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Secrets of successful export sales

British magazines have a long and successful track record in overseas markets, due in part to the widespread use of English, but also because of the breadth and quality of our product. Ros Shaylor looks at some of the key components of a successful export strategy.

By Ros Shaylor

With ad revenues and circulation figures falling, now is the time to ensure you are maximising sales opportunities for your magazine in overseas markets. A well targeted export strategy can perhaps provide a convincing argument for winning that long sought after international blue chip advertiser, can help boost flagging ABC figures and, if successful, can lead to international expansion into foreign editions.

The first step

It is crucial that you start with a realistic assessment of your magazine from cover to cover in order to ensure that the strategy you devise delivers maximum benefits. Does it contain coverage of international events, news relevant to your subject matter, editorial of interest to those not based here in the UK? When scanning the ABC figures (, one can see that magazines which indentify with international brands, whether its cars, personalities, fashion or even popular TV shows, do extremely well, as do those targeting categories such as music, sports and fashion – all of which have a worldwide audience.

The next stage is to identify who is the target demographic: what relevance would your subject matter have to those living / working / holidaying abroad.

Who is your international reader?

The potential purchaser of your magazine is likely to fall into one of five categories:

* The holidaymaker; those sunning themselves on the beach wanting to keep up with the latest gossip from home.
* The Ex-pat looking for a nostalgic reminder of life in the UK.
* The business traveller keen to keep up to date with events whilst on the move.
* Perhaps the enthusiast searching for information on their hobby or interest.
* Or someone simply looking for news and information from a different perspective to that found in their own local magazines.

Historically, UK magazines have performed extremely well overseas. Their breadth of subject matter and their design and editorial excellence have given the British magazine industry a worldwide audience. But now, the digitalisation of the publishing process has made it cost-effective for domestic publishers to produce high quality local products which are eclipsing some UK titles. A prime example is Australia, once the number one market for the British press, but now able to boast a thriving magazine industry. Other territories once considered too small to support their own domestic niche category magazines are now seeing an explosion of launches.

Once a decision has been made on who your reader is, it’s important to study your key markets so that a coherent, cost effective marketing plan can be put into place. Worldwide, approximately 375 million people are classified as using English as their main language and it is the third largest language in the world. But when adding in those for whom it is their second language, English is number one. So, the potential audience is huge – but, in reality, the key markets will primarily be the main English speaking territories: USA, Australia, New Zealand and Canada and where affordability would not be an issue.


Pricing is an important tool; the appropriate price can have a profound effect on sales, especially in the more price sensitive markets – typically those with a mature, well established domestic publishing industry offering a wide choice of titles. Local pricing is affected by many financial implications, from freight costs, local VAT rates (which can vary from 0.5% to 19.6%), distributor and retailer discounting structures and the exchange rate. Whist some parts of the cost structure of your magazine can be impossible to influence, freight costs can be managed through efficient distribution and tightly controlled sales targets.

Price testing can be used – perhaps during the launch phase to encourage sampling, or as a tactical measure to gain market share against a key rival. If the decision has been made to set a lower than standard price, it can be easily managed through a sacrifice remit margin – the agreed percentage is then passed on to the local distributor to help lower the price.

The often used ‘Big Mac index’ is a useful tool to assess the affordability of your title in a market. Created by the Economist over twenty years ago, this index is a test of the extent to which market exchange rates result in goods costing the same in different countries.


Thankfully, the vast majority of international press markets do not require the promotional investment levels required here in the UK. That’s not to say one should try and launch in the key territories without backing your title with promotional spend; the typical magazine mainline in an international press store is extremely crowded and paying for extra display will attract sampling. Promotion costs can vary enormously but should be seen as a longer term investment. Your appointed distributor can advise on the most appropriate promotional vehicle for your title.

Added value is always a popular promotional device; offering a free poster, supplement or cover mounted gift can give an extra boost to sales. It is also an effective way to use up ‘leftover’ cover mounts, posters etc. It is a pretty straightforward exercise to have the export copies bagged and most consolidators offer finishing services. It’s also possible to target single or selected territories with added value to assess the impact of the promotion before you commit to widening the promotion. Some overseas distributors can arrange and manage reader or retailer competitions – again, seek advice from your distributor on the most appropriate.

For many titles, airport / travel point stores are going to be a vitally important class of trade, both for the potential readers as much as advertisers. It is still possible to get listed in some airport stores – for the right titles – for free, but these opportunities are becoming few and far between. Airport retailers offer a wide range of promotional display space options with schemes to suit all types of magazine and tend to be well managed, though expensive.

Routes to market

The conventional arrangement is to appoint a UK distributor to manage the financial and transportation relationship between you and the overseas distributor. The benefits of the arrangement are many; one point of contact, simple distribution and financial processes and of course the wealth of experience your distributor can bring to your strategy. If you do decide to go it alone, I would recommend that you refer to the Distripress website ( for lists of reputable overseas distributors.

The typical physical distribution would require the export copies being delivered to a consolidator where the copies would be packed with other product for that market. The consolidator, having plenty of experience in the highly specific packing requirements required by both the distributor and local custom authorities, would then deliver on to the relevant freight forwarder for shipment.

The shipments are typically made by road to much of Europe and Scandinavia, by sea to USA, Canada, South Africa and Australia and air to many Far Eastern markets. Sea freight is by far the cheapest – though of course the lengthiest option. Several agents run select air freight services for more time sensitive products, but of course this can add significantly to the final local selling price due to the extra freight costs.

When your title has become established and there is potential for larger print runs, it is possible to look at local printing in some of the larger markets. The benefits are obvious, but choose carefully. Such an arrangement can lead to producing completely local titles (with local editorial and advertising) and lead to a totally new revenue stream. Other options would be to license your magazine to a local publisher – an ever growing sector; a good reference point is FIPP ( which organises the annual Worldwide Magazine Marketplace event bringing together potential business partners from across the globe.

Another option is to produce local-language editions yourself – this allows you to control editorial and production qualities and maintain financial management. This route is best suited to titles that are not too ‘text heavy’ and should always be translated by a native speaker who has plenty of experience in the subject matter; a poorly translated product may sell well for the first issue but many readers will not come back again! What should also be considered when assessing the potential for local-language titles is the quality and typical pricing of similar domestic product which can be significantly lower than average UK prices.

Planning and reporting

When planning a strategy, it is important to remember that sales results are not available as quickly as in the UK. When an issue is off sale and finalised in the UK, it may well be still in transit to some more farther-flung markets. This time delay – up to eight weeks to reach Australia - means that it does take longer to react to results and so requires a more substantial copy commitment, with its consequent financial implications. EPOS data is available from some markets and is an effective tool in managing ongoing supplies.

Overseas distributors can supply information on category performance, competitor pricing and promotion plans all of which are useful when planning your initial strategy.

Ongoing planning and marketing

It’s important that you keep your distributor informed of any local editorial content and events relevant to your title. With so many titles to manage, maintaining a high profile will only benefit copy management. Many agents can react quickly to special issues and can increase supply, sticker copies to highlight content and make sure retailers are aware of added value.

Face to face discussions with distributors from key countries are also a good way to raise profile. This doesn’t need extensive travel budgets, as many will visit the UK regularly and some even have UK-based representatives who would be happy to meet and discuss tactics.

Using your website to drive potential readers to stores is another device. Provide links through to overseas distributors’ web pages; many have a store locator function. When planning subscription marketing, try to offer a competitive overseas subscription rate, and having the ability to pay either in local currency or via money transfer methods (ie. PayPal) can only encourage uptake.


With strategic planning, exporting your magazine can be a hugely beneficial exercise both in terms of increased revenues and raised brand awareness. But in order for it to work, careful planning and an ongoing marketing commitment are vital. The world is your oyster, so if you haven’t considered it before, now is the time to try!