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Newsstand Suffers as Readers Skip the Store

Magazines' Single-Copy Sales Dropped 11.1% in Second Half of Last Year

By Published on . 0

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- If magazines' recent, atrocious newsstand sales are any indication, this may not be the best time to ask people to pay for new kinds of content. They're already tapped out on established buys such as magazines.

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Super-size gas prices last summer, which kept some shoppers out of stores, gave way to the full force of the ongoing recession, which made many want to stop shopping.

As a result, magazines' newsstand sales fell 11.1% in the second half of last year, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, a drop that surpasses any in recent memory. Nineteen of the top 25 newsstand sellers posted declines. Only newsweeklies enjoyed a surge, buoyed by the long, but finally complete, presidential campaign.

Across the broader universe of magazines, including those not tracked by the audit bureau, newsstand sales fell 11.7% for the whole year, according to the New Single Copy, a newsletter published by circulation veteran John Harrington. The declines got worse as the year went on, from a 7.4% drop in the first quarter to a 14.9% plunge in the fourth.

"It's the worst that I've seen," Mr. Harrington said.

Redefining normal
There's a lot of uncertainty about how much "normalcy" will return after the recession lifts. Newspapers aren't likely to regain their pre-recession levels, before cyclical challenges compounded their struggle.

But magazines' newsstand calamity will probably reverse itself. Newsstand sales recently seemed to find stability after many years of decline, only to be depressed anew by the recession. "It had kind of leveled and kind of stabilized for three or four years," Mr. Harrington said. "So this appears to be not so much a trend that has to do with distribution changes or demographics or something else. If there's a recovery, you'd hope that it at least moves back to 2007 or 2006 levels."

Unless, perhaps, some other medium starts charging for content too.

Single-copy by category

Newsweeklies were the only bright spot last year

CELEBRITY SECOND HALF '08 SECOND HALF '07 CHANGE
In Touch Weekly 834,492 1,228,056 -32.1%
Life & Style Weekly 461,969 672,463 -31.3
OK 490,417 550,100 -10.9
People 1,472,149 1,428,760 3.0
Star 617,096 712,980 -13.5
Us Weekly 796,669 1,005,086 -20.7
NEWSWEEKLIES SECOND HALF '08 SECOND HALF '07 CHANGE
Newsweek 106,114 92,576 14.6%
Time 137,610 102,277 28.3
U.S. News & World Report 42,676 33,757 26.4
SHELTER SECOND HALF '08 SECOND HALF '07 CHANGE
Better Homes & Gardens 231,333 379,667 -39.1%
Domino 103,000 95,858 7.45
O at Home 287,500 334,557 -14.1
Southern Living 176,801 173,450 1.9
LIFESTYLE SECOND HALF '08 SECOND HALF '07 CHANGE
Family Circle 789,500 976,821 -19.2%
Martha Stewart Living 326,900 391,416 -16.5
More 199,600 205,000 -2.6
O, The Oprah Magazine 626,000 836,770 -25.2
Real Simple 387,800 413,263 -6.2
Redbook 180,700 268,194 -32.6
FASHION AND BEAUTY SECOND HALF '08 SECOND HALF '07 CHANGE
Allure 224,550 255,229 -12.0%
Cosmopolitan 1,779,100 1,896,641 -6.2
Elle 317,436 351,900 -9.8
Essence 268,948 266,120 1.1
Glamour 612,000 747,014 -18.1
Harper's Bazaar 153,200 178,289 -14.1
In Style 740,384 700,112 5.8
Lucky 246,167 256,361 -4.0
Marie Claire 298,000 341,023 -12.6
People StyleWatch 527,000 548,600 -3.9
Self 300,633 351,317 -14.4
Shape 300,117 355,864 -15.7
Vanity Fair 401,298 388,678 3.2
Vogue 416,000 415,214 0.2
MEN SECOND HALF '08 SECOND HALF '07 CHANGE
Esquire 105,500 105,011 0.5%
GQ 232,667 242,408 -4.0
Maxim 406,290 433,576 -6.3
Men's Health 508,518 540,150 -5.9
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations
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