Magazines' Newsstand Recession May Be Lightening Up

Declines Still Common but Lessening, According to New Circulation Reports

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Magazines' newsstand recession certainly isn't over -- but it seems to be lightening up.

Credit: AP
Many magazine publishers now reporting circulation figures for the second half of last year are again posting declines, but in most cases those declines aren't nearly as steep as the plunges that came before.

This suggests, moreover, that the momentum may be shifting for the better. Newsstand declines had been getting worse -- progressing from a 6.3% slide in the first half of 2008, compared with the same period the year prior, to an 11.1% drop in the second half of 2008, and then to a 12.4% descent in the first half of 2009, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Declines returned in the second half of 2009 but decreased at many of the biggest newsstand sellers, including Cosmopolitan, Family Circle, Glamour, Woman's Day, Every Day With Rachael Ray, Martha Stewart Living, Elle, Shape, Reader's Digest, Lucky, Muscle & Fitness, Bon Appetit, Veranda and Esquire. That's according to publishers' estimates and preliminary numbers filed to the audit bureau's Rapid Report service.

Some titles actually posted gains, while others lost more ground than before. But the overall picture definitely suggests some brakes on the decline.

Positive factors
And in dollar terms, major magazine distributor Curtis Circulation said less worse is the trend. For Curtis, the second half of 2008 was down about 10% in revenue, and the first half of 2009 was down 13% or 14% -- but the second half of 2009 looks like a single-digit decline, according to Dennis Porti, president and chief operating officer at Curtis.

There are circumstances specific to each magazine or magazine category that could help explain the shift in momentum. Some titles, for example, faced reduced competition following a rival's closure. Sales in the first half also suffered from a dispute involving magazine distributors that disrupted the flow of some issues to the racks.

But the broad economic recession has been the chief culprit hurting magazines' single-copy sales, Mr. Porti said. "If you were a women's service magazine, you were competing against a gallon of milk," he said. "If you were an auto book, you were competing against a gallon of gas."

"My crystal ball isn't a whole lot clearer than the guys who run the federal government," Mr. Porti added. "But our trend, while still down, is not nearly as bad as it was."

The audit bureau is releasing its semi-annual circulation report on Monday, Feb. 8.

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