Magazines hit by drop in circulation numbers
Newsstand, retail sales decline 9%
NEW YORK - Purchases of US magazines at newsstands and other retail outlets fell 9 percent in the second half of 2009, a slight improvement from the 12 percent year-over-year decline in the first half of the year.
Those figures released yesterday by the Audit Bureau of Circulations show how the weak economy continues to batter the magazine industry at a time when consumers have many free reading alternatives available online.
Newsstand and other single-copy retail sales are important for publishers because they charge more per copy than they do for subscriptions, which fell 1.1 percent in last year’s second half. Magazines generally give a discount to those willing to subscribe in order to boost the overall circulation they can promise advertisers.
Magazines have been enduring one of the worst advertising slumps in memory. The number of ad pages sold by US magazines declined nearly 26 percent last year from 2008 levels, according to the Publishers Information Bureau.
In October, Conde Nast Publications announced it was closing Gourmet, the nation’s oldest food magazine, along with three other money-losing titles. The latest circulation drops do not even include such titles because yesterday’s report is based only on 472 magazines that still publish and that provided comparable figures to industry auditors.
Although the Internet has been taking more of people’s time for years, overall magazine circulation - single-copy sales plus subscriptions, including free ones - had been holding relatively steady until the recession intensified.
After remaining relatively flat in the first half of 2008, overall circulation fell about 1 percent over the next two periods. That drop grew to 2.2 percent in the second half of 2009, for a total circulation of 328 million for the 472 magazines in the report.
The 1.1 percent decline in paid subscriptions in the second half reduced their total to 279 million copies. Single-copy sales were 35.7 million in the period.
The economy is certainly a factor in circulation declines, said John Harrington, an industry analyst with Harrington Associates. But he added that some publishers and retailers have started to worry the recession has done permanent damage.
“Magazines are always an impulse item,’’ he said. “People, immediately when the economy sunk, became much more careful in their shopping habits, and that may have resulted in permanent changes. It’ll take a little while longer to determine that completely.’’
Another factor is that publishers have been cutting back on heavily discounted circulation. As the cost of mailing magazines climbs, publishers figure it isn’t worth the cost of printing extra copies.
A few big names managed to grow their newsstand sales, including Vanity Fair (up 5.1 percent, to 421,833) and Oprah Winfrey’s magazine, O (up 5.8 percent, to 662,304).
Still, there were some dramatic declines. While Good Housekeeping’s total circulation was roughly flat, its newsstand sales sank more than 30 percent, to 395,289. People magazine, the number two consumer title behind Cosmopolitan, saw newsstand sales drop 10 percent, to 1,325,330.