Sunday, June 7

2009: Outdoor Blogs and the 'traditional' press

Those of you who regularly drop by may be aware of my interest in how the outdoor print media meets the continuing influence on their traditional audience from on-line information alternatives & an increasingly fickle TV/Reality Show fed (led?) public.

Times are hard in the publishing industry. Competition from the big High Street combines (e.g. Tesco) & on-line merchandisers (e.g. Amazon) continue to tempt the dwindling UK literate with low cost book offers and special package promotions. The monthly magazine industry is similarly challenged, not on price, but increasingly on specialist content freely available on-line.

In the past I've used the magazine industry's benchmark, the Audit Bureau of Circulations (with due recognition of ABC copyright ownership) to look at how the Outdoor titles are coping.

Here's some thoughts based on the 2008 sales figures. If you'd like to refer back to my 2007 & 2006 pieces please click HERE

Circulation : 40,531 (2007 - 39,349- 3% rise)
Cost: £3,90 (2007 - £3.70 - 5.4% increase)
Subscription: 37% of copies sold (2007 - 38%) down

Circulation : 44,044 (2007- 44,549 - 1% drop)
Cost: £3.70 (unchanged)
Subscription: 43% of copies sold (2007 - 42%) down

Mag: TGO
Circulation : 9,891 (2007 - 10,705 - 7% drop)
Cost: £3.40 (unchanged)
Subscribers: 33% of copies sold (2007 - 31%) up

Circulation : 104,476 (2007 - 105,168 - 1% drop)
Cost: n/a
Subscribers: n/a

Circulation : 12,183 (2007 - 12,505 - 3% drop)
Cost: £2.25 (2007 - £1.99 13% increase)
Subscribers: 58% (2007 - 58%) no change

[Figures for recent new titles (Outdoor & the various Bushcraft magazines) weren't available]

Looking at the Big Three's circulation since 2006 .......

Overall not too bad a position taken as a whole. Not exactly flourishing, but managing to maintain regular readership overall despite cover price increase along the way.

But the disparity between titles is clearly evident.

Rather than rehash past reflection instead I'll pose the question 'Why the differences?'

It can't be directly down magazine content, or format. No doubt you have your own preferred read, but both Trail & TGO have relaunched their format.

Perhaps the ABC figures doesn't include digital copies?

No idea to be frank, but I'd be surprised if that was the case, and even then the numbers concerned can't be that large taken as a percentage of total circulation.

My pet theory, and totally without any real evidence, is down to You; The Prospective Reader.

Or more accurately 'How do you get hold of your monthly mag?'

Both Trail and CW are backed by the conglomerate Bauer Consumer Media who acquired the titles from EMAP in early 2008. Its hugely influential with the number of UK magazine titles it produces right across the spectrum of the UK magazine buying public.

With that comes an effective distribution network, the result of which is your favourite mag, whichever it may be, available from a variety of local stockists, especially the likes of W H Smith, favourite browsing shop of the train/airport lounge.

TGO is part of The Herald and Times Group Magazines, which in turn is owned by the global Newsquest organisation.

Which would lead you to think the distribution of TGO should be similarly widespread across the UK.

But for some reason, possibly related to the Scottish based Herald organisation, TGO has become increasingly difficult to track down here in the south of England (Whether that is the case in such places as the Midlands etc - I'd be interested to hear)

Which means impulse buying of TGO, picked up as a result of browsing the newsstand for something to pass the time, doesn't seem possible. With the result that potential new/regular readership is lost.

I know this is true in my own case as I've resorted to taking a subscription to TGO as I rate it so highly. But as we all know - a subscription is easily lapsed if the renewal arrives around the time that the last couple of issues lacked that specific spark of interest.

All of which makes a difficult balancing act for the TGO editorial team. To stay true to their mag's ethos, whilst having to continually think up fresh new ideas to keep the existing readership keen, whilst limited to their potential audience. And some ideas, taken too far, may actually have the opposite effect.

I'm sure it can't be this simple; And I wish it was truly based on the quality and content of the magazine. But hey ho its an unfair world.

At a time that the mainstream media tell us that more people are taking to Things Outdoors, such disparity in reader numbers is a difficulty that really needs to be resolved. Especially when part of a large corporate super-owner, who's interest is balance sheet rather than passion.

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Wow, John. Those are fascinating figures. I knew TGO was less popular than Trail, but I hadn't realised what a big gap there is, or that it lags just as far behind Country Walking. A 7% drop in such a relatively small circulation must be pretty difficult to absorb.

I suppose it's more-or-less inevitable that small, specialist publications like TGO will eventually go under, as the market is increasingly bought out by huge corporations entirely devoid of an interest (other than financial) in their product. It'll be a sad day when TGO finally goes down, though :(
I'm amazed at the TGO figure. Strictly speaking it shouldn't be in the top 3! It has less distro than the regional Cumbria, which I find bizarre. I tend to think TGO is becoming a niche product these days, with esoteric, hard to fathom writings from that bloke in the hat (but I do enjoy them) and weirdly extreme lightweight stuff (e.g. sleeping with a builder's mask on). Not sure how the youf of today would take to that!
There's a definite younger feel to the contributors and content of TRAIL. The Scottish Mountaineer (MCofS publication) has tons more content than TGO these days. Rather than pages of one page route descriptions, it has some really well written accounts of travels.
If the TGO figures keep dropping like that, it'll be goodbye to the mag. I can't stand digital as it's hard to stare at a screen so I doubt the online version will save it.
Interesting times for TGO and thanks for the research. Most intrigued now!
Hmm. Very surprised at the disparity between trail and TGO. For me, TGO wins hands down and gets my sub.

Something rings true in your comment about availability. I'm an expat who travels regularly, if infrequently, through UK airports. The only time I read Trail is if the opportunity presents itself when waiting for a return flight. I can often score a copy of trail but am yet to see TGO in an airport. North or South.
I subscribe to Trail John. I find it has more in it to read and TGO which I like I check before buying. I don't read the Wommble, Perrin, and I looked at Eddie Mechan on sun cream and did not buy it this month. I would suggest that the lack of stuff for those new to hillwalking and an emphasis on Scotland is why TGO is way behind. Cumbria magazine and Trail doing the Lakes and Wales which says it all in the sales figures with Cumbria out selling TGO. Thousands of people who read it don't live in Scotland and dont get to walk there much or at all. Many people only get to do weekend trips and day walks, and hence read about what walks they could do. Some slate Trail and its reviews. I say why quesion staff who have a high regard by those who are Mountain Guides and the like. Trail is a fine magazine and it has its bad issues but like a Scot said to me in Bob Scots bothy not long back "it has a lot more in it than TGO and hill walking is fun and Trail reflects that" Better than moaning about wind farms and writing about the Oracle of Delphie. I read history books for that.
Hi John,

I'm based in The Netherlands so I'm very pleased with my digital copy of TGO. It would be interesting to find out if sales numbers include digital copies or not.

Sorry - Theo - thats a question I'd like answered as well.

As for niche mag, well TGO delivers the same sort of content as Trail, but the disparity of circulation figures has intrigued me for the last three years.

I used to put it down to the curse of EMAP. A huge publishing set-up which swamps small indie ventures.

But looking at the TGO backering that doesn't seem a likely theory any more
Yes it is interesting, but with so much free online content the times ahead are more interesting still. I used to read Trail and TGO for a while years ago and I stopped them: TGO was useful only for Chris Townsend's writing, and Trail seemed to me like 'hillwalking for lager louts' (maybe it's better now).

I read a couple of interesting things about magazines generally:

The average subscription period for a magazine is 1 year. Some of these 1-year wonders will be because people simply can't be bothered to renew, but in many cases they realise that the same stuff keeps getting recycled and the amount of new and useful material diminishes markedly.

As far as the publishers are concerned, the only thing that matters is the number of eyes that see them, not the number of purchases. In other words, they don't care how you obtain your copy as long as you see one. This explains why the blurb about digital magazine copies says that you can 'send it to your friends', or something like that. Is that true?. Has anyone done it?.
Shouldn't think so Geoff. After all why should they?

I don't think the digital format will ever take off. Just not tactile enough for most people who actually enjoy the act of reading
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