It's coming up to the most important time of year for the gardening magazine sector. In May, the key month for these titles, pagination is increased, covermounts added, promotions rolled out and special editions published. From the retailer's point of view, concentrating on the sector during May by drawing attention to the extra activity should pay dividends in the long-term ­ publishers agree that pulling in readers during this period is key to retaining them for the rest of the year. "Sales double during the peak months of May and June," says Adrian Bishop, publisher and editor in chief at IPC's Amateur Gardening. "We print and distribute more copies then as demand in retail outlets will double. We also do more covermounting so retailers should give more facings to gardening titles in May to uplift sales." And Dominic Murray, associate publisher at BBC Gardeners' World, Gardens Illustrated and BBC Easy Gardening, says: "If Spring sales of the magazines are good this tends to continue all year. "Consequently, we tailor our trade activity around this period to complement the consumer activity ­ displaying key issues, which have covermounts, special editorial etc." This year publishers are confident of a sales uplift after last year's disappointing results when the sector as a whole was down 2.4% year on year (ABC, Dec 2001). Poor weather combined with the foot & mouth crisis forced Spring sales of many titles to tumble followed by a handful of closures, including Your Garden and Garden Inspirations. IPC's Bishop says: "The weather last year was appalling and the sector as a whole was down, with some of the lifestyle-type titles particularly badly hit." Bishop says this rationalisation is reshaping the market. "The sector is undergoing a change, with some saying it is the beginning of the end of the Ground Force effect." By this he means the popularity the sector has enjoyed as a result of prime-time TV gardening shows which prompted the launch of a cluster of less hardcore' gardening titles. However, even Amateur Gardening, the oldest title in the sector at 118 years, recognises the importance of gardening celebrities' (after all, Alan Titchmarsh used to be deputy editor of the title) and the sheer volume of viewers ­ and potential readers ­ that television gardening shows draw in. Bishop says: "Three to four years ago we started making changes away from specialist writers and towards gardening celebrities like Charlie Dimmock, while still retaining the heritage of the title." The TV factor has certainly helped the best performing title in the sector ­ the monthly BBC Gardeners' World. Dominic Murray, associate publisher, says: "We do use our broadcasting links. For example, we are running a collectable series on How to Be A Gardener', which follows Alan Titchmarsh's television show ­ BBC Worldwide also publishes the book that links with the show." BBC Gardeners' World covers a broad range of gardening topics, with the aim of appealing to a wide audience rather than targeting only the expert or amateur gardener. This wide appeal has given the magazine a news stand ABC of 182,972 and an annualised retail value of £5,523,398, putting it way ahead of its rivals. The title, which Murray says sells particularly well in grocery outlets, was recently tweaked (with whiter paper and design changes) to make sure it looked its best for the key Spring period. BBC Magazines also introduced BBC Easy Gardening in March ­ a one-shot title for Spring 2002. With its low price point of £1.99, it aims to bring new consumers to the sector. Murray explains: "BBC Easy Gardening is presented differently from many of the traditional gardening titles, with a more mainstream appeal. "We are looking for longer term readership ­ it should appeal to consumers who don't usually buy gardening titles and, once they've been introduced to the sector, they may potentially move onto other titles such as Gardeners' World." Murray says early sales figures are ahead of targets for the publication, which had a print run of 140,000. The third title from BBC Magazines is Gardens Illustrated, which it acquired from John Brown Publishing in Autumn 2000. The BBC says UK news stand sales have jumped, attributing the increase to design changes and a fresh approach to distribution. Murray says: "When we acquired Gardens Illustrated we worked with the retail expertise of our distributor Frontline to make sure we got it right. There is huge reader support for the magazine and it is less seasonal than many titles because it has a more specialised readership." With a large proportion of Gardens Illustrated sales going through independents, retailers are also made aware of key issues that will prompt impulse purchases ­ such as the special double issues in June and November. Other monthly titles in the sector include Gardens Monthly, from SPL Publishing; Emap's Garden Answers ­ which this summer has a spin-off one-shot called Garden Answers Makeovers, priced at £3.50 ­ and The English Garden. Curiously, English Garden magazine, from Romsey Publishing, sells more issues abroad than in the UK, where it sells 22,477 on the news stand according to latest ABC data. The North American edition sells 7,715 on UK news stands. Irish retailers, of course, should stock the more specialist title The Irish Garden, which has a news stand ABC of 20,893. The two core weekly titles in the gardening market are IPCs' Amateur Gardening and Emap's Garden News. Sarah Page, editor of Garden News, which is aimed at readers aged 50-plus, says it differs from its rivals not only in its weekly status but because of its newspaper, A3 format, calling for a pro-active approach at retail to draw in impulse purchasers. Page says: "Garden News' format means it is positioned on the plinth in newsagents/supermarkets, away from other gardening titles. So this year some newsagents are targeting casual sales by positioning shelf wobblers and window posters to promote awareness of the title." Page says that, while the paper is covermounted with free seeds during prime weeks to boost impulse sales, it retains a strong band of loyal readers throughout the year. "There is not a large cross-over with the other weekly in the market. Around 10% of readers say they also read Gardeners' World magazine occasionally." Bishop says casual sales of weeklies can be affected more by the weather: "We notice a 10% change in sales either way due to the weather," he says. Like its weekly rival, Amateur Gardening covermounts in key gardening weeks for impulse purchasers. Various specialist titles in the gardening sector range from Kitchen Garden, which focuses on growing vegetables, fruit and herbs, to pond and fish oriented titles such as Essential Watergarden. Although such specialist titles as Organic Gardening command lower readerships, they tend to be loyal, offering consistent sales. BBC Gardeners' World £2.60 M Frontline Latest news stand ABC 182,972 Amateur Gardening £1.30 W Marketforce Latest news stand ABC 48,241 Gardening with the National Trust £2.95 Annual Comag Latest news stand ABC n/a Gardens Monthly £3.20 M Seymour Latest news stand ABC n/a The English Garden (UK edition) £2.95 M Comag Latest news stand ABC 14,762 Organic Gardening £2.55 M Warners Group Latest news stand ABC n/a 25 Beautiful Gardens £2.90 Quarterly Marketforce Latest news stand ABC n/a Garden Answers £2.60 M Frontline Latest news stand ABC 39,817 BBC Easy Gardening £1.99 Quarterly Frontline Latest news stand ABC n/a Gardens Illustrated £3.50 M Frontline Latest news stand ABC 20,368 Garden News £1.20 W Frontline Latest news stand ABC 48,116 Essential Watergarden £2.80 M Seymour Latest news stand ABC n/a {{CTN }}