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All things considered, industry observers expected fashion and lifestyle titles to have an easier go at the newsstand during the first half of this year. They weren’t anticipating large gains, but rather a “flat to slightly up” outcome. After all, the dispute between publishers and two major wholesalers, Source Interlink and Anderson News, has generally been resolved (they wanted to increase their per-copy surcharge for publishers and filed antitrust lawsuits against some, with Anderson’s recently being thrown out of court and Source Interlink reaching out-of-court settlements). And while not booming, retailers and fashion firms are seeing better sales after the disaster that was 2008 and 2009, meaning consumers might start buying magazines again to check out the merch.

No such luck.

This story first appeared in the August 6, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

With only a few exceptions, fashion titles saw yet further declines on newsstand in the first six months of the year, placing further pressure on them to hit their rate bases as publishers scurry to ferret out every ad dollar they can. “I think it’s fair to say media buyers will be paying more attention and wanting some answers,” said Jack Hanrahan, publisher of industry newsletter CircMatters, of the first-half figures.

With the exception of Essence at Time Inc., all fashion titles that posted double-digit declines in single-copy sales fell under Condé Nast’s umbrella. Teen Vogue fell 30 percent, W declined 22 percent, Allure was down 19 percent, Lucky declined almost 17 percent and Vogue posted an almost 15 percent slide. Bob Sauerberg, president at Condé Nast, said he expected this to happen, as the company has been pulling copies out of the marketplace and evaluating its distribution practices for more efficiency.

“We did some things on purpose,” he added, noting that overall, total circulation at all titles was up almost 1 percent. Also, 10 magazines had price increases during the period. Sauerberg said a key part of the company’s new consumer-marketing-driven strategy is to focus on subscriptions, which now account for 86 percent of the business, thanks to the Web.

Which raises the question as to how important newsstand sales are anymore anyway. While once a key barometer of a magazine’s true popularity with readers, given the “buy a box of Cracker Jack and get two years of this magazine free” mentality, newsstand now has become less vital as publishers have mended their discounting ways (or at least are hoping to).

“For years, we experienced newsstand decline while seeing subscriptions grow,” said Robin Steinberg, senior vice president and director of print investment and activation at MediaVest, adding that the slide in single-copy sales is not “new news.” Steinberg pointed to price increases — wholesaler consolidation forcing increased prices at retail — economic conditions and publishers providing content for free online as key factors in the decline at newsstand. She called the model of judging newsstand as the barometer of vitality “archaic and outdated,” and said new metrics need to be developed to measure consumer engagement.

Without new measures from which to draw, though, many still try to glean something from the monthly cover game. Hanrahan pointed to Women’s Health and People StyleWatch as titles to watch, with the Rodale magazine up 10 percent to 367,725 in single-copy sales (although its male counterpart, Men’s Health, must be suffering since it declined to provide newsstand data). StyleWatch rose 15 percent to 572,104. “Our June-July issue (with Lauren Conrad on the cover) was our bestseller — with 621,000 copies sold on the newsstand,” said People StyleWatch editor Susan Kaufman.

Over at Meredith, More was up 16 percent at newsstand, and editor in chief Lesley Jane Seymour attributed this to a change in cover strategy. “We’ve opened the door and taken away that over-40 rubric,” she said. “We’ve walked away from traditional covers.” Earlier this year, it was rumored the magazine asked Kim Cattrall to pose with a cougar (she refused, because of the connotation associated between the cat and women of a certain age). Meanwhile, over at Hearst, it was a good first half for Harper’s Bazaar, which pointed to its strong cover subject lineup for the first half as leading to a 10 percent rise, to 160,100, at the newsstand. The March issue with Kate Moss was the leader, said a spokeswoman.

And there is a new, emerging player in the newsstand game this year — the iPad. Over at Wired, the June issue launched on Apple’s much-ballyhooed device and raked in 103,000 in single-copy sales — and that’s not counting the traditional newsstand. Wired’s newsstand during the half jumped 15 percent to 93,908. It was the biggest circulation gain for any Condé title during the period (and, incidentally, Wired was the top ad gainer for the first half, up more than 20 percent). “The iPad expands the idea of the newsstand,” said editor in chief Chris Anderson. “It used to be something you passed on the street, but now magazines can meet you where you live, even if you’re not a subscriber.”


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