  1. consumer (general and specialist) sold in newsagents;
  2. business / trade / professional / B2B - for people at work;
  3. customer publishing / contract publishing /custom - produced by publishing agencies for organisations to give to their customers as a form of marketing;
  4. staff magazines: produced by a company's internal communications team or a publishing agency to inform staff about their company
  5. newspaper supplements - come free as part of daily or Sunday paper;
  6. part works - a set number of issues builds up into an 'encyclopedia' on a specific topic;
  7. academic journals - for university-level discussion of all sorts of arcane topics.

Consumer magazines Back to top

Consumer magazines make up the bulk of the titles for sale in newsagents. They may be general titles that aim to entertain and inform (such as Loaded, Elle, Radio Times) or consumer specialist titles aimed at a specific interest or hobby (Car, Total Film, Gardeners' World). There are about 2,800 UK consumer magazines.

The biggest consumer magazine publishers (by newsagent sales revenue):

  • Bauer (which took over the 2nd largest group, Emap, in 2008): 26%
  • IPC (Time Warner): 20%
  • BBC Magazines (BBC): 8%
  • National Magazines (Hearst): 7%

Most UK magazines for consumers - about 90% - are sold through newsagents or supermarkets. This is a much higher proportion than in the US and continental European countries, where subscriptions are more popular.

Total sales of such magazines have been falling since they peaked in the 1950s (with far fewer titles) as the role of magazines and newspapers as the main purveyor of information and entertainment was usurped by television. Figures from the Advertising Association put total sales at about 2,100 million copies in 1970, a figure that fell steadily to under 1,200 million in 1992. However, recent years have seen a slow rise to about 1,339m copies in 2004.

Launches in the past ten years have numbered 421-602 annually, according to WH Smith.

The industry directory British Rates and Data (Brad) divides consumer titles into 23 subject areas, from buying and selling (113 titles) through home interest (107) to youth (205). These subjects may be further divided, for example, the youth area has 12 boys magazines, 21 for girls and 26 teenage and pop titles.

Magforum has detailed case studies of the subject areas listed in Table 1.

Profiles of consumer magazine publishers

Table 1. Subject case studies on Magforum
Business Cars Computers
Extreme sports Men's magazines Men's weeklies 
Homes and interiors Money & finance News magazines
Property Teen titles Travel & holiday
Women's glossies Women's weeklies Yachting & boating

Business / professional / trade / B2B Back to top

Business magazines, which may also be called trade or B2B (business to business) magazines are for people at work. There are about 5,100 such titles in the UK. Brad lists 44 subject areas, including aeronautical (60 titles), energy (75) and veterinary (26).

Profiles of business magazine publishers

Customer magazines Back to top

Customer magazines, which may also be called contract or custom magazines, are produced by publishing agencies for companies to give to their customers as a form of marketing. This sector has expanded greatly since the mid-1980s.

Contract magazines are usually given away free to customers in very large numbers. Print runs for the biggest titles exceed those of even the best-selling consumer titles. The most widely distributed is Sky the Magazine, which is sent free to subscribers of the satellite channel. It has a circulation of about 7 million copies a month, compared with sales of What's on TV of about 1.7 million.

Profiles of customer magazine publishers

Newspaper supplements Back to top

Newspaper supplements come free as part of a daily or Sunday paper. Most national newspaper in the UK actually publish more than one magazine each week.

Profiles of newspaper publishers

Partworks Back to top

Partworks, unlike mainstream magazines that aim to be published for as long as economically possible, have a set number of issues. They often build up into an 'encyclopedia' on a specific topic in, say, 25 parts, and are usually launched just after Christmas, when television advertising charges are at their lowest.

Academic journals Back to top

Academic journals aim to encourage university-level discussion of all sorts of arcane topics. Their identifying feature is that their subject matter is controlled by an academic board. Members of the board act as referees to vet all the articles. Authors are not paid; rather, they gain academic credibility. However, this is a very profitable industry for the publishers behind academic journals, which have a guaranteed market in university libraries. Probably the most famous academic journal is Nature. The earliest periodicals were, in fact, journals such as these.

Magazine history

Best-selling UK magazines Back to top

What's On TV July 2007
What's On TV - the UK's best-selling magazine

The Audit Bureau of Circulations vets magazine (and newspaper) sales and distribution. Twice a year it publishes the official sales figures for magazines (in February and August for the previous 6 months). Most of the top UK circulations (nearing 7m copies a month) are claimed by customer magazines from companies such as Asda, Boots and Sky TV. However, these are given away, rather than being bought. Television listings magazines such as What's on TV and Radio Times tend to be the best-selling UK magazines with circulations of about one million to 1.5m copies. Women's weeklies are the next big group, led by million-plus-selling Take a Break, with the likes of Chat, Now and Heat selling about 500,000 copies. The biggest monthlies are Reader's Digest, Glamour and FHM, selling 750,000 down to 300,000.

Historically, Radio Times probably has the highest sales, at 8,832,579 copies in 1955 - a figure it claimed as 'the largest sale of any weekly magazine in the world' at the time. The women's weekly Woman was selling more than 3 million copies for Odhams.

Women's magazine sales 1938-59

Best-selling UK magazines by ABC figure (Jan-Jul 2007)
Title Publisher ABC (UK & Eire) Year-on-year change
What's on TV IPC 1,421,645 -5.8%
TV Choice H Bauer 1,390,376 +8.1%
Radio Times BBC 1,041,705 -2.9%
Take a Break H Bauer 1,009,795 -5.9%
Reader's Digest Reader's Digest 709,152 -4.7%
Saga (mainly subs) Saga 657,264 +17.8%
Closer Emap/Bauer 561,869 -3.7%
Heat Emap/Bauer 542,280 -4.7%
Chat IPC 499,626 -8.19%
OK! Northern & Shell 500,121 +1%

ABC website

Best-read UK magazines Back to top

FHM 2007 March
FHM is read by about 6 people for every copy sold

Most magazines are read by more than one person. They may be read just within a household or company, or passed on to friends, or end up in a doctor's waiting room or hairdresser's. So each year, the National Readership Survey (NRS) interviews about 30,000 people to find out what they have been reading.

Among the best-read titles are:

  • Sky is read by about 6.8m people, slightly less than its circulation, suggesting many of them are never taken out of their wrappers.
  • What's on TV is read by about 3.8m people, so has two readers for every copy sold.
  • FHM has 2.4m readers - about 6 times its sales.
  • Take a Break has 3.2m readers - three for every copy sold.

NRS website

The oldest magazines Back to top

Spectator cover from 2001
The Spectator claims to be the oldest continuously-published magazine in the English language
Lloyd's List is a weekly trade title for people in shipping and insurance. It was founded in 1734 and is one of the world's oldest magazines. The Spectator was established in 1828 and claims to be the oldest continuously-published magazine in the English language. (There was also a newspaper called the Spectator founded in 1711 by Steele and Addison.) Some titles, the women's fashion monthly Tatler being the most prominent example, make spurious claims about their age. It claims to be 300 years old, but has only been published for half that time, much of it in very different formats, and has no direct link to the first Tatler.
Profiles of B2B magazine publishers  

Foreign control of UK magazines Back to top

Most UK consumer titles are owned by foreign groups. The largest publisher in the UK was formed when German-based Bauer took over Emap in early 2008. IPC Media, since then the second-largest publisher, is owned by US group Time Warner. Also, Conde Nast and National Magazines are offshoots of US companies. The largest British-owned companies are BBC Magazines (owned by the broadcaster), Future and Dennis (which sold its US arm in 2007). Four of the top 5 consumer publishers are controlled from overseas.

Of the top-selling consumer magazines, many are actually British versions of overseas magazines. This is particularly true of women's monthlies, with Glamour, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, In Touch, Vanity Fair and Good Housekeeping being US-offshoots. Elle is a French offshoot. The biggest-selling women's weekly, Take a Break, is German-owned. Other big US titles include Rodale's Men's Health, Reader's Digest, which sells about a million copies a month and is a top 5 title, and National Geographic (also based on subscriptions). Unusually for the UK, the final two are subscription-based.
Profiles of customer magazine publishers

The best UK magazines Back to top

Judging the 'best' title is a subjective decision. It is extremely difficult to compare, say, Hello! with New Scientist or Reader's Digest. Such a decision might be based on sales or readership or market penetration (what percentage of the total potential market a magazine actually reaches).

Also, each year, there are several industry awards for magazines:

In these, a panel of magazine practitioners attempts to make judgements about the quality of magazines compared with their peers.

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