Magazines Find Surprise Stash of New Readers

Titles With Youngest Adult Cohort Have Seen Biggest Audience Gains

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NEW YORK ( -- Marketers are buying fewer ad pages in magazines this year amid a lot of economic worries and ever-proliferating alternatives, but magazine readers are not going anywhere. If anything, magazine audiences are getting bigger and often younger too, according to a Mediaedge:cia analysis of last month's benchmark spring MRI research report.

Yes, magazines' paid circulations have declined 1.1% since the report a year earlier (excluding titles that can't be tracked because they stopped publishing or just launched between reports). But magazines' overall audiences -- counting copies that are distributed free or passed among friends -- have climbed 4.4% in the past year, providing the second straight gain after a long period of doldrums, the Mediaedge analysis noted. And the data suggest audiences include a population of magazine readers that's younger than a year ago.

"For every magazine that is aging, there are magazines that are trending younger -- and are gaining new readers at the same time," the Mediaedge analysis found.

Look across a longer period of time, and the trends take on new clarity. Allure magazine's median reader age has fallen 1.1 years to 29.1 from 30.2 since the spring 2004 MRI report, while the size of its audience grew 67%. Wired saw its median age fall to 34.6 from 37 in the same span as its audience increased 47%.

Some of those effects stem from getting the right titles into the doctor's offices, salons and caf├ęs where people can sample them, said George Janson, managing partner-director of print at Mediaedge:cia. "Magazines are doing a better job of managing public-place distribution, which helps build audience," he said.

They're managing their promotional partnerships much more successfully too, he said, pointing to collaborations between Elle and "Project Runway" and between Food & Wine and "Top Chef."

Perhaps the most counterintuitive finding, as well as the most welcome one for publishers, showed that the magazines with the youngest audiences grew the fastest. This is based on research about adults, so leave aside teen magazines and 16-year-old readers of celebrity weeklies.

Magazines with median reader ages between 49.2 and 62 years old grew their audiences 2.2%, the analysis found. Audiences between 45.4 and 49.1 years old grew just a little more, 2.9%. Magazines with the youngest readers, with median ages from 23.8 to 34.4, pumped up their audiences more than 7.5%.

It has to be a good sign for magazine publishers that digital media seems to be creating new opportunities for ink-on-paper media. Take the group of magazines concerned with video games and computer games, games which are of course diverting more and more of consumers' attention away from traditional media. Magazines about gaming grew 21% over a year ago, more than any other magazine category. Game Informer magazine, for one, grew 34% to reach 6.7 million adult readers.

"We get many world exclusives that are beating out the internet," said Rob Borm, associate publisher at Game Informer. "It's quite an accomplishment for a print media form to continuously do that."

Offline media are probably accruing some benefit as well as our eyes go fuzzy staring at screens. "For many people magazines are an emotional reprieve," Mr. Janson said. "They've always been a reprieve, but in many cases now they're a reprieve from the small screen."
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