The headquarters of the magazine publisher IPC Media sit pretty on the banks of the Thames. But 3,000 miles to the west, the future of the so-called “Ministry of Magazines” is at the mercy of a much larger media giant. IPC’s parent company, Time Warner, is considering separating its magazines division, Time Inc (valued at between $2bn and $3.5bn, according to Reuters), from the rest of its vast business.
It is understood that IPC Media would be offloaded as part of the potential billion-dollar sale to US publisher Meredith. If a deal goes ahead, its fate is expected to be announced within weeks. Time Warner declined to comment.
The news comes two weeks after IPC announced 150 job cuts – 8% of its workforce – further to a wider cull of about 500 people from Time Inc. Former insiders say internal speculation about the future of IPC began in 2010, when chief executive Sylvia Auton returned from the US to run the publisher in London. Auton’s two-year stint at Time Inc had been known for slashing costs and cutting staff, raising fears IPC was to be pruned for a sale.
Home to a stable of 60 magazines, including Marie Claire, Woman’s Own, NME, Horse & Hound and Country Life, IPC Media remains the biggest-selling consumer magazine publisher in the UK. But it’s in the process of a challenging transition to digital, having to find, for example, a future for its title Amateur Photographer in the Instagram era, and reposition What Digital Camera now the high street camera chain Jessops has ceased to exist.
“The fact that IPC is a generalist publisher means they do have titles that are increasingly at risk,” says Max Sydney Smith, from Enders Analysis. “But on the other hand, they have a lot of tiny titles which have a very dedicated readership.” Hardy performers, like Anglers Mail and Amateur Gardening, still deliver average sales in excess of 30,000 for IPC, after surviving the fire-sale of 20 niche titles in 2010.
IPC’s Southbank division – with titles including Marie Claire, Look and InStyle – is described by executives at other publishing companies as the jewel in its crown. “Southbank is a good business because they’ve invested in it, and on the advertising side those affluent businesses have been more resilient throughout the recession,” says one, who sees IPC as “a mixed bag of specialist titles, a bunch of struggling weeklies and a very strong Southbank”.
Country Life is believed to be one of the publisher’s biggest cash cows, selling a healthy average of 38,246 copies a week at £3.20 each. IPC’s listings title, What’s on TV, is the UK’s second biggest selling magazine, despite the rise in on-demand and time-shifted viewing.
In the women’s lifestyle market, Marie Claire, Woman’s Weekly and Chat outscored their rivals in year-on-year performance in a tough sector in last week’s magazine ABCs for 2012’s second half. Woman & Home, one of Auton’s personal favourites, is the only one of IPC’s top 10 titles to have increased its circulation since 2007, according to figures compiled by Enders Analysis. Subscribers account for almost half of its average 353,000 monthly sales – making it less vulnerable to the problems afflicting newsstand sales.
The challenge for IPC’s flagship women’s titles is to remain in tune with their readers, according to Barbara Rowlands, the director of City University’s journalism programme. “Women have changed. They don’t want doom-and-gloom or stories about relationships breaking up – and gone are the days when they have to be treated as if they are victims.”
Rowlands thinks Shortlist Media’s free title, Stylist, has “captured the zeitgeist” and is more tailored to modern women.
As with rival magazine publisher Bauer Media, the move to digital has been sluggish for IPC. Aside from the launch of a TV and radio station for NME, struggling in print, there has been little in the way of game-changing investments.
But the company says it has made “rapid progress” in extending its brands to tablets, and now has 62 editions on those devices. Mobile was described by IPC’s digital director Neil Robinson as “top of the list for opportunities” this year and the company says it contributes 30% of all its digital traffic.
“I think IPC itself would acknowledge it hasn’t moved onto digital as fast as it might have done,” says Douglas McCabe, of Enders Analysis. “Aside from the greatest magazine brands – those few that are passing through digital transition relatively unscathed – valuations will relentlessly decline. The explosion of smartphones and tablets into the mass market in the next two to three years will be a huge problem for many magazine brands.” Read full story