Computing is one of the largest and fastest changing of all magazine sectors and is divided into sub-sectors where cover ranges from the internet to gaming consoles and personal computers. The personal computing market itself is further divided by the Audit Bureau of Circulation into Computing Miscellaneous; Computing PC Business; Computing PC Games and Computing PC Leisure. While the Computing PC magazine market in general has suffered a decline in the past few years, following the general slow down in the computer market, the PC games and PC leisure sub-sectors have bucked this trend, increasing overall circulation by 24% and 12% respectively, year-on-year, December 2001. Jamie Malley, circulation manager at Future Publishing's Computing Division, says that with the high cover prices of many computing titles ­ up to £6 ­ it can be a strong category for retailers even if sales fail to rival those of a few years ago. "Many retailers find that by rationalising their range down to fewer titles, but concentrating on the better quality titles, their revenues grow," he says, but added: "Although the PC sector has seen some significant drops in sales over the past 12-18 months, there are indications that it is recovering". The best-selling PC computing title overall is VNU's Computeractive which falls into the miscellaneous category. Computeractive has a news stand ABC of 164,194 and differs from most of its competitors in three key ways: it has a low cover price of £1.30, a fortnightly frequency and a plain English' approach. All are crucial to the magazine s success says group publisher Simon Haisman. "Computeractive was launched four years ago as an alternative to the computer magazines that existed already and one way to make it different was to produce a fortnightly magazine with a lower cover price," he says. "It's also the only computer magazine to be approved by the Plain English Campaign. "Its jargon-free, plain English style of journalism was an immediate hit with readers and led to the magazine selling 223,577 in its first year and becoming the UK's best-selling computer magazine within just nine days of on-sale." However, Computeractive did not escape unscathed by the recent poor market conditions. On the news stand, sales dropped 27.5%, but Haisman reasons this was in line with the general market. Nevertheless, VNU has grabbed the opportunity to cash in on the successful Computeractive brand and developed several brand extensions that bring in additional revenue for retailers, including the bi-annual Computeractive Web Guide, sister title Webactive, the annual Best of Computeractive Workshop and Best of Computeractive PC Hints & Tips. Another major seller on the news stands is Dennis Publishing's Computer Shopper. A weighty monthly that has been published for more than 30 years, Computer Shopper has a news stand ABC of 89,421. The title falls into the PC business sub-sector and dropped 21% of its news stand sales in the last audit. Editor Jeremy Spencer says: "The market recently has been horrific, but we've managed to maintain a high news stand sales figure ­ Computer Shopper has always been a news stand title ­ but I don't think we will ever again see the heady days we have seen in the past ­ there is more competition via the internet for example ­ but I think there will always be a demand for computer magazines." Spencer says Computer Shopper has a loyal following because it is bought by and written by computer enthusiasts. "We see Computer Shopper as a fanzine," he says. "It is not written by journalists, but by people in the computer industry. I think it is this that gives us an edge." Perhaps surprisingly, Computer Shopper has never sought to cash in on its established brand (which comprises the magazine and web site) by publishing one-shots, although plans are afoot to publish a Computer Shopper directory. Future Publishing is also a leading player in the PC Computing sector ­ a sector that has benefited from the uplift in the gaming and leisure sectors. PC Gamer magazine, for example, increased its news stand circulation by 6% year-on-year in the last audit to 62,920. Future says PC Gamer remains popular with its readers (typically 25-year-old men) because it is known for carrying exclusive game reviews, previews and demos. Crucially, each issue carries either two covermounted CD-ROMs or one DVD-ROM ­ carrying demos and add-ons that allow readers to try games before they buy them. In the PC leisure sector Future publishes titles such as PC Format (covering all aspects of using a PC for enjoyment) and PC Answers. PC Answers bucked the trend in the last ABCs and increased its news stand circulation by 10%. Malley gives two reasons for this. "The last year or so has been a tough one in the PC market which, coupled with the poor economic situation, has meant that manufacturers have not been bringing out a great deal of new products and users have been more interested in upgrading and improving their PC rather than buying new kit. "PC Answers is the only mag that helps them do this. Unlike other titles, it isn't a buyers' guide, so it doesn't rely on people buying new PC equipment. The second reason is more practical ­ the circulation team at Future has worked hard on promoting the title in a number of retail groups and has been successful in securing stocking in many of the key grocery stores." Inevitably, the marketing of PC computing titles is based heavily around covermounting, with titles such as PC Gamer coming with two DVD or CDs each issue and offering readers the choice of DVD or CD format. Publishers seem to agree that there is no retreating from the covermounting war, but believe this allows them to sell at high cover prices, which benefits retailers. Future's Malley explains: "A PC mag without a covermount would be like an issue of OK without Posh n' Becks. The covermounts are an integral part of the package. "The magazines tend to have a high cover price, but this is because they invariably come with software worth considerably more than the cover price (often hundreds of pounds worth)." And Dennis' Spencer says: "Covermounting has been going on for about five years and you dare not go to shelf without a covermount." An exception in this market is Computeractive, which has a policy of not covermounting. "Again this is a point of differentiation for Computeractive because all other computer magazines have covermounts on every issue," says Haisman. He adds that the title does free gifts, supplements or CD Roms occasionally as gifts to readers. To a lesser extent, retail schemes are also used to promote computer titles. VNU promotes Computeractive through retail initiatives, including PoS, and also through the free bi-monthly Magazine Guide. And Dennis also spends money promoting Computer Shopper at retail. "We tend to do a lot of in-store promotions with the supermarkets," says Spencer. "We have a high percentage of sales through independents, but retail promotions through independents are difficult to set up." Computer Shopper M £3.25 USM Distribution Latest news stand ABC 89,421 Computeractive Fortnightly £1.30 Marketforce Latest news stand ABC 164,191 What PC? M £2.99 Marketforce Latest news stand ABC 26,543 PC Advisor M £3.25 Comag Latest news stand ABC N/a Computer Buyer M £3.25 Seymour Latest news stand ABC 31,778 PC Pro M £4.99 Seymour Latest news stand ABC 56,172 PC Answers Q £6 Seymour Latest news stand ABC 28,191 PC Plus M £6.49 Seymour Latest news stand ABC 49,013 Personal Computer World M £3.25 Marketforce Latest news stand ABC 66,726 PC Format M £5.99 (CD version) £6.49 (DVD version) Seymour Latest news stand ABC 59,451 PC Gamer M £4.99 (CD version) £5.99 (DVD version) Seymour Latest news stand ABC 62,920 Computer Arts M £6 Seymour Latest news stand ABC 9,292 {{CTN }}