About two-thirds of the 25 highest-circulation titles saw a decrease in single-copy sales in the first half of 1994, according to the June 30 Audit Bureau of Circulations FAS-FAX report.
The June 30 report also shows that there are 27 titles with average newsstand sales of 500,000 or more-down from 32 in December 1992. Of those 27, only five posted a year-to-date increase in newsstand circulation (see chart below).
This gradual, industry-wide slide in single-copy magazine sales has left publishers searching for solutions to reverse the trend. Making this task even more frustrating is that with few common denominators among titles showing newsstand-sales growth, there's not much of a model to emulate.
"The whole newsstand business is soft for the first six months of the year," says Tony Hoyt, publisher of Cosmopolitan, whose single copy sales decreased by 10% for the first half of '94.
"Single copy sales have been lagging in general due to the proliferation of magazines, and less and less shelf space," says Martin S. Walker, chairman of his own magazine consultancy.
While many publishers don't rely too heavily on single-copy sales, some publishers believe boosting those dollars can help make up lost ad revenue.
John Heins, president-CEO of Gruner & Jahr USA, which recently bought ailing McCall's and Family Circle from New York Times Magazine Co., advocates a shift to a more European-style strategy-where about 75% of total revenue depends on circulation, not advertising. Profits coming from subscription sales are more stable and a lot less prone to the vagueries of the economy which cause fluctuation in advertiser support and ultimately damage the bottom line, according to Mr. Heins.
"We have conditioned magazine readers not to pay a real price for magazines because [U.S. magazine publishers] have allowed advertising to foot such a large part of the bill," says Mr. Heins.
"Overrelying on advertising can be very detrimental to our financial health because it is so volatile; we need to retrain readers and [obtain] value from them as well as from advertisers," he adds.
Not only do single-copy sales help build and maintain a rate base, they help bring in new readers and boost demographics, and are a more profitable source of business than subscriptions, according to Dan Zucchi, VP-director of consumer magazines at Hearst Corp.
But strategies for doing this vary almost monthly from book to book, season to season and cover to cover.
A couple of titles have fared well at the newsstand recently by focusing specifically on editorial appeal.
Mademoiselle, Prevention and Southern Living each reported more than 20% gains in single-copy sales for the first half of 1994.
"I attribute our tremendous growth to two words: Elizabeth Crow, our new editor," declares Julie Lewit-Nirenberg, publisher of Conde Nast Publications' Mademoiselle, which has been through three editors and four art directors in the last two years, and seen its circulation fluctuate.
"The magazine is a lot more inclusive now; it doesn't make you feel like you're not good enough to buy it," says Ms. Crow.
As a result of Mademoiselle's comeback, this February Conde Nast plans to reinstate the cover price to $2.50, after discounting the title to $2 in August 1993.
"I think consumers will pay the price because we give them enough of a peek into the magazine that they know they'll be getting their money's worth," Ms. Crow says.
Even after raising its cover price last November to $3.95, Southern Progress' Southern Living has seen growth on the newsstand, selling close to 250,000 single copies, according to the latest ABC report. That marks a 21% year-to-date newsstand sales increase.
"The editorial is what's driving our success-our focus on warm shots of the South, with warm people and comfortable homes, creates a desired look," says Scott Sheppard, publisher.
"Everything really comes down to what's on the cover," says Ken Wallace, publisher of Prevention, which enjoyed a 26% surge in newsstand sales for the first half of 1994.
The keys to Prevention's success, Mr. Wallace says: basic ideas such as stressing the profitability of the magazine to retailers, and using catch phrases like "lose weight" and "trim body" in cover teasers.
But while some magazines tout editorial style and content as the driver of newsstand sales, the majority of publishers rely on the basics of display, distribution and promotion.
"I wish I could say there are lots of new wonderful strategies to increase newsstand [sales], but basically we are working hard on fundamentals-working closely with distributors, making sure we stress the profitability of our titles to retailers and concentrating on breaking through the clutter," says Hal Oringer, VP-circulation for Meredith Corp.
According to the latest ABC report, Better Homes & Gardens and Ladies' Home Journal, both among the nation's top 10 in circulation, saw decreases in their newsstand sales. Mr. Oringer says that's partly due to the nation paying collective attention to other events.
"There's no way to compete with the enormous amount of publicity surrounding the [O.J.] Simpson case and the tabloid headlines," explains Mr. Oringer. "We have to keep to the basics, and in time people always come back home."
Some titles have leaned on in-store promotion tactics. TV Guide, boasting the country's third-highest circulation, has been experimenting regionally and seasonally with both prices and covers.
In one experiment, TV Guide, whose newsstand sales are down 7.4% through the first half of the year, last month ran seven different covers showcasing pro football stars from those regions' local teams.
Others have softened newsstand sales drops through higher cover prices.
"Our general theme is managing for profitability and even though we had close to a 13% decrease in single copy sales, our profitability is fine because we raised our price from $3.95 to $4.50," explains Brian Wolfe, consumer marketing director for Fortune.