Circ still slow for magazines

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Though the twice-yearly release of magazines' circulation figures seldom gives rise to dancing in the streets, the latest Audit Bureau of Circulation report for June through December 2000 showed some improvements.

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.

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