Magazines Mark Down Tough First Half for Circulation

Audit Bureau Paid-Circulation Rule Change Affects Most Top Titles

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NEW YORK ( -- The impact of a major change in the way the Audit Bureau of Circulations tallies a magazine's circulation was revealed today, as the bureau released its data for the first half of 2006 this morning.
magazines Photo: Hoag Levins
These titles rank among the Audit Bureau of Circulations top 25 users of verified circulation -- a new non-paid category for public place copies.
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Those figures reveal for the first time the effect of removing public-place circulation -- titles found in doctors' offices and beauty parlors -- from the paid column and placing them under the new label "verified." The advent of verified matters because publishers have traditionally pegged their ad rates to paid circulations -- which until now included many public-place copies.

Verified category
Verified circulation accounted for less than 3% of the magazines' paid and verified totals, according to the Audit Bureau's report, but at some titles that figure was much higher. AARP The Magazine reported nearly 1 million verified copies, the most of any title in absolute numbers, for 4.3% of its paid and verified total.

But Travel & Leisure Golf, part of American Express Publishing, reported 375,153 verified copies, a full 58.9% of its paid and verified circulation -- the highest proportion of verified circulation at any magazine. Time4 Media's Ski was a close second by that measure, with 253,016 verified copies, 55.2% of its paid and verified total.

Dawn of verified
The verified dawn showed itself in other ways. Time Inc.'s Time ranked seventh among the top 25 magazines ranked by paid and verified totals, but 10th among titles by paid circulation. Meredith's Family Circle ranked eighth on the paid and verified list but came in sixth for paid circulation alone.

Even with public-place and certain other copies shifted in "verified," though, many of the reigning paid-circulation champs held their positions. AARP held on to the top spot, with average paid circulation of 22.1 million, down 2.2% from the first half of 2005. Reader's Digest, Meredith's Better Homes & Gardens, National Geographic and Hearst's Good Housekeeping held onto their second-through-fifth slots as well, although all also lost some circulation.

Declines in top 25
Among the top 25 consumer titles by average paid circulation, most were down. TV Guide had the biggest percentage drop, down 59.02% to 3.4 million, due to a deliberate reduction in its rate base earlier this year. Hearst's O, The Oprah Magazine dropped nearly 11% to 2.3 million. That follows a 9.3% decline in average paid circulation in the second half of last year, which the publisher said was intentionally engineered through high subscription pricing in an effort to get numbers down to the rate base of 2.2 million.

Time Inc.'s People was one of the few that manage to maintain its circulation, which remained at 3.8 million.

All the reporting celebrity weeklies continued as grow, although American Media's Star fell 14.4% on newsstands. But more intriguing, perhaps: The newest entry, Richard Desmond's U.S. edition of OK, did not appear in the Audit Bureau report anywhere. This, despite Mr. Desmond's claim to Advertising Age in June that the title would probably report average paid circulation of 534,000 copies in what was to be its inaugural publisher's statement. Turns out ABC is still working on OK's first audit, which must be completed before the magazine can start turning in publisher's statements.

Teen titles
The teen-magazine category has cleared out with the loss of Hachette Filipacchi's Elle Girl and Time Inc.'s Teen People this year. But Conde Nast's Teen Vogue lost circulation, as expected, when some subscribers of the defunct YM who were receiving Teen Vogue in its place failed to re-up with the replacement. Paid subscriptions at Teen Vogue fell 44.1% to 729,778 and overall paid circulation fell 37.9% to 948,555. Competitors CosmoGirl and Seventeen reported higher paid circulations but also declined.
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