THE HARD TRUTH: In late January, David Carey, the president of Hearst Magazines, took a break from his usual promotional messages on Twitter to address the imminent release of circulation numbers for the second half of 2012: “Doomsayers will be disappointed,” he wrote.

Given the numbers released Thursday, it was a lot of spin, but it underscored the apprehension publishing executives have been expressing for months, mostly in private, about the looming circulation statistics.

This story first appeared in the February 8, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The concern was that single-copy sales, which were again expected to be sharply down, would once more upstage their few circulation bright spots and what they see as gains in the sale of digital replicas. While single-copy sales are still vital in determining ad rates, publishers see them as an old-fashioned barometer of health in the face of other revenue sources.

In the end, their fears proved to be justified — while digital circulation increased to record numbers, new figures released Thursday showed newsstand sales for magazines declined 8.2 percent in the second half, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. Though overall circulation decreased only 0.3 percent, in part thanks to a nearly 1 percent spike in subscriptions, newsstand for the fourth consecutive year looked grim.

Among the top 25 magazines according to newsstand sales, women’s titles and celebrity glossies took the deepest dives — Hearst’s Cosmopolitan, the highest-selling magazine, was down 18.5 percent to 1.2 million copies, while competitor Glamour declined 14.5 percent to 402,000 copies. People, Time Inc.’s biggest cash cow, lost 12.2 percent over the same period last year, dropping from 1.1 million to 972,000; sister magazine People StyleWatch lost 8.2 percent. Us Weekly, from Wenner, and American Media’s Star were down 15 percent and 21 percent, respectively. Also seeing drops: Elle, down 11.8 percent to 213,000; Harper’s Bazaar, 7.8 percent to 136,000; Vogue, down 4 percent to 335,000; Vanity Fair, 4.3 percent to 310,000, and InStyle, 6 percent to 528,000

Among the top 25, Hearst’s Food Network and Woman’s Day were the only magazines from major publishers to score significant increases —10 percent and 14.4 percent, respectively.

Condé, Hearst and Time Inc. noted that their overall circulation was up thanks to subscriptions and the sale of digital replicas.

In the second half of the year, 7.9 million digital magazine copies were sold, according to AAM, more than double the second half of 2011. But digital sales are still a fraction, only about 2.4 percent, of overall circulation. The top three digital magazine editions are, in order, Game Informer, Maxim and Cosmopolitan.

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