NEW YORK — Primedia said Wednesday it was exploring the possibility of selling Seventeen Magazine, confirming rumors that had swirled for more than a year.

To help in the search for a potential suitor, the company has retained Morgan Stanley, which will also be responsible for trying to sell off Primedia’s smaller teen assets, like the recently folded Teen Magazine, which has been coming out in special editions.

While Seventeen remains the industry leader in terms of ad pages and continues to be profitable, the category’s exponential growth during the late Nineties has eaten into its market share.

With an overall circulation of 2.3 million, it also boasts a bigger readership than any of its competitors, though its newsstand sales — the most accurate barometer of a magazine’s heat — have been plummeting.

In the first half of 2002, the magazine sold an average of 370,350 copies on newsstands, a 21 percent drop from the year before and down more than 36 percent from the same period two years before. That number also trails all three of Seventeen’s closest competitors (Teen People, Cosmogirl, and YM). Final numbers for the second half of 2002 are not yet available.

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