Audit Bureau of Circulation: First half of '02 brings good news, bad news

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There's good news and bad news for magazines in the circulation numbers for the first half of 2002. But, according to a top industry circulation analyst, the bad outweighs the good.

Of U.S. magazines that reported circulation in the Audit Bureau of Circulation's Fas-Fax, 43% posted declines in their subscriptions, said Dan Capell, editor of the newsletter Capell's Circulation Report-"the worst showing" in five years, he said. This comes just as newsstand sales, which have been a bete noire for publishers in recent years, posted one of the better recent performances, with 40% of magazines posting increases.

But subscription sales account for a greater chunk of circulation, Mr. Capell said, and subscriptions had long hedged newsstand shortfalls. "Generally speaking over the last decade [magazines have] offset" newsstand losses with subscription gains, Mr. Capell said. "Now, it's not going to be true." He attributed the poor showing for subscriptions to the sharp fall-off in cheap subscriptions from sources like American Family Publishers and Publishers Clearing House, upon which the industry once feasted.

Bad news came from Reader's Digest, Movieline, Primedia's Soap Opera Weekly and Bauer Publishing's Twist and now-defunct Soap Opera Update, all of which missed rate bases.

Former newsstand superstar O, The Oprah Magazine sagged significantly, with single-copy sales down 29.3% and overall numbers falling 17.3% to 2.3 million.

Ongoing industry-wide strains aside, the first six months of the year were quite good to some magazines' circulation. The big winner was Sunrise Publications' Game Informer Magazine, which, reflecting the heat of the gaming category, saw circulation more than double to 669,965. Other winners, as they have been of late, were headed up by next-generation takes on Maxim and Martha Stewart Living.

Real Simple, the Time Inc. title that suffered through a notoriously bumpy launch in 2000, saw single-copy sales skyrocket 40.7% to 320,665 and overall circulation rise 33.6% to 1.1 million. Real Simple's polar opposites, laddie books FHM and Dennis Publishing's Stuff, both saw single-digit single-copy sales growth-which most publishers could live with, given both titles move nearly half a million on newsstand each month-but FHM's total circulation rose 28.6% to 1.1 million and Stuff's was up 19.9% to 1.2 million.

Highbrow gains

Bonnie Fuller's arrival as editor in March at Us Weekly paid off handsomely for the Wenner Media-Walt Disney Co. venture, with single-copy sales shooting up 30.1% to 405,662 and total circulation rising 16% to 1.1 million. Hearst Magazines' Cosmopolitan saw single-copy sales shoot up 11.5% to break the 2 million mark; the overall number rose 12.1% to 3 million.

Some highbrow titles saw gains. The Atlantic Monthly, remade under new Editor Michael Kelly, saw single-copy sales rise 47%, although a weak subscription showing meant its total number fell 16% to 502,113. While Hearst's Esquire continues to struggle on the ad front, with pages down 17.3% through July, single-copy sales rose 11.5% and total circulation rose 7.2% to 720,894. Conde Nast Publications' The New Yorker's single-copy sales were up 18.8% as overall circulation rose 7.8% to 924,745.

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