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Hearst's Carey on Missing its Prediction for 1 Million Digital Subscriptions

Company Instead Approaches 800,000 at Year-End

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Hearst Magazines had "nearly 800,000" individually paid monthly digital subscriptions by the end of 2012, the company said Wednesday, apparently more than any competitor but well shy of the 1 million that Hearst had long anticipated.

Cosmopolitan's January cover
Cosmopolitan's January cover

Hearst, the publisher of magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Esquire, said all the way back in November 2011 that the 1 million mark was on the horizon. "We do expect in 2012 at some point to be able to have more than a million on e-subscriptions," Hearst Magazines President David Carey said at an event then.

Mr. Carey reiterated that figure in January 2012 but cast it as a goal. "Our target is to reach more than 1 million paid digital subscribers per month via iTunes, Zinio, Nook, Amazon and Next Issue Media," he wrote in a letter to staff describing objectives for the year.

Cosmopolitan alone reached 100,000 individually paid digital subscriptions last March.

In a letter to staff this morning, Mr. Carey said digital circulation had performed well in 2012. "By the end of the year, we counted nearly 800,000 monthly digital subscriptions in the U.S. across iPads, NOOKs, Kindle Fires and Android devices -- the highest in the industry," he said. "Those subscriptions are now generating profits after 24 months of investment. And how exciting to see how this business is developing organically: More than 80% of our digital subscribers are new to our files, and their engagement levels meet or exceed the high levels we see from our print products."

Mr. Carey told Ad Age this morning that the company is pleased even though it did not reach 1 million.

"When I issued the 1 million goal, we had mid-300,000s e-subs in house, and while I knew it was going to be a real stretch, it was the right, super aggressive number to shoot for," Mr. Carey said in an email. "I'm pleased with the 800,000 number in the U.S., and given the arrival of the iPad Mini -- where magazine product looks amazing and it's a device that women in particular love because it can fit easily into their purse -- we're confident about the growth ahead."

Asked whether the difference between the prediction and the reality suggests that new digital subscriptions had begun to slow, Mr. Carey said no. "We have added units consistently over the year," he said.

New signups do seem to track with new device sales, which fluctuate throughout the year, he said. "There does seem to be seasonality in device sales, driven by 'gifting' events," he said.

"One of the key trends in all the papers today is how tablets are eroding use of laptops," he added. "That's a good trend for the magazine industry e-subscription sales."

Digital circulation has been growing quickly for magazine publishers, who hope it will both help capture new audiences and retain existing readers as they shift to electronic media, but remained about 1.7% of total circulation in the first half of 2012, according to the most recent industrywide figures from the Alliance for Audited Media, formerly the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

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