NOT THE ENTIRE PICTURE: First-half magazine circulation figures paint a relatively bleak picture, with the entire magazine publishing industry down 1.9 percent compared with the first half of 2013, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. Numbers for single-copy sales were even worse, with a drop of 11.9 percent in the first six months.
The news wasn’t all bad, though: Digital-replica editions, which was reported last year as a rapidly growing sector of the industry, grew 13 percent, representing 3.8 percent of total circulation.
This story first appeared in the August 11, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
As for fashion titles, both men’s and women’s and lifestyle publications saw a decline in newsstands sales, though subscriptions weren’t hit as badly.
Cosmopolitan, the biggest women’s magazine and top-selling on the newsstands, saw a 24.8 percent decrease in single-copy newsstand sales to 774,077 a month. Total circulation stayed relatively flat at three million subscribers thanks to subscriptions and digital-replica sales. Glamour fell 18.5 percent to 245,472 monthly with a slight increase in subscribers to 2.3 million. Following behind were Vogue and Lucky, which reported declines of 15.9 and 15.8 percent, respectively, in newsstand sales to 226,919 and 84,255. Others falling on the newsstand:
InStyle by 14.6 percent to 376,858, Allure by 13.6 percent to 99,235, Elle by 8.4 percent to 163,889, Harper’s Bazaar by 5.3 percent to 113,618 and Marie Claire by 4.6 percent to 143,482.
Two magazines saw a boost in single-copy sales: W, which reported a 6.8 percent increase to 24,476, although newsstand has never been a major part of the title’s circulation, and Women’s Health, which saw a 3.3 percent rise to 310,768.
Men’s publications equally suffered in the first half, with Maxim registering the biggest decline on the newsstand. The publication, which was sold to private investor Biglari Holdings earlier this year, saw a 33 percent drop in single-copy sales to 99,632. GQ fell 18.8 percent to 130,046; Men’s Health dropped 12.9 percent to 302,652 and Esquire registered a 3.9 percent decline to 87,215. Details saw a 4 percent increase in newsstand sales to 40,005 while covers with stars like Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy and Christian Bale seem to have paid off: The title’s total paid subscriber base also increased to 6.4 percent. The publication now has more than 524,000 subscribers.
Wenner Media’s Men’s Journal followed suit with growth at 9.9 percent in single-copy sales to 56,732, with a 7.2 percent increase in subscribers. The magazine now has more than 765,000 total paid subscribers.
But the circulation report is only a small speck in the entire landscape of the industry, said Mary Berner, president and chief executive officer of the Association of Magazine Media. “Years and years ago, was it a sign of the vitality of a publications,” she said. “But those days are gone. Subscription numbers are more important.”
Indeed, single-copy newsstand sales constitute a mere 8 percent of a publication’s profits, according to the AAM.
“This is a one-note song in the entire symphony,” Berner said. “Today we have to refer to a magazine’s branded content across the entire ecosystem. That includes print, digital, Web and video — social media to a certain extent. You can’t simply follow this as your only resource to how the publishing industry is doing.”
Joanna Coles, editor in chief of Cosmopolitan, agreed, and went so far as saying the overall industry is doing well.
“I don’t think remotely that it’s a dying industry,” she told WWD. “We’re seeing immense growth. We have 10 million on ComScore coming to the brand and people are logging on three times a day. It’s an industry in flux and dealing with what the music industry dealt with 10 years ago.”
Coles said looking at the newsstand figures alone to determine the health of a magazine brand was “naïve.”
“The numbers are slightly misleading because everyone knows that the newsstand is dying. Bookstores are going away, competing with digital. You can’t look at it from a singular point of view any longer. You have to look at the impact of a magazine more holistically — even from just three years ago. Our social media has over six millions fans, and the level of engagement in terms is growing. So it’s a trade-off with newsstand sales.”
Cosmopolitan said though its single-copy sales have hit a bump, their September issue generated the most revenue in the publication’s history. As for the dip in sales, Coles attributed it to “taking a risk” with experimental cover stars.
“We expanded our pool with two untested stars like Ariana Grande [for February] and Chrissy Teigen for June,” she said. “Sometimes that means you’re a little too early. Last year we had Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian so it was an incredible year to beat.”