Audit Bureau of Circulations: Magazines recorded declines in late 2003

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Magazines' circulation woes showed few signs of abating in the last half of 2003, according to the just-out Audit Bureau of Circulations Fas-Fax.

An analysis of the industry's total newsstand circulation finds that single-copy sales fell 3.6% compared with the year-earlier period. For the first half of the year, according to an analysis by John Harrington of the New Single Copy newsletter, newsstand sales fell 4.5%.

But average figures may not tell the entire story. The six big-name women's service books-those top-selling and heavily-advertised-in titles that still form the backbones of several companies-all posted worse newsstand declines. Hearst Magazines' Good Housekeeping posted the best showing by recording a 6.5% drop. Both Good Housekeeping's sibling title Redbook and Gruner & Jahr USA International's Family Circle posted newsstand declines in excess of 20%, with Family Circle losing just shy of one-fourth of its newsstand numbers. (All but two of the 13 special-interest offshoots of Meredith Corp.'s flagship Better Homes & Gardens posted newsstand drops as well.)

A surprising number of key titles missed their rate bases. Hearst's Seventeen and Time Inc.'s Teen People failed to meet rate base, in testimony to the troubles of the once-hot teen-girl niche. Among the others that fell short were Playboy and Ziff Davis Media's Electronic Gaming Monthly.

Big gainers on newsstand included, again, Time Inc.'s Real Simple and Wenner Media's Us Weekly, both of which now boast circulation well over the 1 million mark. Real Simple rode a 10.2% newsstand gain to a total increase of 31.5% to end up just over 1.5 million. Us Weekly, which derives more than half of its circulation from newsstand sales, saw its single-copy number rise 38.3% and total circulation increase 18.9% to 1.3 million.

As always, a few far-flung titles posted strong showings. Hip-hop magazine XXL saw its newsstand sales rise 19.4% and its total circulation increase 25.5%. Shelter title Dwell's newsstand numbers rose 27.5% and its overall circulation increased 22.8% to 175,394. Hearst's Esquire's newsstand sales rose 24.1%.

`mother jones' up

Mother Jones' newsstand numbers rose 34.7% and total circulation rose 20.8% to 227,192. The Hearst and Harpo Productions co-venture O, The Oprah Magazine saw newsstand numbers spike 38.1% to just under 1 million and overall circulation rise 17.3% to 2.7 million.

Some titles with overall drops showed strength elsewhere. Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S.'s Premiere significantly cut rate base last year, but single-copy sales rose 16%. One closely watched newcomer, Dennis Publishing's Blender, posted a circulation of 536,906 in its debut outing, which puts it within shouting distance of Miller Publishing Group's Spin.

More common than the good showing, though, were disappointing results from a wide range of instantly familiar titles. Hachette's Elle posted a newsstand drop of 14.6%, a worse showing than at Harper's Bazaar and Vogue. The big-three business titles-McGraw-Hill Cos.' Business Week, Forbes and Time Inc.'s Fortune-posted newsstand declines, but Business Week`s 0.8% decline was much smaller than at its rivals. And, unlike them, its overall circulation rose.

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