Quality over quantity

Beneath another mediocre set of advertising results lies evidence of a reader base willing to spend money, finds Colin Fallon 

We reach what T.S. Eliot dubbed the cruellest month, and as with previous years, it hasn’t exactly been kind to the British shooting press. An average of around 27 pages of display advertising per title will rank among the lower totals ever observed in this column; that said, it’s actually higher than last month’s average, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so down about it.

What’s for sure is that we’re seeing the seasonal effects that govern the gun trade in full force. The game magazines, not long out of the game seasons, are at their weakest, while rifle magazines are the strongest by some distance.

To some extent, I wonder why that is, since March – the month on the cover of Sporting Rifle and Sporting Shooter in this month’s data – is not one I’d describe as a marquee month for the professional rifleman. Its core activities might be characterised as last-minute finishing off the doe cull and anxiously waiting for the buck season to come around, along with the never-ending jobs of pest and predator control.

That still keeps them busy, of course, along with deer censuses and other essential jobs around and about; and if things are set to get busier in the summer, they’ll need to be stocking up on gear right around now.

A recent survey of readers of Sporting Rifle revealed that 68 per cent plan to buy a new gun, optic, NV/TI unit or hunting clothing in the next year, while 97 per cent of readers own more than one rifle and 30 per cent own at least five – so these are kit-hungry readers and advertising to them still a sensible proposition, no matter what time of year.

Looking at this from a wider point of view, it calls into question how much, and heavily, we lean on the word ‘seasonal’ in this column. The shooting sports are extremely seasonal, there is no doubt about that. But are some more seasonal than others?

While the game seasons all roughly align around the September-to-January stretch – some a bit longer, some a bit shorter but all by and large a winter activity – there are deer seasons that start in April, others that start in July or August, and a whole batch that start in November.

Not to mention some species that don’t even have a close season! So rather than waiting for a specific time to advertise, as you might in the shotgun market, in the rifle market decisions could be made more on an internal basis – when do you have something to advertise? With SHOT, the British Shooting Show and IWA all recently concluded, this is the prime time for product launches, and it shows.

Speaking of the British Shooting Show, it may have already passed as I write this, but we’re surveying the last round of magazines to come out before the show took place, so it’s had another strong showing, appearing in the top 10 for the second month running.

That will surely tail off now, but in combing through all the adverts this month, I’ve already seen the green shoots of Northern Shooting Show advertising ahead of its return in May. The East Anglian Game & Country Fair is there too, and after them, The Game Fair will surely follow.

It’s good to see summer getting into swing again with its sequence of big-name events and the opportunities they provide – not just for advertising but for the field-sports-loving public in general.

ABC isn’t easy

We couldn’t let this time of year pass without a mention of the yearly ABC figures, charting the fortunes of print newspapers and magazines across the nation, whether up or down.

Cynics will say it’s mostly the latter but you can always sniff out some positive stories if you try – though in the shooting world, the truth is it’s hard to tell either way.

Only two titles appear in the ‘Sports: Shooting’ category of the latest ABC data. And in truth, the circulation of Shooting & Conservation barely counts in this regard, as it is tied to how many people are members of BASC (a growing number, of course) rather than how many are buying it on the newsstand.

So Shooting Times, with an ABC total of 12,406 (sandwiched between Practical Motorhome and PC Gamer in the overall rankings), is really flying the flag on its own.

Still, if we combine the two, we get a combined total circulation of 144,726, down two per cent year-on-year. Which is really not that bad – in fact it’s in the better half overall (out of 75 magazine sectors, 19 showed an overall rise), beating far more mainstream sectors such as computing, video games, football, photography and tourism.

And though this is a limited data set, it serves to confirm what we knew already, which is that there’s resilience in the market.

Want to know what’s topping the overall magazine charts in the UK? It’s National Trust Magazine, followed by Asda and Tesco’s branded mags. In other words, those publications associated with an existing membership or organisation are the most abundant – though whether they are actually read once they land on doorsteps is a matter for debate.

It’s a long-standing decision for would-be advertisers: Go with the numbers, or for a smaller, more engaged audience? The choice is yours – pick your poison. Or do both. 

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