Most magazines won't put grand slams up on the scoreboard when the Audit Bureau of Circulations releases figures for the first half of the year on Tuesday, but many are grinding out overall gains -- or at least maintaining position -- despite a very difficult newsstand environment. Others saw their top-line results fall, however, as newsstand struggles took their toll.
Ebony, for one, didn't quite complete its project to start meeting its guarantees to advertisers again -- guarantees that it's missed since the second half of 2009 -- but it made huge progress. Its paid and verified circulation averaged nearly 1.24 million in the first half of 2011, 1.1% shy of its promised 1.25 million but 10.9% above the first half a year earlier. "This shows our strategy to turn around the circulation from the past two years of bad performance is working," said Stephen Gregory Barr, who joined Ebony parent Johnson Publishing as senior VP and group publisher in February.
"A big part has been improvement in the editorial product," he added, referring to Ebony's first cover-to-cover redesign earlier this year. "Our newsstand performance is strongly coming back."
Newsweek, where Tina Brown introduced a redesign partway through the half, reported average paid and verified circulation of 1.53 million, down 5% from the first half of 2010. But its newsstand sales edged upward by 2.8%. Not many magazines will be reporting newsstand gains.
Time magazine, another exception to the newsstand trend, posted a strong first half, growing its average paid circulation 3.3% from a year earlier, to 3.27 million, as single-copy sales rose 16.1%.
Time Inc. sibling Sports Illustrated's paid and verified circulation held roughly even -- averaging nearly 3.21 million -- despite beginning to push a more expensive "All Access" digital-plus -print subscription package in February.
InStyle also remained roughly unchanged from the half a year earlier, with a 1% gain in paid subscriptions and an 8% decline in single-copy sales.
And People magazine, the largest celebrity weekly, also remained about flat between the first half of last year and the first half of 2011, with average paid and verified circulation of almost 3.56 million. The Time Inc. title's newsstand sales declined 10% but subscriptions increased 6%, to 2.25 million, even though the average subscription price is over $100 and the subscriber base is already quite large.
Elsewhere in the celebrity weekly category, Star reported a 7% decline in average paid and verified circulation as newsstand sales sank 16.7% and paid and verified subscriptions grew 5.4%, according to its publisher, American Media Inc.
OK magazine, which American Media bought in June after its struggles became more than Northern & Shell wanted to bear any more, saw its paid and verified average grow 7.5% as newsstand sank 21.3% but subscriptions grew 38.4%.
At Rodale, Men's Health didn't lose much from its total paid and verified circulation, just 1.3%, despite a 13% loss in single-copy sales. Women's Health held flat despite its own single-copy drop, of 14.3%, and Prevention dipped 0.8% amid a 16.7% plunge in newsstand sales.
Hearst Magazines' average across its portfolio slipped just 1.4% as newsstand fell 6.3%.
Its Food Network Magazine continued to grow, although not quite as quickly as earlier in its young life. Its average paid and verified circulation grew 5.2% compared with the first half of last year, to 1.47 million, as newsstand sales increased 5%. Hearst is hoping another venture with a cable channel, HGTV Magazine, will demonstrate some of the same traction when it arrives this fall that Food Network Magazine did.
Cosmopolitan held about even, reporting a 0.5% slip, while limiting a newsstand dip to 2.6%.
Elle, whose U.S. publishing rights Hearst bought this year, grew 3.4% overall but saw newsstand fall 9%.
O, the Oprah Magazine, increased circulation 1.9% as Oprah Winfrey's long-running show went off the air, but still saw single-copy sales decline 6.4%.
Among other Hearst titles, Esquire slipped 2.5% as newsstand dropped 9.4%, Harper's Bazaar declined 4% as newsstand dropped 14.3%, and Marie Claire declined 4.4% as newsstand plunged 21.5%.
Conde Nast's total circulation remained even with its level a year earlier as paid subscriptions edged up 0.5% and single-copy sales declined 6.6%. Vogue added 2.7% amid a striking 12.7% newsstand increase, while Glamour lost 0.7% as newsstand dropped 17.5% and Wired held about flat -- gaining 0.5% -- as paid subs stayed even, newsstand fell 12.4% and verified circulation shot up 340.9%, to 18,249 from 4,139. Verified circulation comprises copies distributed in public places. Wired, whose verified circulation remained just 2.3% of its total average paid and verified circulation, said it increased its public place distribution to increase its reach and attract new readers.