Pressures mount on magazine publishers

Shortlist abandons print in online reboot

The most recent ABCs covering the men’s lifestyle titles (August 2018) saw no circulation growth for any of the men’s lifestyle titles in the first half of 2018. That said, most declines were slight – with the one exception of Men’s Health (which needs to work on its abs: a significant -16.9% PoP decline exceeds its -16.4% YoY headline drop). Other losers are Conde Nast’s GQ, -4.3% PoP down to 110,100, and Hearst’s Esquire, -3.5% down to 60,500.

Despite holding top place, Shortlist is soon to become a casualty of market forces. Its pole position, based on impressive and stable free distribution figures (503,000 H1, Aug 18) is no longer sustainable. Fast forward 3 months and this market leader has decided to close its print operations whilst its website will “evolve” to become a ‘product recommender’. The news comes as publisher Shortlist Media announces a rebrand to The Stylist Group – leading on the female magazine brand it also publishes.

What is the reasoning behind the decision? Fall in revenues (ShortList Media Group revenues fell 8% to £22.6m in the year to March 2017, with the business recording a pre-tax loss of £4.7m), plus increased costs as magazine publishers face the rising cost of newsprint. Since the bulk of newsprint is imported, cost pressures have been exacerbated by worsening exchange rates following the 2016 referendum (so help me, don’t get me started!).

This comes at a time when most would agree that the editorial content of Shortlist is far removed from its original ‘blokey’ reputation. In recent years it has a fresh focus with original journalism covering life as a modern man. Shortlist is not the only casualty: free print magazines have struggled in recent years, with the NME closing earlier this year after an ill-fated attempt to succeed as a free publication aimed at commuters. Shortlist’s editor, Joseph Mackertich, is “very sad but very proud”. He thanked readers of the magazine, which had a circulation of more than 500,000 and was distributed in London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Newcastle and Leeds.

The Stylist Group’s rebrand positions Stylist as the publisher’s flagship magazine. Its female targeting allows a smaller print run, yet the title generates larger revenues than ShortList as its audience is more attractive to advertisers, while there is greater potential to grow its events business.

ShortList’s website will continue to run but much of its proprietary editorial content will be replaced with product recommendations, where the company takes a commission from affiliate links when users buy directly.

Paid-for men’s magazines are also struggling, with Esquire recently announcing plans to raise its cover price and cut its number of editions from 12 to six issues a year. Other traditional lads’ mags such as Nuts, Zoo, FHM and Loaded have already ceased their print publications.

Is this the end for men’s lifestyle magazines? With the die-hard print consumers in steady decline it is surely only a matter of time before this sector becomes extinct.

Sue Fernando-Solini

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