Audit Bureau of Circulations: First half of '03 brings newsstand declines

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As bad as some of the latest key circulation numbers were for magazines, they ended up being not quite as bad as the industry feared.

Newsstand sales, the de facto standard of a title's heat, were expected by some circulation executives to fall more than 10% for the first half of 2003. The total figures, though, according to preliminary calculations by John Harrington, editor and publisher of The New Single Copy newsletter, had total newsstand sales fall 4.5%-notworse than usual, Mr. Harrington said, and not quite a number indicating the roof caved in.

Tell that, though, to a string of women's service monthlies that count on moving a serious number of copies at the nation's newsstands. Single-copy sales for Hearst Magazines' Good Housekeeping were down 17.5%. Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing's Family Circle fell 28.6%. Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S.'s Woman's Day was off 20.6%. Meredith Corp.'s Better Homes & Gardens fell 15.5%. Hearst's Redbook shone in comparison by keeping its newsstand sales decline to the single digits, at 9.7%.

Two new titles taking a more modern approach to the women's service category both saw significant gains at the newsstand.

After earlier signs of newsstand weakness, Hearst's O, the Oprah Magazine saw single-copy sales skyrocket 37.5% to just under 1 million. And Time Inc.'s Real Simple, Advertising Age's Magazine of the Year for 2002, saw single-copy sales spike 10.1%. Martha Stewart Living, the forebear of all next-generation women's titles, saw its newsstand sales slip 18.1% as the title continued to suffer from its namesake's legal woes.

teen titles slip

Serious slips showed at the newsstand for the top teen titles. Time Inc.'s Teen People, which announced a rate base decrease for 2004, saw single-copy sales fall 13.6%-a drop that made the title miss its rate base. G&J's YM had a single-copy fall of 37.4%, and Hearst's Seventeen fell 18.1% at the newsstand. As with the women's-service category, the heat for teens was with the new entrants-in this case, Hearst's CosmoGirl, whose single-copy sales rose 5.9% amid a total 21.3% leap to 1.3 million.

Two polar opposite magazines continued their winning ways. Single-copy sales at the text-heavy Atlantic Monthly rose 30.8%, while Wenner Media's indescribably fluffy Us Weekly's single-copy sales rose 24.8% to just over 500,000. The challenge there is for new Editor Janice Min to match the exiting Bonnie Fuller's deft touch at the newsstand-a touch Ms. Fuller will need at her new digs at American Media, since that company's The Star, Globe and National Enquirer both recorded significant overall declines.

Zeitgeist watchers may choose to note that all three newsweeklies posted single-copy gains, although US News & World Report's was a slight 0.2%. Wenner's Rolling Stone, redone by new Managing Editor Ed Needham, showed signs of life at the newsstand with a 4.0% increase, while Miller Publishing's Spin soared 18.1%.

Other titles that fell short of their rate bases: Family Circle, American Media's Country Weekly, Bauer Publishing's Twist, Hachette's now-defunct Travel Holiday, Penton Media's Delicious Living, and indies Natural History, Private Clubs magazine and Sterling MacFadden's True Story.

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