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How These Magazines Increased Circulation While the Industry Declined

Tactics Range From Absorbing a Defunct Title to Getting Bloggers to Sell Subscriptions

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Time Inc.'s All You gives its blogger community a share of revenue on subscriptions they sell.
Time Inc.'s All You gives its blogger community a share of revenue on subscriptions they sell.

Here's the bad news that everyone was expecting: Magazines' paid and verified circulation in the first half slipped 1.36 % from the first half of last year as the ongoing plunge in newsstand sales erased 9.15% of single-copy sales, the Audit Bureau of Circulations said today.

But how did the magazines that grew find their gains?

Some titles grew simply by absorbing a weaker title. The top gainer, Poder Hispanic magazine, expanded its overall paid and verified circulation 63.63% as Poder magazine took over the former subscribers to Hispanic magazine, which was shutting down.

Ski magazine, whose 10.15% gain made it the 14th fastest grower in the first half, similarly benefited by taking over subscribers to Skiing magazine as that title, a sibling at Bonnier, reduced its frequency.

But others grew through a variety of tactics that will affect the bottom line in different ways. The second-biggest gainer, Vanidades magazine, increased direct marketing and TV commercials while adding distribution in major general market retailers and fast-growing Hispanic markets.

Game Informer Magazine's paid and verified circulation leapt particularly after GameStop beefed up the loyalty program that includes a subscription to the title. "If GameStop hadn't brought more to the table to enhance their loyalty program, Game Informer wouldn't get that exposure," said Rob Borm, associate publisher at Game Informer.

(It's not a one-way relationship, Mr. Borm added. "Game Informer brings a tremendous amount of tangible value to the PowerUp Rewards program," he said.)

All You's "Enjoy Life for Less" message continued to resonate with readers as the economy kept sputtering, according to publisher Suzanne Quint. Traffic to its website likewise increased, delivering new subscription sales in turn, she said. Walmart also did a "rollback" price promotion for All You partway through June, although that only affected one issue out of six.

Most intriguing, however, was a program under which bloggers began touting All You subscriptions in exchange for a small cut of any sales generated. "We have recognized that that 's where the conversations are happening," Ms. Quint said. "We have a real fandom amongst many of these bloggers who are interested in talking about All You to their followers. And through a lot of hard work, my team launched this program. It's another contributor."

Whole Living, the Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia title known as Body & Soul until last summer, also posted big gains, largely through being marketed alongside a bigger sibling. "When we changed the name of the magazine from Body & Soul to Whole Living in June 2010, we found through testing that selling Whole Living in combination with Martha Stewart Living was successful," a spokeswoman said. Whole Living has nearly doubled the number of subscriptions sold in combination with Martha Stewart Living between the first half of last year and the first half this year, she said.

Ebony magazine missed its guarantee to advertisers again -- a pattern that began back in the second half of 2009 -- but benefited from the first cover-to-cover redesign since its introduction in 1945 and the work of circulation consultants brought in to turn things around. Those consultants had diagnosed the title with insufficient direct-mail campaigns and prices that were sometimes more aggressive than other magazines.

And OK magazine, which American Media bought in June, overcame a 21% drop in single-copy sales largely by authorizing its third-party subscription agents to sell more, said Dave Leckey, exec VP for consumer marketing at American Media.

Its new owners aren't going to continue that strategy, which depends on advertising to make up for high paper, printing and distribution costs. Although it delivered growth, moreover, it failed to deliver enough circulation to meet its guarantee to advertisers.

"They were very aggressive in the first half of this year in putting a lot of subscriptions onto their file," Mr. Leckey said. "We've identified that as not the direction we want to go. We've been down that road before with Star magazine and we've adjusted Star's rate base a number of a times."

American Media has cut OK's rate base to 625,000 from the 800,000 it was struggling to deliver -- and will likely cut it again, to 525,000, next year, Mr. Leckey said.

Top 25 Consumer Magazines Gainers by Total Paid and Verified Circulation (More than 100k)
Preliminary figures as filed with the Audit Bureau of Circulations -- subject to audit
Publication Total Paid & Verified
6 months ended 6/30/11
Total Paid & Verified
6 months ended 6/30/10
% Change
PODER HISPANIC278,786 170,378 63.63%
VANIDADES311,292 190,553 63.36 %
AFAR110,966 76,711 44.65%
GAME INFORMER MAGAZINE5,954,884 4,364,170 36 .45%
WOODCRAFT MAGAZINE100,581 78,914 27.46%
TV Y NOVELAS ESTADOS UNIDOS284,739 227,781 25.01%
ALL YOU1,328,454 1,098,858 20.89%
TEXAS PARKS & WILDLIFE147,768 125,803 17.46%
WESTERN HORSEMAN167,531 146,336 14.48%
AUDUBON442,991 388,863 13.92%
WHOLE LIVING746,400 659,401 13.19%
SIEMPRE MUJER514,558 462,447 11.27%
EBONY1,235,865 1,114,849 10.85%
SKI MAGAZINE455,152 413,218 10.15%
GARDEN & GUN236,097 214,465 10.09%
HOBBY FARMS143,927 131,022 9.85%
TRAILER LIFE213,839 195,050 9.63%
VEGETARIAN TIMES309,886 283,258 9.40%
AMERICAN COWBOY102,292 93,899 8.94%
JET820,557 762,250 7.65%
OK! WEEKLY747,040 695,197 7.46%
COWBOYS & INDIANS156,592 146,646 6.78%
AMERICAN LEGION AUXILIARY749,712 704,340 6.44%
LA CUCINA ITALIANA138,865 130,464 6.44%
Top 10 Consumer Magazines by Single-Copy Sales
Preliminary figures as filed with the Audit Bureau of Circulations -- subject to audit
Publication Single-Copy Sales
6 months ended 6/30/11
Single-Copy Sales
6 months ended 6/30/10
% Change
VOGUE360,400 319,84412.68%
PSYCHOLOGY TODAY100,72789,447 12.61%
WEIGHT WATCHERS449,805409,677 9.80%
ALL YOU444,815 408,4138.91%
PEOPLE EN ESPANOL111,617 105,0736.23%
FOOD NETWORK MAGAZINE339,854 323,5865.03%
TEEN VOGUE129,478 123,404 4.92%
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC161,714 154,3894.74%
THE KNOT127,019 121,5524.50
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