Magazine Subs: Spiral Down Since '05

magazinesWhile recent analysis shows that magazine subscriptions rose slightly from 2008-2009, offsetting drops in newsstand sales over the same period, a review stretching back to the first half of this decade reveals a steady decline in both newsstand sales and subscriptions, beginning in 2002 and 2005, respectively.

The direction of the trend suggests that while publishers have been able to stabilize circ numbers in the short term by marketing subscriptions more aggressively, they still face a long-term secular decline in print circulation that will be difficult to reverse.

The total number of subscriptions for 100 leading consumer magazines reached a peak for the decade in 2005, according to a MediaPost analysis of figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations covering June 2002 to June 2009.

Newstand sales chart/MDN



Since then, subscriptions and newsstand sales have both declined, although subscriptions showed a slight rebound from 2008-2009. The total paid circulation (combining subscriptions and newsstand sales) of these titles, from Allure to Woman's World, has declined steadily from 2005-2009.

The first part of the decade showed a gradual increase in paid subscriptions for the titles under consideration, rising from about 131.4 million in the six-month period ending in June 2002 to about 133.8 million in the same period of 2005. Total subscriptions then began to fall, reaching a trough of 127.5 million in June 2008 -- off 4.7% from their 2005 peak. Subscriptions rallied from June 2009 to June 2009, rebounding to 128.7 million; that's 3.9% off their 2005 peak.

Meanwhile, magazine newsstand sales for these titles declined steadily from 2002-2009 -- falling from 29.3 million in the six-month period ending June 2002 to just under 19.6 million for the same period in June 2009, a 33% drop. The increase in subscriptions was enough to offset the decrease in newsstand sales in two years -- 2004 and 2005 -- with total paid circulation for these titles edging up from about 159.2 million in 2003 to 159.7 million in 2005. Since 2005, however, total paid circulation has fallen about 7.2% to just under 148.3 million.

The decline in total paid circulation was broad-based, with 63 of the 100 titles showing decreases; the remaining 37 were flat or increased. The declines were also steady: from 2003-2009, the number of titles seeing year-over-year decreases in subscriptions was 34 in 2003, 35 in 2004, 34 in 2005, 64 in 2006, 45 in 2007, 53 in 2008, and 35 in 2009. Meanwhile, the number of titles seeing year-over-year drops in newsstand sales was 63 in 2003, 50 in 2004, 62 in 2005, 63 in 2006, 53 in 2007, 71 in 2008, and 84 in 2009.

In terms of overlap, the number of titles seeing decreases in both subscriptions and newsstand sales was 20 in 2003, 15 in 2004, 19 in 2005, 43 in 2006, 23 in 2007, 38 in 2008, and 27 in 2009. The number of titles showing declines when newsstand sales and subs were combined was 48 in 2003, 37 in 2004, 48 in 2005, 70 in 2006, 46 in 2007, 66 in 2008, and 57 in 2009.

2 comments about "Magazine Subs: Spiral Down Since '05".
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  1. John Harrington from Harrington Associates, September 21, 2009 at 9:05 a.m.

    I think it's important to know what the 100 titles are. I don't doubt the numbers, but they certainly are key to an accurate portrait.

  2. John Grono from GAP Research, September 21, 2009 at 5:43 p.m.

    The graph surprises me.

    It's seems like it is at least a weekly occurrence that there is a "Chicken Little" article that declares that "the sky is falling" for magazines as readers dessert a medium that is dropping into unconsciousness on life-support.

    Yet the graph shows a peak of just over 160m in 2002 and a trough of just under 150m in 2009. That is around an 8% drop since 2002 - hardly the death 'spiral' implied in the heading. Of course any decline is a concern, but given the doomsayers that abound I was expecting to see a drop of 20%+ over this period of time as consumers fled to online sources for their copy.

    While the graph is not adequately labelled, I suspect the dats is for average issue paid circulation. That is 160m paid copies generally either every week or every month, which amounts to a lot of copies in a country with a population of just over 300m.

    My question is, do we believe the audited ABC data which shows a gradual decline, or the Chicken Little articles?

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