Magazines' Place as Paid Content Once Again Erodes

Glossies' Newsstand Decline Accelerates After Prior Signs of Letting Up

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Magazines have lost a little bit of paid circulation -- again.

Credit: AP

Glossy publishers still counted more than 308 million paying readers in the new semiannual circulation report from the Audit Bureau of Circulations despite the latest drip of declines. That's a hefty customer base even if it's down from nearly 312 million in the report a year earlier. And it's not certain that magazines are merely helplessly losing ground among the media passions Americans will pay for. Many publishers are slowly charging loyal readers more while shedding less committed, less profitable consumers.

One way or another, however, magazines keep selling fewer copies.

Magazines' latest shave reduced overall paid and verified circulation 1.2% in the second half of 2010, compared with the second half of 2009, according to the figures they reported to Audit Bureau of Circulations. That follows trims of 2.3% in the first half of 2010, 2.2% in the second half of 2009, 1.2% in the first half of 2009 and nearly 1% in the second half of 2008.

Newsstand sales, often considered the most direct gauge of consumer demand, meanwhile, fell at a faster rate this time after slowing their decline for a couple of periods in a row.

Single-copy sales fell 7.3% in the second half of 2010 compared with the second half of 2009, a bigger drop than the 5.6% decline that came in the first half of last year. Newsstand sales previously plunged 9.1% in the second half of 2009, 12.4% in the first half of 2009 and 11.1% in the second half of 2008.

And subscriptions, the bigger and steadier source of magazine circulation, continued their recent, if very slight, downward trend as well. Subscriptions in the second half of last year slipped 1.2% after declining 2% in the first half of 2010 and 1% in the second half of 2009, according to audit bureau figures.

It's not clear whether subscriptions, which typically hold steady or increase, are waning a bit because of any basic shift in consumer interests or as a result of publishers' efforts to charge a little more and focus on their most loyal subscribers.

Many big magazines have in fact cut their paid circulation guarantees over the past five years as the reward -- ad revenue -- for chasing indifferent audiences became less reliable. Meredith said last July, for example, that it would chop rate base by 16% at Ladies' Home Journal, to 3.2 million from 3.8 million, and by 11% at Traditional Home, to 850,000 from 950,000, while testing higher subscription and newsstand prices for each.

The newsstand losses are more worrisome, both because they're sharper and because advertisers, at least, say single-copy sales reveal something about magazines' "vitality." Conde Nast and other publishers, however, have argued that they are deliberately increasing cover prices and cutting back on relatively unproductive retail distribution in successful bids for better newsstand profits.

Top 25 Consumer Magazines by Total Paid & Verified Circulation
Preliminary Figures as filed with the Audit Bureau of Circulations -- Subject to Audit
Publication Total Paid & Verified
6 months ending 12/31/10
Total Paid & Verified
6 months ending 12/31/09
% Change
AARP THE MAGAZINE 23,748,475 24,371,637 -2.56%
AARP BULLETIN 23,574,132 24,042,603 -1.95%
BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS 7,677,497 7,621,786 0.73%
READER'S DIGEST 5,533,037 7,114,955 -22.23%
GAME INFORMER MAGAZINE 5,073,003 3,805,038 33.32%
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC 4,493,024 4,495,931 -0.06%
GOOD HOUSEKEEPING 4,418,398 4,652,904 -5.04%
WOMAN'S DAY 3,895,814 3,966,414 -1.78%
FAMILY CIRCLE 3,841,651 3,823,253 0.48%
LADIES' HOME JOURNAL 3,837,286 3,858,773 -0.56%
PEOPLE 3,602,006 3,613,902 -0.33%
TIME-THE WEEKLY NEWSMAGAZINE 3,314,946 3,329,429 -0.43%
TASTE OF HOME 3,253,392 3,215,228 1.19%
SPORTS ILLUSTRATED 3,174,355 3,201,524 -0.85%
COSMOPOLITAN 2,905,659 3,001,894 -3.21%
PREVENTION 2,900,365 2,900,193 0.01%
SOUTHERN LIVING 2,846,757 2,855,973 -0.32%
AAA VIA 2,740,435 2,767,064 -0.96%
MAXIM 2,528,569 2,513,734 0.59%
O, THE OPRAH MAGAZINE 2,506,037 2,479,722 1.06%
AAA LIVING 2,469,830 2,462,789 0.29%
GLAMOUR 2,307,714 2,448,119 -5.74%
AMERICAN LEGION MAGAZINE 2,306,231 2,311,086 -0.21%
PARENTING 2,237,158 2,187,223 2.28%
REDBOOK 2,232,476 2,225,701 0.30%
Top 25 Consumer Magazines by Single-Copy Sales
Preliminary Figures as filed with the Audit Bureau of Circulations -- Subject to Audit
Publication Single-Copy Sales
6 months ending 12/31/10
Single-Copy Sales
6 months ending 12/31/09
% Change
COSMOPOLITAN 1,566,658 1,753,368 -10.65%
WOMAN'S WORLD 1,274,981 1,168,958 9.07%
PEOPLE 1,257,536 1,325,330 -5.12%
FIRST 1,129,967 1,041,011 8.55%
IN TOUCH WEEKLY 689,365 746,973 -7.71%
US WEEKLY 683,485 812,089 -15.84%
IN STYLE 654,800 689,705 -5.06%
O, THE OPRAH MAGAZINE 608,212 662,304 -8.17%
FAMILY CIRCLE 603,504 715,000 -15.59%
PEOPLE STYLEWATCH 549,912 536,934 2.42%
NATIONAL ENQUIRER 533,308 562,292 -5.15%
LINDY'S FOOTBALL ANNUALS 531,292 580,509 -8.48%
GLAMOUR 521,213 587,677 -11.31%
STAR MAGAZINE 496,395 574,927 -13.66%
ALL YOU 456,437 432,801 5.46%
LIFE & STYLE WEEKLY 411,012 461,958 -11.03%
VANITY FAIR 405,605 421,833 -3.85%
MEN'S HEALTH 399,283 438,238 -8.89%
WOMAN'S DAY 396,299 469,068 -15.51%
REAL SIMPLE 395,344 411,705 -3.97%
GOOD HOUSEKEEPING 382,273 395,289 -3.29%
FOOD NETWORK MAGAZINE 376,761 357,681 5.33%
VOGUE 369,489 353,167 4.62%
WEIGHT WATCHERS 368,912 364,396 1.24%
OK! WEEKLY 344,176 404,423 -14.90%
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