Magazines' Newsstand Struggles Continue, but Not Without Bright Spots

An Average of 27,000 iPad Edition Sales Helped Wired Improve 'Newsstand' 28%

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NEW YORK ( -- Rolling Stone increased newsstand sales nearly 19% in the second half of last year as its story on Gen. Stanley McChrystal, since retired, and provocative covers with Lady Gaga and the "True Blood" cast resonated with readers.

Credit: AP

But Rolling Stone's performance stood out among magazines, whose second half of 2010 seems to have primarily continued the industry's long, gradual decline in single-copy sales. Many publishers gave Ad Age a sneak peak at the figures they have filed with the Audit Bureau of Circulations in advance of its semiannual circulation report on Monday.

Magazine subscriptions and overall audiences usually grow or at least hold up from year to year, but their continued newsstand weakness is worrisome because advertisers consider single-copy sales a gauge of consumer demand while publishers use newsstands to attract potential subscribers.

Among the popular celebrity weeklies, newsstand sales dipped 5.1% at People magazine, 13.7% at Star and 16% at Us Weekly, compared with their newsstand performances in the second half of 2009. "Market softness has affected all celebrity titles," a Star spokeswoman said, citing competition from the internet and TV.

Declines manifested at a range of magazines, moreover, including 7.6% at Shape, 8.1% at Essence, 8.9% at Men's Health, 11.5% at Time, 12.4% at Seventeen, 14.5% at Prevention, 16.1% at Muscle & Fitness, 17.7% at Popular Mechanics, 18.8% at Allure, 22.4% at Lucky and 27.7% at Bon Appetit.

Cosmopolitan, which sells more copies on newsstands than any other magazine, saw single-copy sales in the second half of 2010 decline 10.7% from the second half of 2009. Combined with its single-copy gain in the first half of 2010, however, Cosmo only fell 4.8% on newsstands last year, better than the 7.9% drop among its competitors, a spokeswoman said. "Based on our projections so far," she added, "we foresee stability in 2011."

Conde Nast, where newsstand sales decreased 10.3%, stressed as it has in the past that it is increasing cover prices and abandoning inefficient newsstand outlets in a successful bid to make its newsstand sales more profitable overall.

Some magazines defied the norm and improved their newsstand performances. Single-copy sales grew 4.6% at Vogue, for example, 5.3% at Food Network Magazine, 5.5% at All You, 8.5% at Fortune, 16% at House Beautiful, 20.6% at Health and 28.2% at Wired.

Wired presented not just one of the biggest newsstand gains but one of the most interesting because it benefited heavily from the virtual newsstand of the iPad App Store. Its average single-copy sales of 105,614 in the second half included about 27,000 iPad editions. Its sales in the second half of 2009, of course, were limited to print.

Health magazine partly benefited from expanding distribution, but was posting strong sales even before some of that took effect, said Dave Watt, VP-publisher. "The fact that we're up 21% is partly attributable to that, I think, but it's also that our biggest seller in the second half was the July/August issue which didn't have any additional distribution but had Christina Hendricks from 'Mad Men' on the cover," he said. "We also had a redesign in the September issue that was really embraced by readers."

Some publishers argue that newsstand doesn't matter as much as it once did, Mr. Watt said, but only because they don't have growth to report. "What is the purest measure of consumer demand?" he said. "It's newsstand. You can jack around you subscriptions all you want, but people putting money down in a retail environment is all about the vitality of your brand."

Fortune capitalized on a redesign and a reduction in frequency, to 18 issues a year from 25, which left each issue for sale on newsstands longer.

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