By Stephanie Clifford, Published: February 8, 2010, The New York Times
In another tough stretch for the magazine business, newsstand sales and subscriptions declined in the last six months of 2009. The only good news: the rate of decline is getting less steep for newsstand sales.Newsstand sales for the almost 500 consumer magazines in the United States measured by the Audit Bureau of Circultions declined 9.1 percent, to 39.3 million, in the last half of 2009 versus the same period a year earlier, the organization reported on Monday. That follows a 12.36 percent decline for the first half of 2009 compared with the same period a year earlier and an 11.12 percent decline for July through December 2008 compared with the same period in 2007.
"Single-copy sales are very recession sensitive — it's a discretionary, impulse purchase," said Kenneth Godshall, executive vice president for consumer marketing at the industry group Magazine Publishers of America.
Some of the well-known magazines with large single-copy declines included W, down 41.7 percent to about 25,000 for an average issue; Newsweek, down 41.3 percent to about 62,000; Time, down 34.9 percent to about 90,000 (Newsweek and Time decreased the number of copies on sale, representatives said); SmartMoney, down 37 percent to about 26,000; Good Housekeeping, down 30.7 percent to 395,000; and Redbook, down 30.1 percent to 126,000.
Newsstand sales are often a more timely indicator of a magazine's vitality than subscriptions, which tend to lag and can be driven by discounts. While newsstand sales are a small percentage of most magazines' circulation, they are a profitable part of it — publishers typically charge several times more for a newsstand copy than they charge for a subscription copy. Newsstand sales also attract new readers.
There were some bright spots, though. Off-Road Adventures magazine had the highest percentage increase in circulation, rising 483 percent — however, it was starting from a low base of about 41,000. Other popular magazines that had circulation spikes were Rodale's Women's Health, which rose 21.5 percent to 1.45 million; the Disney magazine FamilyFun, which rose 16.7 percent to 2.2 million; and American Rifleman, which rose 20.2 percent to 1.7 million.
Among the 25 biggest magazines, the largest circulation declines were at TV Guide magazine. Circulation there declined more than a quarter, to 2.4 million. Reader's Digest, whose parent company is in the midst of a bankruptcy filing and which is cutting the circulation it guarantees advertisers to 5.5 million, fell 13 percent to 7.1 million.