Some say magazines are rushing toward the iPad at the risk of undermining their existing business, but here's one reason they might be tempted to keep investing in tablets: For the majority of titles over the past year, the demographics of their print readers are headed the wrong way.
Make no mistake, those demographics remain desirable for advertisers. Readers at 188 of the country's biggest magazines are usually younger than Americans in general and have higher household incomes to boot, according to the latest round of GfK MRI research on magazines' adult audiences.
But nearly 65% of the 188 titles -- which we're examining because they appear in both the new research and the equivalent report a year earlier -- lost audience even as the adult population grew. Another 65% saw their readers' median age climb faster than it did for Americans as a whole. And 70% saw their readers' median household income drop more than it did among Americans in general.
Publishers cited a variety of likely causes, some temporary or essentially technicalities. And magazines aren't alone in demographic changes. The number of 18- to 49-year-olds watching live or recorded TV this season through May 8, for example, declined 1.4% from the equivalent period a year earlier, according to Nielsen.
But there's another important caveat that does speak to long-term trends in magazine consumption. "It's also clear during this period that there's begun to be an expansion of readership onto digital platforms, and those are not reflected in the MRI numbers," said Nina Link, president-CEO of the MPA, the trade association for magazine publishers.
That's why the industry will be anxiously awaiting this fall's report from GfK MRI, which will include people consuming magazine brands on digital platforms such as the iPad for the first time. "We believe the numbers are going to be significant," Ms. Link said.
"Is there a slight skew older for some magazine readership?" said Marlene Greenfield, VP for research at Hearst, whose titles include Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire and Esquire. "There might be. But also platforms are changing."
|Audience||Median Age||Median Household Income|
|Total U.S. adults||+1.0%||+0.4%||-0.9%|
|Source: GfK MRI magazine audience estimates, Spring 2011 and Spring 2010.
Notes: Time Inc. figures exclude All You. Hearst figures exclude Food Network Magazine.
The latest numbers are about "magazine-branded content in print," she added. "But we're not a traditional magazine company any more. We're about content on different platforms."
The research on Hearst doesn't yet include Food Network Magazine, a large and growing title, but readers of the Hearst titles that were included declined 1.6% in number, increased 0.7% in median age and declined 3.7% in median household income. Among women, Hearst's chief target , the company's audience slipped just 0.8% in size.
The U.S. adult population, by comparison, increased 1% in size, rose 0.4% in median age and declined 0.9% in median household income, according to GfK MRI.
Conde Nast readers declined 2.2% in number, increased 1.2% in median age and declined 5.9% in median household income. The company, which publishes magazines such as Vogue and Glamour, pegged most of the audience decline to a reduction in copies of Brides distributed to public places and the effect of a soft housing market on Architectural Digest.
Conde Nast also said its readers' median individually earned income, as opposed to household income, actually increased 2.1%. Rising individual income combined with declining household income occurred most often at titles with younger readers, Conde said, so the seemingly contradictory statistics may reflect young adult readers' moves out of their parents' houses and into their own homes.
Time Inc. readers declined 0.3% in size and nearly 2% in median household income but maintained the same median age as a year ago. That's excluding All You, a Time Inc. title that wasn't in the research released last spring. Time also owns brands such as People, Sports Illustrated and Fortune.