Magazines' Newsstand Slide Accelerates but Digital Circulation Shows Promise

Readers Still Flock to Newsstands When Big News Happens

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Magazines' paid circulation continues to slip, victim of a persistent undertow at newsstands that seems to be regaining strength.

Magazines' average paid and verified circulation in the second half of 2011 fell 1% from the half a year earlier, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations' latest roundup of publishers' circulation reports.

Subscriptions increased 0.7%, but that wasn't enough to overcome a 10% drop in single-copy sales, according to the audit bureau's figures.

Newsstand sales fell 9.2% in the first half of 2011, by comparison, 7.3% in the second half of 2010 and 5.6% in the first half of 2010.

Subscriptions are a much bigger component of the total -- 86.8% in the new report -- but newsstands help bring in new readers. Changes in newsstand sales also give advertisers a more immediate indication of consumer demand than subscriptions, where readers commit to a year or two at a time.

Publishers say newsstand sales, however, can't be read quite as simply as in the past, citing complicating factors such as fewer retails outlets that sell magazines, magazine racks' location further back in some stores, fewer weekly shopping trips for many consumers, and shoppers' reduced propensity for impulse buys.

Exceptions to the second-half newsstand declines included Time Inc.'s All You, where single-copy sales increased 15% from the first half of 2010, and Hearst's Food Network Magazine, where single-copy sales gained 16.3%.

Publishers also continued to emphasize their growing paid circulation on digital platforms such as the iPad, Kindle and Nook. Conde Nast's Wired magazine averaged digital circulation of 108,622 in the second half, for example, including 68,380 print subscribers who activated free digital access, 7,004 digital single copies and 33,237 paid digital subscriptions.

Conde Nast believes the Kindle Fire and Nook Color will encourage further digital circulation growth this year. They did not make an impact on Conde's paid numbers for the second half of 2011 because they came with free three-month subscriptions to Conde titles.

Print single-copy sales performed well last year when magazines focused on big events such as Britain's royal wedding, the death of Osama bin Laden and the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, according to a report last week by the Magazine Information Network, or MagNet.

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