But in a new sign that steep hills remain to climb, or quit, Meredith Corp. has decided to stop even trying to sell Child on the racks, ceding that territory to books like its own Parents and American Baby as well as competitors such as Parenting from Time Inc., Cookie from Conde Nast Publishing and Wondertime from Disney Publishing.
Child, which will begin reducing its print run for newsstands with its fall issues, will survive and could even benefit. Its newsstand sales have fallen to about 8,000 per issue from nearly 40,000 in 1999, but its total paid circulation still tops 900,000 on the strength of its subscriber base.
"The newsstand has never been a major source," said Bob Mate, exec VP-publishing, Meredith. "We've decided to really concentrate whatever limited newsstand we will have on key markets and in those places where we sell well. It's the amount of time and effort. For 1% of the circulation, it didn't make a lot of sense."
Meredith's choice partly reflects the realities of the parenting category, in which readers turn over frequently and must be replaced. But it is also a striking example of pragmatic decisions being made across the industry, as publishers try to operate more efficiently and direct their limited resources to areas with the most growth potential -- like the Web.
"This is similar to the Hachette deal on Elle Girl recently," said John Harrington, partner at Harrington Associates, publisher of The New Single Copy. Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. last month shut down the print edition of Elle Girl, despite rising ad pages and circulation, citing the cost of recruiting new readers every couple years and the potential to more easily reach teens online.
Meredith's decision could be viewed two ways, said Robin Steinberg, senior VP-director of print investment, MediaVest. "It could be bad, as newsstand typically represents a magazine's measure of vitality," she said. "In addition it gives consumers the opportunity to be exposed to the brand when unknown."
"On the flip side, it could be viewed as good. More likely than not, it will be more efficient for Child to use a different distribution method to make up for the 8,000 copies sold on newsstand. This number is insignificant in the big picture."
Then, too, newsstand sales have vexed publishers at many turns over the past 10 years, with a welcome respite from declines just in 2004 and 2005. "Essentially the newsstand business has been flat," Mr. Harrington said of the last two years. "At least people can plan it a little better. But with all the other things happening to circulation and audiences, it's still a harder business to predict."
"All the other things" include the trend toward increased consumer control, competition from digital media, and the growing number of entertainment and information outlets vying for consumer attention. Although Child seems to be alone in leaving newsstands, publishers have reduced retail distribution for many titles to save money and increase efficiency.
Time magazine has cut its annual distribution, for example, to 22.5 million last year from 32.5 million in 1997, according to data compiled by Harrington.
Conde Nast's Self cut its draw to 11.4 million last year from 13.5 million a decade before. And ESPN The Magazine sent 2.5 million copies to newsstands last year, down from a peak of 8.4 million in 2000 when it was still a new title and was interested in getting as many people as possible to pick up a copy.
Child, which once distributed more than 140,000 copies of each issue at retail, will continue to appear on newsstands in high-traffic locations such as Grand Central Terminal in New York and similar spots in Los Angeles and Chicago. It actually may sell about 1,000 copies per issue nationwide, by Mr. Mate's guesstimate.
Ad pages at Child grew to 1,079 last year, a 5.5% improvement, but fell 6.3% from January through April compared with the first four months of 2005, according to the Publishers Information Bureau.
Correction: This article originally identified Self as an American Media title rather than a Conde Nast Publications title.