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June 13, 2007

BBC Magazines: Profitable?

Over at Virginia Postrel's I see a most amazing claim:

The model you describe certainly holds true in the US. However, in the UK and elsewhere in Europe it is possible to publish magazines that survive solely on the basis of their circulation revenue (barring some small, specialised advertising revenue).

The company I work for, BBC Magazines, for example, publishes 'Sky At Night', an astronomy magazine. The circulation is only 30,000 but it can charge a high cover price because it is linked to a community of interest that is passionate about their subject and prepared to pay.

Now what is said there is true. It's also true that BBC Magazines as a whole makes a profit, which returns to the BBC itself.

However, to then use the BBC as an example of how a magazine can be profitable in the way that a US one cannot.....this it at very best slightly disingenuous.

For example, the magazine Sky at Night is clearly and obviously tied in with the TV programme of the same name, one that's been running for 50 years (that's about right isn't it?). Others in the stable include Top Gear, one of the more popular programmes on the telly, Radio Times itself, which tells you what's on the telly....publishing tie ins to successful TV programs is, you might think, a little easier to make a profit from than trying something free standing.

Plus, of course, the fact that the BBC is one of the best known brands in the country. As it certainly should be as everyone has to pay a £ 135 a year tax to fund it...that tends to make things stick in people's minds.

As the final clincher, I'm sure I too could run a series of profitable magazines if I got free advertizing on the major broadcasting network in the country.

So, as I say, a rather amazing claim. The Head of Licencing for BBC Magazines, who enjoys free TV and radio advertising, one of the best brands in the country, zero cost of capital and publishes TV programme tie ins, says that in the UK it is possible for magazines to survive solely on their circulation revenue.

This may even be true but I don't think I would use James Hewes' employer as an example really.

June 13, 2007 in Your Tax Money at Work | Permalink


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Hi Tim

Thanks for picking up on my comments.

One minor correction to your piece - we don't get any advertising space on the BBC's TV or radio networks. The name of the magazine may be the same, and of course we are editorially linked, but there are no 'spots' before, during or after programmes specifically promoting the magazine.

Perhaps also using one of the BBC's magazines as an example diverted from my point, which is that predominantly circulation-based titles can be profitable in the UK.

If you look at the portfolios of our competitors, the majority include an element of these kind of titles.


Posted by: James Hewes | Jul 23, 2007 3:25:32 PM