Commentary

The Long-Challenged Saga Of Celebrity Print Magazines

The New York Post’s Page Six gossip column reported over the weekend that OK magazine would stop publishing its weekly print edition and move to a digital format.

“It’s the first of the major titles in the troubled celebrity weekly market to succumb,” Page Six reported. “We’re told that it will continue to publish occasional special issues.”

OK was a successful British magazine first launched in 1997, and in the intervening years developed a global footprint, with more than a dozen international editions. The American version launched in 2005.

At the risk of nit-picking, I’ll point out that OK isn’t quite the first celebrity magazine to succumb. That distinction belongs to Entertainment Weekly, which went monthly in 2019 and eliminated print altogether earlier this year.

More interesting, perhaps, is the story of the celebrity print-magazine category overall, which dominated the newsstand-magazine business during the three decades before the 2010s. Since then it’s been mostly a bloodbath, brought on by the collapse of the newsstand magazine-distribution business and the rise of the internet and websites that cover the same turf with much more speed and agility.

This trend has been well documented. In 2007, for example, the renowned newsstand-magazine analyst Baird Davis reported that the celebrity magazine category was booming. Yet he said, People magazine had a newsstand sales dip of about 6% for the first half of that year. “This sent pangs of anxiety through the fragile magazine industry,” Davis wrote in Folio: Magazine. “Had the big newsstand sales slide begun?”

It hadn’t. Overall, Davis noted, both unit sales and newsstand revenue had increased slightly. “This was a tepid performance, but far from Armageddon,” he wrote. “Celebrity fascination continues to drive the newsstand market. The celebrity category continues to expand.”

All of that changed in the 2010s. “Celebrity magazines used to be the impulse purchase at the airport or the supermarket checkout line,” the New York Times reported in 2014. “But those impulses are apparently being resisted.”

Newsstand sales of People, InStyle and Us Weekly dropped by nearly 15% in the first half of 2014, the Times said. In Touch Weekly’s newsstand sales declined by 23%, Star Magazine was down by 21%, as was Life & Style Weekly. People StyleWatch suffered a 32.8% decline.

In a 2017 article, Davis said the word “elegy” was appropriate for helping describe what had transpired at the newsstand in the last decade.

In 2019, in a broader report about audited magazines in general, he reported this data for the second half of that year. “The audited consumer magazine industry experienced its steepest ever year over year declines in paid/verified circulation, newsstand sales and number of audited titles,” he said.

  • The number of audited titles declined from 222 to 190, down by 14%.
  • Newsstand sales units for those magazines declined from 84,000 to 68,000, down 19%.
  • Newsstand sales revenue declined from $398,000 to $327,000, down 16%
It’s true that many of the celebrity weeklies are still out there, still weekly. Most of them are owned by A360 Media, the company formerly known as American Media. But the company also has roots in the newsstand distribution company The News Group. Its titles include Us Weekly, Life & Style, In Touch Weekly, Closer, Star and others. The point, though, is that the secular trends are not promising.
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