Audit Bureau of Circulations: Late '01 was 'weird' for mag circulation

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The most recent report on magazine circulation paints the usual picture of industry-wide struggles to maintain circulation levels and stem newsstand sales declines.

But a closer look reveals results that could only happen in the latter half of 2001-and what longtime-circulation consultant Dan Capell, editor of Capell's Circulation Report, terms "schizophrenic" and "weird."

The just-released Audit Bureau of Circulations' Fas-Fax report confirms that the events of Sept. 11 significantly spiked reader interest in newsweeklies. Newsstand sales at Time Inc.'s Time, Washington Post Co.'s Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report increased by not-a-misprint percentages: 80.2%, 80.5%, and 42.1%, respectively. (In all cases newsstand sales account for less than 10% of total sales.) And, perhaps reflecting the death of boom-time thinking, business and new-economy magazines suffered big newsstand declines-although business titles posted more increases than decreases overall.

The industry's largest-circulation consumer title, AARP's Modern Maturity, watched its numbers nosedive 15.2%, and it failed to make its rate base of 17.9 million-the circulation guaranteed to advertisers.

National Geographic, Bauer Publishing's Soap Opera Update, Primedia's Soap Opera Weekly, and Bauer's teen title Twist, among others, also failed to meet rate bases. And the long tumble of Primedia's Teen continues. Its overall circulation fell 22.8%-marking the single largest decline of any title. Of the top 200 magazines, 76 posted declines and 116 posted gains. (Eight were flat, or could not be compared to prior performance.) Though it's of little comfort to its former staffers, the now-defunct Hearst Magazines/Miramax Films venture Talk showed solid gains across the board, posting an overall 16.4% gain to 720,649.

As for the business titles' newsstand performance, McGraw-Hill's Business Week escaped relatively unscathed with an 8% fall, but 20%-plus slips were reported by Hearst Magazines and Dow Jones' Smart Money (down 30.8%), Forbes (down 31.9%), Kiplinger's Personal Finance (down 28.8%) and Time Inc.'s Money (down 22.2%), Fortune (down 23.0%) and Mutual Funds (down 34.5%). Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing's Inc. fell 57.1%.

New economy titles' newsstand sales suffered too. G&J's Fast Company's newsstand sales were down 42.5%, Conde Nast Publications' Wired's were off 31.6%, and Ziff Davis Publishing's Yahoo! Internet Life's newsstand numbers slid 51.9%.

Good news came largely from the newest wave of men's and women's titles-the offspring of Dennis Publishing's Maxim on the men's side and Hearst's O, The Oprah Magazine and Martha Stewart Living on the women's. Time Inc.'s Real Simple saw overall figures shoot up 47.4% and newsstand sales rise 24.3%. While Maxim's circulation looks like it's practically peaked at 2.6 million, its next-gen followers, Dennis' Stuff and Emap's FHM posted overall increases of 35.9% and 63.5%.

Rosie, the G&J title that launched off McCall's, posted substantial newsstand gains in its rookie showing, posting a 52.1% gain over McCall's prior results and selling over half a million newsstand copies a month.

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