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Thanks to the revived economy, a majority of magazines showed gains in paid circulation for the first half of 1994. That's the good news. The bad is that single-copy sales continue to decline.

There were 285 paid circulation winners among the 490 American consumer magazines tracked by Audit Bureau of Circulations for the six-month period ended June 30. BPA International showed more proof that first-half 1994 was better than the first six months of 1993, with 67 of 107 magazines it tracks posting increases.

"We're seeing a strong recovery in direct response rates," noted Robert Cohen, a Miami-based circulation consultant. "People's wallets are opening up again. In tough times, magazine subscriptions are often the first thing to be cut."

However, 52% of magazines tracked by ABC showed newsstand declines.

"It's more of the same," said Dan Capell, editor of the newsletter "Capell's Circulation Report."

He blames the continuing decline, trackable over the past 10 ABC reporting periods, to several factors, including increased competition for leisure time and a vast increase in the number of magazines landing on newsstand racks.

"We're probably getting close to the point where subscriptions will no longer be able to offset the newsstand decline," he said.

"I think you're going to see more magazines cutting rate bases," he added.

Already that strategy has taken hold in the women's service field, plagued by problems with single-copy sales. First for Women missed its 1.5 million rate base in January and February. On March 1, the so-called "eighth sister" of the Seven Sisters shaved 300,000 off its rate base and finally found a level it could sustain. Total circulation for the six-month period was down 4.7%.

Woman's Day, which adopted very aggressive newsstand price cuts to boost sales, barely reached its rate base of 4.5 million in the first half of the year. Total paid circulation was flat, with newsstand sales slipping 2.4%

WD, however, fared better than its newsstand archrival, Family Circle, whose overall paid circulation dropped 1.3%, barely covering its 5 million rate base. Its newsstand sales took a 4.5% dive in the period.

The rest of the sisters also struggled with newstand circulation. Ladies' Home Journal saw newsstand sales decline by 4.1% while its overall circulation was clipped by 2%. Redbook plunged 5.5% on newsstands while overall circulation slipped 3.4%. And McCall's was clobbered on newsstands with a 17.2% decline but managed to make it up on the subscription side to stay flat overall.

Better Homes & Gardens, the category circulation leader, saw its single-copy sales slide 2.5% while overall circulation stayed flat, just above its rate base of 7.6 million. Good Housekeeping's newsstand sales were off 6.8%.

Outside the women's service field, there also were some spectacular success stories on ABC's list. The American Specator reaped enormous publicity with its January cover story on the alleged infidelities of President Clinton entitled "Your Cheatin' Heart." Associate Publisher Catherine Campbell said the Arlington, Va.-based title followed that up with increased local radio and TV advertising plus more direct mail.

"It's been a great study in advertising," she said. "You get the name out there and capitalize on it." Total paid circulation for the magazine is now 262,976, up 125.1% from a year ago, and overall circulation rose 15.2%.

Mademoiselle, under new Editor Elizabeth Crow, also defied the trend; single-copy sales soared 21.7%. Another Conde-Nast star was Architectural Digest, up 44.5%.

Rodale Press continues to have a magic touch. Its flagship Prevention was a newsstand star, posting a 25.7% gain in single-copy sales which reached 656,163. That was enough to offset a flat subscription level and fuel a 3.4% rise in paid circulation. Rodale's Men's Health also continued to be red hot, surging 53% in total paid circulation following a January hike in its rate base to 1 million from 650,000.

The strengthening economy also piqued interest in new investment titles: Circulation of Worth soared 50.6%, while Smart Money was up 48.3% despite taking a 24.3% hit in single-copy sales.

The Ed Kosner-led Esquire also showed signs of life. Single-copy sales rose 14.3% to 123,980 in the period.

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