Sticking to their knitting

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00

It is one of the UK’s magazine powerhouses, publishing the country’s best-selling title, Take A Break, which according to recent ABC figures, generates estimated newsstand revenues of £43m a year.

It prides itself on close knowledge of reader groups either missed or dismissed by other publishers. But with its recent run of launches - among them Cut, Real and Lounge - badly missing their target audiences, is H Bauer losing its way?

The family-run German business, which dates back to 1875, hit Britain’s shores in 1987, launching UK versions of its Bella and Take A Break into a tired UK weekly market. It grew to become one of the top three publishing companies in the UK, focusing on the TV listings and women’s weekly markets.

Bauer’s formula was simple but effective: know your target markets extremely well and saturate them with low-cost products with mass appeal. Bella, Take a Break and That’s Life! now account for 42 per cent of the women’s weekly market, while its TV titles make up almost a third of the TV listings sector. “They understand what a downmarket housewife in Dagenham wants and reads,” says managing partner of media agency OMD UK Tim McCloskey.

Unlike most major publishers, Bauer shuns the advertising community to focus its attention on consumers. It outsources all advertising sales to the sales house The Publishing Consultancy (TPC).

H Bauer’s UK managing director, David Goodchild, says: “Our drive and commitment is to develop magazines that readers want to read. Once established, this provides a media vehicle which we can take to advertisers.”

”They exclude advertisers and agencies from their plans until a matter of days before they hit the shelves,” says Steve Goodman, group press director of Mediacom. “Their prime concern is cover-price income. Ads are the icing on the cake.”

In recent years, however, the Bauer formula appears to have undergone a shift, with the company embracing innovation and new market sectors - so far with limited success.

From upmarket travel title 360, which launched in 2003 and closed a matter of months later, to the most recent launch, men’s weekly Cut (unveiled in August and now closed), Bauer has been exposing glaring holes in its market knowledge.

Tim Brooks, managing director of IPC Ignite, which publishes rival men’s weekly Nuts, says: “Cut has been a lesson for them in just how difficult it is to launch into sectors you are not already in. The UK magazine market is very segmented and competitive and you need lots of expertise if you are entering a new market.”

Bauer’s attempt to bring a fortnightly frequency to the women’s market, with Real, did not reach expectations and was sold on to the Essex-based consumer and contract magazine publisher Essential Publishing.

Lounge, a monthly entertainment magazine for women, was launched last February with a print run of 350,000. It lasted just six issues. In September, Bauer unveiled Total TV Guide, a premium title which was set to shake up the TV listings market, with 1.1m sample copies circulated on its launch in 2003. It currently sells 103,560, which doesn’t place it in the top 10 TV listings guide in the UK. Teen title Blush!, launched in 2002, was closed in 2003.

Some suggest that the company lacks the senior management structure to make editorial judgments on magazines in new market sectors. But the company appears to have no shortage of projects on the go, nor indeed to be put off by recent failures. “They very much believe in magazines having lifecycles,” says McCloskey. “Once it gets beyond a certain level they find another product.”

Goodchild is pragmatic about magazines which fail to match his definition of success. “’Successful’ in magazine terms can often have many definitions. We use only one definition and that is being profitable. If we do not see a chance that a magazine can be profitable then we have to make hard decisions. Before we reach that point we try everything that is practicable,” he says.

”Sometimes you will have successes and sometimes not, but this does not deter us from developing new ideas. The success rate on new launches is in fact very low.”

Taking on new markets will require a shift in emphasis. The company will need to improve its market research, and, particularly when moving into monthlies, court the advertising community.

In the US the company has been growing strongly and found recent success with celebrity weeklies In Touch and Life Style. Some question why the company has not made similar moves into the UK celebrity market, and it has been suggested that the company finds it hard to shake off the conservative roots of its UK and German ventures. “It’s easier for them to be more adventurous in the States or Mexico,” one insider says.

But competitors are slow to criticise a company that 15 years ago had no presence in the UK, and is now also a significant player Stateside. “People take shots at them because they are detached from the mainstream,” says Colin Morrison, chief executive of ACP-NatMag. “But for a company to grow to such a position solely through launch and not acquisition takes a high level of competence.”

clare_goff@yahoo.co.uk

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.