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How children’s magazines continue to beat the market

David Riley on the sector’s consistent growth, new launches and the all important covermount.

So what’s been happening in the children’s magazine market? Who are the major players and what are the trends?

It looks as if value sales of kid’s magazines are continuing to grow, in stark contrast to the wider magazine market which is pretty asthmatic. The growth isn’t huge, but it’s there and it’s been consistent for the last five years. Hurrah!

Kid’s magazines are categorised into four sectors: Preschool, Primary Girls, Primary Boys and Pre-teen. Preschool is about 40% of the market, with primary girls and boys equating to a further 50% between them (girls being slightly more significant than boys). Pre-teen is a small sector and a not too healthy one either. The biggest publishers are Egmont, Immediate Media and Redan, but DC Thomson, Panini, Kennedy and Signature all have significant market shares.

Why have children’s magazines continued to thrive? Almost certainly it’s because of the unique blend of characteristics that make a magazine. Parents like magazines because of the stories and activities which help in their child’s development; children love the connection with their favourite toy, game, TV or movie brands… and, of course, they love the free gifts.

As Siobhan Galvin, commercial director of magazines at Egmont (pictured below), says: “Magazines are not seen as a purist read, and not as a toy – they are a hybrid product that combines entertainment and fun with reading and learning benefits.”

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However, if you ever needed evidence of the dominance (I nearly said stranglehold) of a handful of big IP owners and platforms over the hearts and minds of UK children, then look no further than magazines. In preschool the biggest brands by far are CBeebies, Peppa Pig, PAW Patrol and Thomas. Primary Girls is led by Disney Frozen, and for Primary Boys it’s LEGO, Star Wars and Beano.

eOne, Disney, Mattel, Nickelodeon, LEGO and BBC are hugely powerful, and it takes a pretty extraordinary new property to break into the sector. It’s not that there haven’t been attempts to launch new brands over recent years, because there have.

But new launches are very expensive, especially when they don’t work! It doesn’t make it easier to see that the pyramid is getting narrower at the top. Pyramid? Maybe a better shape would be a tadpole – with a big head and a long, skinny tail. The point is that the gap between the big successes and all the rest has never seemed wider.

Here’s Egmont’s Siobhan again: “There were 53% more launches in 2016 versus 2011, and 42% more closures. With more and more new launches, the rate of churn increases, putting ever more pressure on shelf space. It really is important for us to work in partnership with licensors to ensure we get the timing right on new launches and optimise the opportunity at retail.”

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She continues: “We’ve also seen ever greater fragmentation, with average issue sales declining. In 2016 only 11% of titles sold 40,000 copies or above. In order to drive continued value growth, our strategy is to focus on investing on fewer high priced issues, offering exceptional value to the consumer and retaining their prominence at retail.”

So concentration leads to further concentration. The more the market is squeezed by the big brands, the greater the likelihood that some publishers at least will concentrate on big brands.

But there are other obvious outcomes of this pressure. First, a clear appreciation of the need for editorial and design quality. Engaging characters, good storylines, strong graphics will all help establish a magazine – and a licensor which supports this with a good style guide, plenty of assets and efficient approvals will give its brand an edge.

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Here’s Maria Welch, md of DC Thomson Magazines (pictured above): “We look for something that ‘sticks’ with kids. It can be character, narrative or a tactile attachment, but the licence should give us the base to produce engaging content that leaps off the page. I’m particularly proud of the care and attention we give to our editorial content, acting as a conduit to literacy for children, fuelling young imaginations and inspiring creativity.”

Second, one shots and compilation magazines become more and more important for showcasing new or smaller properties. Third, IP which connects with consumers through digital media has a far greater chance of shouldering to the front. Publishers and retailers love the idea of a pre-existing fan base.

Fourth, the covermount. Loved by children (and sometimes cursed by parents) the covermount has always been important to sales… but in recent years we’ve seen extraordinarily eye-catching gifts.

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Emily Bell, licensing director at preschool specialist Redan, explains: “The preschool magazine market is still going strong, increasing by 5.8% last year, and competition for shelf space and access to the hottest characters is fierce. We are finding that the traditional route of looking to broadcast for licences is changing fast, with internet and social media stars and characters beginning to attract huge fan bases.

“It may be a robust market but it is also a fickle one with more launches and closures than any other sector. Key to making each magazine stand out is the covermount gift. While children do show some brand loyalty, they can always be swayed by an impressive free gift,” Emily continues, “and we have certainly seen an increase in publishers’ covermount budgets and it’s becoming commonplace to see a magazine’s entire front cover and logo completely covered up by a gift.”

I’m looking forward to the rest of the year, because there is still some terrific activity being planned. 2017 is a big year for Beano both as a comic and as a brand – with a new TV series hitting the screens soon. Redan brings out one shots for Dinosaur Roar and Paddington in its Bag-o-Fun title, and Egmont launches two big titles – DC Super Hero Girls plus the official Minecraft magazine. These are just a taster of titles that should make up a cracking year.

David Riley is an independent publishing and licensing consultant and agent specialising in book and magazine publishing. (www.davidrileyconsulting.co.uk)

This feature originally appeared in the autumn 2017 edition of Licensing Source Book. Click here to read the full publication.

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