Men's Enthusiast Mags Hard Hit, Ad Revenue, Newsstand Sales Way Down

Conventional wisdom holds that magazines need to pursue niche readerships to compete against Web narrowcasters. But if sports and tech enthusiast magazines are a yardstick, that advice is passe. These categories, dominated by male readership, are seeing significant drops in newsstand sales, ad pages and ad revenue. While not as steep as the losses at lad mags, which are read by young men, and shelter mags targeting women, the declines are widespread. Real niche pubs are suffering the most.

General-interest publishers shouldn't break out the champagne just yet. The good news is they're holding their own. Together, seven of the biggest general-interest titles--Best Life, ESPN Magazine, Golf Digest, Men's Fitness, Men's Health, Muscle & Fitness, and Sports Illustrated--have seen total ad pages and revenue remain flat for January-August 2006, compared to the same period last year, according to the Publishers Information Bureau (PIB). Total revenue is up about 1 percent to $967 million, and ad pages are up 1 percent to 6,498.



Within this group, some titles are struggling: Men's Health is down 15 percent in ad pages, and ESPN Magazine is down 9.6 percent. But Men's Health can take strong newsstand sales to the bank, with a 10 percent jump for the first six months of 2006, compared to the first half of 2005, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC). And ESPN Magazine is building a strong subscription base, with 7.3 percent growth over last year.

By contrast, niche publications targeting sports enthusiasts are in challenging terrain. In a survey of 25 smaller publications covering a range of topics, including titles like Bassmaster, Cycle World, Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Outside, Salt Water Sportsman, Skiing, and Transworld Skateboarding, newsstand sales and ad revenue were all down--often with double-digit losses.

Tellingly, total ad pages for the group actually rose 7 percent as ad revenue dropped 14.5 percent, indicating an overall devaluation of ad space. Meanwhile, publications for which PIB data wasn't available--including Bike, Canoe & Kayak, Dirt Rider, Flex, Game & Fish Magazine, Hot Bike, and Four Wheeler Magazine--all posted big declines in both newsstand sales and subscriptions.

Special-interest titles focusing on big-ticket items, like Boating, Motorboating, Flying, and Yachting, are also suffering--with newsstand sales, ad pages and revenue all dropping. Boating is typical, with ad pages down 10.4 percent, revenue 6.5 percent, and newsstand sales 14.9 percent.

Motorboating is worse off, with a 27.9 percent drop at the newsstand, 20.5 percent in ad pages, and 16.2 percent in revenue.

Recent studies by Mediamark Research Inc. (MRI), the leading magazine research firm, confirm the bad news for enthusiast publications. Men's magazines and sports are both up slightly, according to MRI. But these increases may be due to the big general-interest publications. MRI data tells a different story for more specialized categories; for example, an MRI study from spring 2006 suggests that boating titles lost 1 million readers--or about 18 percent of their audience--since spring 2005.

"It's very simple," says Samir Husni, the chair of the journalism department at the University of Mississippi, and an expert on magazines. "The more specialized your titles and the more specialized your area of interest, the more of that information you can find on an Internet site or a specialized cable channel." Husni said magazines must either have "really mass readership" or "a very small circulation--say, 5,000 people who want to read about a very obscure topic." "You can't survive in the middle ground," he says, "because you're getting to an area where people can just Google it."

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