Only five of the 10 largest magazines posted circulation declines for the six-month period ending Dec. 31, 2000. In the previous report, covering the six months through last June 30, seven did; and last December five did. As with last June's report, over half of the 100 largest magazines posted circulation increases.
Yet a closer look shows that one facet of the circulation equation still bedevils publishers.
The consolidation of wholesalers-companies that distribute magazines to retail outlets-as well as a changing retail landscape, continues to whipsaw the industry.
Magazine publishers "lost about 50,000 retail locations in the last year," said Chip Block, a publishing consultant for Ziff Davis Media and a board member of wholesaler Hudson News.
Titles depending heavily on supermarket and mom-and-pop retailers-such as soap-opera magazines-feel those losses acutely. Primedia's Soap Opera Digest and Soap Opera Weekly posted single-copy sales drops of 22.7% and 19.1% respectively. Bauer Publishing's Soap Opera Update was down 9.4%. Also hit hard on the single-copy front were newsweeklies: AOL Time Warner's Time, Washington Post Co.'s Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report posted drops of 32.9%, 24.7% and 14.7% respectively. (Newsweeklies' circulations are overwhelmingly driven by subscriptions.) The largest single-copy drop posted by a magazine with circulation greater than a half-million was Hachette Filipacchi's recently shuttered George, which fell 68.5%.
Still, some magazines posted results running counter to industry trends.
AOL Time Warner's Health saw its single-copy sales surge 43.7%, though its overall rise of 11.5% was helped by its acquisition of American Health's subscriber list in August 1999. It remains to be seen if Health's move to Birmingham, Ala., from San Francisco-a move that essentially laid off the entire editorial staff-will slow circulation growth.
Marie Claire, the younger women's title successfully imported by Hearst Magazines, continued to defy conventional wisdom by having its single-copy circulation rise 12.3% and its overall circulation rise 5% to 948,321.
O The Oprah Magazine, another title partially owned by Hearst, dazzled in its debut audit by clocking in with a circulation of 2.2 million after just five issues. O's launch rate base was 500,000.
Dennis Publishing's Maxim soared to a circulation of 2.5 million. Its 47.8% overall rise more than doubled its single-copy sales rise of 22.3%. Compare that to old-school naughty-men's title Penthouse, which showed double digit drops in subscriptions and single-copy and an overall decline of 19.3%.
The biggest gainer on a percentage basis was Red Herring, with paid circulation that jumped 94% to 315,633.