Magazines Sell More Digital Copies But Tumble Again at Newsstands

Publishers Still Get Less Than 2% of Circulation From Digital

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Magazines' single-copy sales in the first half of 2012 fell 9.6% from a year earlier, according to the latest semi-annual circulation report from the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Every Day With Rachael Ray fell short of its guarantee to advertisers.
Every Day With Rachael Ray fell short of its guarantee to advertisers.

That's roughly equivalent to magazines' performance in the second half of last year, when single-copy sales dropped 10%, and continues a lengthy series of downbeat reports from one of magazines' main fronts with consumers.

Many publishers likely made up for the lost circulation by pouring cheap subscription offers into the mail, hurting their bottom lines in the short term at a minimum. And indeed, magazines' overall paid and verified circulation wound up holding steady in the first six months of this year -- slipping 0.1% from the first half of 2011 -- as paid subscriptions rose 1.1%, according to the audit bureau's report.

Subscriptions are the largest component of magazine circulation. Digital sales continued to grow quickly in the first half but remain the smallest piece of magazines' business by far: about 1.7% of total circulation now, up from less than 1% a year earlier, the audit bureau said.

Some magazines are succeeding at newsstands. Hearst's Food Network Magazine, for example, increased its single-copy sales by 17.8% from the first half of 2011, according to its report with the audit bureau. Rodale's Prevention grew single-copy sales 7% in the half, the magazine's second consecutive period of newsstand growth. And Conde Nast's Bon Appetit increased average newsstand sales by 20.5% from the period a year ago.

And there were other signs of improvement for others. Glamour's single-copy sales declined 8% across the first half but grew 5% in the period from March through June, Glamour said, after a redesign that arrived with the March issue.

Newsstand atrophy, however, was common in the first half. Single-copy sales fell by 32% at Money magazine and by more than 20% at magazines including Shape, Parents, Every Day With Rachael Ray, Brides, Weight Watchers, Penthouse, ESPN The Magazine, Elle, Maxim and The Economist.

Every Day With Rachael Ray, which Meredith bought from Reader's Digest Association last year, fell short on some issues of the overall circulation it promised advertisers. Meredith said it has only recently begun "fine-tuning" the editorial product under new Editor-in-Chief Lauren Purcell, who began on Jan. 9. "We are already seeing good response to new direct-mail efforts reflecting enhanced editorial," a company spokesman said.

Conde Nast saw newsstand sales fall 12.1% but held overall paid circulation steady, notching a 0.5% gain, according to the company. Hearst's newsstand sales fell 8.7% while overall circulation -- excluding the fledgling, growing HGTV magazine -- slipped just 0.8%. At Rodale, single-copy sales declined 5.6% and total paid and verified circulation grew 1.5%.

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