Mobile navigation


A Vote for Old Age

A chance conversation in the office led Peter Johns to do some thinking about the longevity of magazine titles, and the results are this light-hearted look at magazine launch history. Peter doesn't claim that the analysis is rigorous but it reveals some interesting facts.

By Peter Johns

Launches are the lifeblood of magazine publishing. They certainly generate excitement in the specialist and general media – who's spending how many millions to launch in what market.

Perceived wisdom is that magazines have a lifecycle, and even very successful magazines eventually reach their sell by date. More typically, in successful markets, new entrants dilute the market power of the leader(s), and many magazines go through the usual business cycle of new entrant, rising star, cash cow, dog.

Whilst there is much truth in this generalisation, there is another side to the story. I was explaining the importance of launches to a colleague recently, and made the point that our magazine, Waterways World, whilst ranked at 584 in the wholesale rankings by RSV, would be much higher up the rankings based on longevity. That got me thinking – where would we and the other top 1,000 titles be ranked, if the ranking was by age?

In principle, it seemed fairly easy to find out. The first stage was to get hold of the wholesale ranking data, and our newstrade distributors, COMAG, kindly provided me with a spreadsheet of the rankings to that date (April 2005). BRAD, who publish launch dates for most titles, was the next source. Now, all that was needed was someone to marry the two and plug any gaps. Step forward my recently appointed PA, Sue.

The findings are summarised in the table below. There were 77 titles for which we were not able to confirm the launch year, though, for the majority of those, we know they were pre-1995 because we were able to identify wholesale ranking data for them from the data supplied by COMAG.

Analysis of top 1,000 (by RSV) – as of April 2005
Launch PeriodNumber of Titles
other pre-199577

Of the top 1,000 titles by RSV, 567 were launched within the previous 10 years, which certainly confirms the importance of launches to the magazine sector. (Note, the number of launches listed in a year is not the total launches for that year – some titles will have since closed and others may be around but not in the top 1,000 by RSV.) Recent years feature most strongly, as you might expect; almost 10% of the top 1,000 (as of April 2005) were only launched in 2004.

But it's the flip side of youth that sparked my interest in this question, and an obvious interpretation is that an awful lot of the top 1,000 have been around a long time.

Of the top 1,000 titles, 38 survive from Victorian times – or even earlier. The top 10 oldest are:

TitleSectorRSV RankNo of IssuesEstablishedAge Rank
TatlerWomen’s Lifestyle/Fashion2321217091
SpectatorCurrent Affairs – Domestic1685118282
Jewish ChronicleReligion2505218413
EconomistCurrent Affairs – Domestic495118434
The FieldNational5701218535
British Journal of PhotographyPhotography9315118546
Weekly NewsMisc. (General Interest)1325218557
Estates GazetteTrade & Professional2855018588
Investors ChronicleBusiness & Finance1755118609

This list contains some venerable British institutions, and demonstrates that youth is not all in this business! The Economist, around for more than one and a half centuries, is still ranked in the top 50 selling titles by annual RSV. Interestingly, eight of the top 10 titles are weeklies – sure that helps them achieve top 1,000 rankings by RSV, but it makes it even more remarkable that they have survived so long – monthly schedules seem tough enough to me let alone weekly! Top spot though is reserved for the Tatler – approaching the start of its 4th century, but looking good for its age!

The appearance of two titles in the Religion sector in the top 10 also got me thinking. Are there any lessons for publishers on the sectors to pick if they want their next launch title to have a long and happy life? Of the top 50 titles by age, 10 fall into the Trade / Professional sector, there are four Women's Weeklies and four titles on Religion and five titles on Current Affairs.

Now, here's a warning to those who focus on launches and short-termism to the detriment of long-term survival; for those of a statistical bent – RSV rank is positively correlated with age rank. For those not of a statistical bent – the older the title the higher the revenue. Does anyone else remember the most important lesson from their statistics classes?

‘There are lies, there are damn lies, and then there are statistics!’

And what about Waterways World? Well, it’s ranked 584 by RSV but 151 by longevity. And you know why I like the age rankings? We can only go higher!

If you would like a spreadsheet of the full data, to see where your title sits, contact Peter