TOP 20 MAGAZINES FIND DIFFICULTIES IN BUILDING CIRCULATION: NEW TITLES FUELING RETAIL SALES AT EXPENSE OF ESTABLISHED SIBLINGS

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Circulation growth remained elusive for the top 20 magazines in the first half, according to new Audit Bureau of Circulations and BPA International figures.

Total paid circulation of the 581 U.S. titles reporting first-half data to the Audit Bureau rose 2.9% to 377.6 million. Of those, 245, or 42.2%, saw circulation grow at least 1%.

Single-copy sales remained soft, growing just 1.2% for the 581 titles, to 75.3 million.

Despite the overall growth, only four of the top 20 titles in paid circulation were up by more than 1% in the period, with the remainder flat or down. Only three of the 20 saw gains in single-copy sales.

'PEOPLE' GAINS IMPRESSIVE

TVSM's The Cable Guide saw circulation rise 1.8% to 5.1 million, while Time Inc.'s People posted impressive 4.3% growth to 3.5 million and Newsweek was up 1.5% to 3.3 million-despite a 5.5% drop at newsstands. The American Automobile Association's travel guides, Home & Away, were up 18.6% to 2.7 million.

Other million-plus magazines bucking the downward trend include Rodale Press' Men's Health, up 14%; and 'Teen, up 26.6%. The latter is getting more attention and investment from the new owners of parent Petersen Publishing.

Younger players showing strong growth include several titles aimed at baby boomers: Time Inc.'s This Old House, up 80.3%; People spin-off In Style, up 14.3%; and Martha Stewart Living, up 29.9%.

M. Shanken Communications' Cigar Aficionado is still smoking, with circulation up 36.9% in the first half.

'WEIGHT WATCHERS' UP 6.5%

The relaunch of Weight Watchers Magazine also appears well-received by consumers, with a 24.3% increase at newsstands and an overall 6.5% growth in total circulation.

Meigher Communications' The growth of young, hot titles is one of several factors playing a role in the newsstand declines among bigger books. According to a 10-year study of newsstand sales by John Harrington, president of publishing distribution services company Harrington Associates, the introduction of new publications has changed the balance of influence of magazines at retail.

While newsstand sales of most of the highest volume titles have declined substantially, he said single-copy sales overall remain solid.

In 1996, the top 25 retail magazines represented 35% of total sales, down from 52% a decade earlier. As an industry, however, magazine retail sales rose almost 55% to $4.4 billion over the last 10 years, mainly fueled by new titles.

'TV GUIDE' FLAT

Newsstand bigwig TV Guide was down a whopping 17.7% in single-copy sales in the first half, with total circulation flat.

Time Inc.'s Time was up 13.3% in single-copy sales, while overall circulation was flat. U.S. News & World Report was down 9.7% at the newsstand and 3.3% in overall circulation.

The leading women's service titles all were flat to down. Category leader Better Homes & Gardens fared best by holding steady, while Ladies' Home Journal declined 4.1% to and McCall's declined 0.7%.

Family Circle was up 1% but suffered at the newsstand, declining 8.4%. Its single-copy rival, Woman's Day, was down 23.2% in newsstand sales and 7.5% overall.

Rounding out the Seven Sisters category, Good Housekeeping was down 7.7%, while

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