NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- American Media is amputating about 80% of Country Weekly's paid circulation as part of a bid to keep the title publishing.
The company announced last Friday that Country Weekly will finally drop its counterintuitive biweekly schedule and return to publishing 52 times a year, cutting the cover price to $2.49 from $3.49 in the process to goose sales.
The company did not mention, however, that the 15-year-old magazine is simultaneously abandoning subscriptions, where it gets the vast majority of its paid circulation. Instead of guaranteeing advertisers a paying audience of 435,000 people, as it does now, Country Weekly will soon sell about 75,000 copies per issue -- exclusively on newsstands.
"This way we can continue publication," said Dave Leckey, exec VP-consumer marketing at American Media. More than 325,000 people subscribe to Country Weekly, but their issues dated Feb. 23 will be their last, he said. A cover wrap will give them the choice of refunds or substitute subscriptions to Star, Shape or the National Enquirer.
The move is unusual, in that magazines usually depend on subscriptions to supply a steady base of customers, and are widely considered a more reliable way to deliver an audience to advertisers. Newsstand sales are far more volatile, with no guarantee that the same number of copies will sell week to week.
"It's a sign of the times and the economy," Mr. Leckey added. "We're struggling like everybody else is struggling with paper, postage and advertising forecasts for 2009."
American Media, of course, faces challenges beyond the recession and higher postage costs. CEO David Pecker and his private equity backers had once envisioned taking the company public. It has struggled, however, under $1 billion debt and unrealized ambitions for Star, the newsprint gossip sheet it remade as a celebrity glossy. American Media tried to sell Country Weekly and four other titles in 2006.
Ad pages fell 23% at Country Weekly last year, according to the Media Industry Newsletter. It reported an average of 316,231 paid subscriptions over the first half of the 2008, the most recent six-month period available, 3% higher than in the first half of 2007, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Newsstand sales, however, dropped 19%.
The publisher of Country Weekly, Marie Rockmore, left the company on Friday after just four months. Her duties were assumed by Bette Rockmore, senior VP-business development at American Media.
Country Weekly launched in 1994.