August 7, 2012 6:26 pm

Magazine sales suffer sharp fall in US

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The news-stand is fast on its way to following the path of the telephone box, according to the latest figures released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations in the US.

News-stand sales of US magazines are suffering a precipitous decline amid the rise of digital and a drop-off in retail space. Digital editions, meanwhile, are hardly making up for the losses.

News-stand sales, also called single copy sales, tumbled 9.6 per cent in the US to 26.4m in the six month period ended June 30. This is nearly half the 47.1m magazines sold on newsstands during the same period five years ago.

The figures signal stiff challenges ahead for the magazine business. While news-stand sales represent a smaller portion of the overall magazine business in the US than in many other countries, they are considered a barometer of health for the industry because they best reflect consumer demand. Publishers are not able to prop up the numbers, as they can with subscription figures, by offering cheap subscriptions.

“The tumbling is going to continue,” said David Renard, partner at mediaIDEAS, a global consultancy on the publishing industry. “No matter how much some pundits will say that this is just seasonal or a slump for the magazine industry, it is not.”

Total paid and verified circulation for US magazines was roughly flat in the period at 297m, with paid subscriptions inching up 1.1 per cent to reach 259m.

Digital editions, while fast growing, remain a small sliver of the overall magazine business. There were 5.4m digital editions in the period, representing about 1.7 per cent of the total industry.

Media companies are scrambling to develop strategies to inject new life into the magazine business. Anxious not to follow the path of newspapers, publishers are creating digital versions of their magazines and developing new revenue streams. For instance, Condé Nast, the publisher of Vogue, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, formed an entertainment group to create movie, TV and digital projects.

The latest figures represent another blow to the magazine business as ad spending continues to struggle. Ad spending on magazines was $10bn for the six-month period ended June 30, down about one-fifth compared with the same period in 2007, according to the Publishers Information Bureau.

Cosmopolitan, the women’s fashion, sex and beauty magazine owned by Hearst, sells the most single copies. Single-copy sales for the publisher dropped 16 per cent to 1.59m. Other magazines including Time Inc’s People, US Weekly, and O, The Oprah magazine, all suffered double digit declines in news-stand sales compared with a year ago.

The news comes one week after Time Out, London’s entertainment weekly, ditched the news-stand to become a free distribution magazine. “When was the last time you went to a newsagent? People don’t smoke any more. People’s lives have changed,” Greg Miall, project director at Time Out, said.

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