Celebrity Weeklies Still Strong, but Others Report Sluggish Sales

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NEW YORK ( -- Bless the rumor-mongering, superficial celebrity weeklies. As Advertising Age reported last week in advance of today's official report from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the celebrity weeklies continued to fuel the magazine industry during the last six months of 2005. Now that the bureau has properly released its numbers, however, deep-diving for treasures -- and spoilers -- can begin.

Time Inc.'s People, whose executives say it doesn't belong in the star-crazy category because it covers "real people" too, reported growth of 1.1% in its average paid circulation during the second half of 2005 for a total that was just shy of 3.7 million.

But In Touch Weekly, from Bauer Publishing USA, reported almost 1.2 million in average paid circulation, 15.5% more than the total during the second half of 2004, with a 41.3% improvement in subscriptions and 14.8% growth in single-copy sales. Star from American Media reported a 10% jump in average paid circulation, a result of a 6.2% fall at newsstand and an amazing 49.3% spike in subscriptions. And Wenner Media's Us Weekly grew 12.7%, to nearly 1.7 million in average paid circulation, as newsstand sales rose 12.2% and subscriptions grew 13.3%.

Momentum indicators
As always, the industry has quickly begun studying newsstand numbers in particular, because they are often considered one of the freshest indicators of a title's momentum -- even though newsstand sales also say a lot about which stars land on covers. According to an analysis by Harrington Associates, total newsstand copies sold increased a slight 0.1 percent, while the money spent there grew 0.6%. Of the top 25 titles ranked by retail revenue, copies sold on the newsstand rose 2.5% and revenue climbed 3.9%.

That's good news, according to John Harrington, partner, Harrington Associates. "This is the first time in probably 15-plus years that there were back-to-back periods with newsstand growth, even if only a point or so," he said. "The numbers were driven by the celebrity stuff, but there were other strong areas as well." He cited as examples Conde Nast Publications' Vanity Fair, up 31.8% on the newsstand and 8% overall and Men's Health from Rodale, which grew 7%t on the newsstand and 6.6% overall.

(Newsstand losers included, believe it or not, Cat Fancy magazine, which declined 6.2% in single-copy sales and lost 2% of its overall paid circulation.)

Among big weeklies, perhaps none shone as brightly on the newsstand as New York, which reported a 16.6% gain in single-copy sales. Its subscriptions remained flat (to be precise: up 0.1%) for a total average paid circulation of 435,949 and an overall increase of 0.9%.

Newsweeklies still struggling
Despite circulation in the multimillions at weekly news magazines, they have been struggling for growth for some time. That dynamic was clear again in the new results.

Time Inc.'s Time fell 0.2% in total average paid circulation, but its publishers and editors have bigger worries in the title's 16.3 percent drop-off at the newsstand. Rival Newsweek slipped 0.3% as subscriptions remained flat and single-copy sales fell 5.1%. And U.S. News & World Report eked out a 1% increase in sum, with a 1.4% improvement in subscriptions and -- there's that worrisome newsstand again -- a 13.7 percent decline in single-copy sales.

On a much smaller scale, Dennis Publishing's The Week showed much more strength. Its average paid circulation of 366,758 represented a 58.3 percent overall gain, with newsstand growth of 8.4 percent growth and a subscription increase of 58.5 percent. Much of the title's expansion in 2005 came from about 100,000 subscriptions given as gifts, its executives said.

Business mags hold steady
Business magazines did not shine, but they also didn't fare as poorly as their reputation among advertisers might suggest. Average paid circulation at Time Inc.'s Fortune did fall 3.1% from the period one year earlier, dragged down by a 2.2% decline in subscriptions and an 18% free fall in newsstand sales. And Forbes and Business Week barely both held their ground, posting average-paid-circulation increases of 0.3% over the second half of 2004.

But Money, another Time Inc. book, reported an increase of 3.6% in average paid circulation, backed by a 2.4% uptick in subscriptions and a 26.3% surge in single-copy sales. As for Mansueto Ventures' two titles, Fast Company increased its average paid circulation by 5.2%, while Inc. grew 7.8%. That may provide some encouragement for staffers, who were told last week that the company lost about $10 million in 2005.

Big monthlies of other persuasions reported mixed results.

At Conde Nast, Vogue posted 1.3 million in average paid circulation, up 3.1% on the whole. Teen Vogue, which boosted its paid circulation to the tune of a million extra subscribers during the first half of 2005 by absorbing YM, saw some of those YM subscribers start to slip away. While its average total for second-half 2005 was nearly 1.3 million, representing an increase of 116% over second-half 2004, the new total was down 234,763 from its mid-2005 height. GQ, also from Conde Nast, reported paid circulation of 854,155, up 4.7%.

Hearst's Seventeen fell 3.6% and its Cosmopolitan was nearly flat, growing 0.8%. But its Marie Claire reported second-half circulation of 970,600, up 3.1% from 941,148 in second-half 2004.

At Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S., Elle Girl paid circulation rose 17.9 percent to 601,149. Elle itself only held steady; its paid circulation of nearly 1.1 million grew by just 0.1%. Car and Driver didn't move much either, with a 0.4% increase to reach almost 1.4 million in paid circulation. Premiere slipped 0.6% to land at 502,442.

Next up: Media buyers and circulation geeks set about scrubbing Publishers' statements for what's been hidden in the sub-sections, where details lurk on matters like bulk distribution and sponsored sales.
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