It may be summertime, but the living isn’t easy for magazine publishers.
This story first appeared in the August 27, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations will show another half of declines in single-copy sales. Aside from a few standouts, most titles reported double-digit drops — although overall circulation figures generally remained steady, buoyed by an increase in paid subscriptions.
Industry insiders pointed to two factors that caused the single-copy declines: the economic crunch, obviously, plus an interruption in the distribution channel triggered by a dispute between publishers and two major wholesalers, Anderson News and Source Interlink, over an increase in their per-copy surcharges for publishers.
The dispute kept many titles from getting to retailers for several weeks in February, which mostly impacted weeklies such as People, Time and Us Weekly. But the monthlies, argued Jack Hanrahan, publisher of industry newsletter CircMatters, had more time to react. Since these magazines have four weeks to strategize on ways to distribute their issues, “they can find ways to get the issues to retailers,” he said.
Though the distribution problem would have affected the March and April issues, most fashion titles had their largest declines outside of that time period. And some publishers claimed they were barely affected by the dispute: Condé Nast, for example, only serviced 17 percent of its newsstand draw through Anderson. The impact on newsstand sales for the period, “probably wasn’t more than a couple of percentage points,” said Bob Sauerberg, Condé Nast consumer marketing group president.
The dispute and eventual shutdown of Anderson kept many titles from getting to retailers for several weeks in February, which mostly impacted weeklies such as People, Time and Us Weekly. But the monthlies, argued Jack Hanrahan, publisher of industry newsletter CircMatters, had more time to react. Since these magazines have four weeks to strategize on ways to distribute their issues, “they can find ways to get the issues to retailers,” he said.
Some publishers claimed they were barely affected by the dispute: Condé Nast, for example, only serviced 17 percent of its newsstand draw through Anderson. The impact on newsstand sales for the period, “probably wasn’t more than a couple of percentage points,” said Bob Sauerberg, Condé Nast consumer marketing group president.
For some media buyers, the blame lies more in consumers passing up magazines to buy other things. “Anderson contributed to this decline definitely, but was it a driving factor? No,” said Robin Steinberg, senior vice president, director of print investment and activation at agency MediaVest. “The combination of the recession and Anderson’s issues on top of consumers making more [thoughtful] decisions on what to do with their money today is causing all of this. Where they used to buy two to three magazines at a time, they’re buying one.”
According to a report by private equity firm Veronis Suhler Stevenson, total consumer spending on magazines is expected to fall 3.2 percent in 2009 to $9.51 billion, thanks to lower subscription prices and less traffic to newsstands, and remain flat through 2013. This would be the second year of decline of consumer spending on magazines — in 2008, circulation spending slipped 1.5 percent to $9.82 billion, according to Veronis Suhler Stevenson.
Nevertheless, some titles bucked the macroeconomic tide bludgeoning the print business. Witness Vogue’s March issue with Michelle Obama on the cover, the first magazine to feature her as the First Lady. The issue sold 560,000 copies, or 41 percent more than March 2008’s issue featuring Drew Barrymore. Vogue’s overall circulation rose 6 percent for the six-month period, while its newsstand sales fell 3 percent, outperforming most of its competitors.
Essence was another gainer in the first half, thanks to the January issue featuring the Obamas, with overall circulation rising 4 percent to 1.1 million, and newsstand increasing 7 percent to 250,308. That issue, with two separate Obama covers — one with Barack and the other with Michelle — sold more than 450,000 copies.
At Rodale, Women’s Health reported an 9 percent increase in single-copy sales for the period, to 333,463, outpacing its older competitors, Self and Shape, for the second half in a row. The gains come as the fitness magazine started using celebrities on its covers, including “Star Trek” actress Zoe Saldana and Elisha Cuthbert of “24.”
More was another magazine that maintained steady growth in circulation under editor in chief Lesley Jane Seymour. Total paid and verified circulation has grown 6 percent to 1.3 million and newsstand has held steady at 156,600 copies. Seymour said one secret to the magazine’s newsstand success has been the use of humor for cover lines about serious subjects such as finances and health. Recent cover lines have included “Ponzi Proof Your Portfolio,” “Swimsuits as Xanax” and a travel story tagged “A Cougar Tracks Jaguars in Belize.”
“We’ll play with it and be funny, but we’re not so deadly.…Our reader is not so earnest as someone in their 20s,” said Seymour.
Seymour said the magazine is experimenting with different types of photographs on its covers — close-ups on a subject’s face as opposed to a full-length or three-quarter body shot, and the use of colored backgrounds versus plain ones. Next up: a change of the More logo this fall.
On the men’s side, GQ was the only Condé Nast magazine to show an increase in newsstand sales for the period, jumping 7 percent. The performance was buoyed by a strong January issue featuring a naked — save for a strategically placed necktie — Jennifer Aniston. The issue sold more than 330,000 copies. “Twilight” star Robert Pattinson also sold well, moving almost 300,000 copies in April.
But for editor Jim Nelson, newsstand success goes beyond the right star on the cover. “We try to make each page earn its space, and that probably yields more than any one cover or any one celeb, gorgeous though he or she may be,” he said.
The news elsewhere isn’t all bad — most publishers saw total paid and verified circulation grow as they invest more to grow their subscriber base, be it through their own Web sites, direct marketing or via promotions. Sauerberg noted Condé Nast’s online subscriptions have grown 50 percent in five years. “The backbone of that is developing a targeted database that we can develop a relationship with, so that we can start speaking to them about events and other things going on with our brands,” he said.
Even as subscription sales grow, other observers believe newsstand revenues remain key for a number of reasons. For example, the number of digital subscriptions on publishers’ statements are increasing, with up to 5 percent of some magazine’s overall circulation coming from stand-alone digital copies that are distributed to people who don’t already subscribe to the print version. But most of these are paid for by third parties, such as direct marketing companies, not by individual subscribers, explained Hanrahan. “When you see paid circulation, you need to think twice before giving it a seal of approval,” he said.
But with newsstand sales expected to remain challenged for the foreseeable future, publishers have little choice but to fine-tune their circulation efforts. “There’s a harder push towards subscriptions, but the most profitable circulation is newsstand,” said Steinberg. “If they can sell more copies on newsstand, that would be their first choice, but since there is a consistent, continuous decline, publishers will need to drive subscriptions in more impactful ways. That’s the biggest challenge.”
|First-Half 2009 Circulation Figures|
|Newsstand 1H09||Newsstand 1H08||% Change 2009 to 2008||Total Paid and Verified Circ 2009||Total Paid and Verified Circ 2008||% Change 2009 to 2008|
|Town & Country||35,500||44,382||-20.0||455,700||461,100||-1.2|
|Martha Stewart Living||216,200||271,500||-20.4||2,030,800||2,037,600||-0.3|
|O, The Oprah Magazine||693,100||734,030||-5.6||2,397,700||2,394,303||0.1|
|SOURCE: PUBLISHERS’ ESTIMATES PROVIDED TO AUDIT BUREAU OF CIRCULATIONS.|