PUBLISHERS FIXING PROBLEMS WITH SINGLE-COPY SALES: NEW DATA FROM AUDIT BUREAUS SHOW MAGAZINES AS MORE EFFICIENT

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Publishers may not be out of the woods yet when it comes to single-copy sales, but they appear to have anticipated many of the problems on newsstands in the second half of 1996 and are managing circulation more smartly.

They were helped in their efforts because the wholesaler consolidation that wracked the magazine industry a year ago appears to have slowed in the second half, and stamp sheet houses that were turning in erratic performances a year ago are once again delivering on their promised numbers to bolster subscriptions. The end result: more efficient magazines.

CLOSER TO RATE BASES

"I think all publishers are trying to manage as close as possible to rate base," said Ellen Dealy, general manager of consumer marketing for Time Inc. She said the company overall posted a 3.5% gain in paid circulation for the second half of 1996, paced by the red hot In Style, up 34.8% and the recently divested Martha Stewart Living, up 39.7%.

Not every publisher was as fortunate, with many posting single-copy losses.

"Units sold on newsstands for the period were down 2%, but total dollars were up 7.4% due to cover price increases," said John Harrington, publisher of the industry newsletter The New Single Copy.

Among the top 10 magazines based on second-half 1996 figures from Audit Bureau of Circulations and BPA International, three posted gains. The Cable Guide, showing new signs of life under new management, jumped 11% to 5,260,421.

`WOMAN'S DAY' MISSES RATE BASE

Six posted declines in total paid circulation, paced by the 9.9% drop at Ladies' Home Journal-which cut its rate base by 10% in February-and the 8.3% drop at Woman's Day. For Woman's Day, the average paid circulation of 4,317,604 appears to have fallen short of its rate base.

In the second half of '96, the magazine had a split rate base, promising to deliver 4.5 million copies from July through mid-September and then promising advertisers to deliver 4.8 million from mid-September through yearend. Hachette Filipacchi Magazines executives didn't return several calls seeking comment.

At Hearst Magazines, 13 of the 14 magazines reported rate base declines as the company continued to work through the strategy instituted in November 1995 to eliminate marginal readers. Overall, the company's titles posted a cumulative 6% drop in total circulation and a 4% drop in newsstand sales.

`VOGUE' BEATS CONDE NAST TREND

While Conde Nast Publications found circulation for flagship Vogue surging 6.6% to 1,190,018, the rest of the company's magazines were not as strong on the circulation side. Overall, the company's total circulation dipped 1.1%.

Time Inc. appeared to have the most success at building circulation. Entertainment Weekly jumped 6%, People was up 3.9%, and Time and Sports Illustrated both rose 0.5%.

Personal finance continues to be a hot field. Circulation leader Money posted a 3.7% gain in the half to 1,993,119; SmartMoney was one of the few standouts for Hearst, jumping 17.5% to 702,997, while archrival Worth managed a 2.3% gain to 540,154. Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine was up 12.2%. Upstart titles were even hotter: Individual Investor surged 83% to 349,061, while Mutual Funds Magazine jumped 29.9% to 474,518.

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