Rev Crash Drives Auto, Tech Mags

The same trend that's eating into readership at niche magazines for sports enthusiasts is also delivering a jolt to auto and tech titles, including computer and consumer electronics, genres read mostly by men. Why? The Internet provides much of the same information these magazines do--often better and for free. And the audience loss is amplified by auto and tech advertisers' general shift from print to online, as these categories are especially well-suited to advertising on the Web.

Figures for ad pages and revenue from the Publishers Information Bureau tell the story. For January-September, automotive ad pages fell 12.7 percent compared to the same period last year, from 16,182 to 14,129; and ad revenue fell 10.1 percent, from about $1.65 billion to $1.48 billion. Tech ad pages are up 2.2 percent to 8,157, and revenue is up 6.8 percent to $769 million. But most of that is going to mass-market magazines, including cell phone and home PC advertising, leaving niche titles out in the cold.

First, the good news: a few big auto titles are holding their own. Automobile Magazine, for example, is up 8.6 percent in ad pages, and is seeing small increases both in newsstand sales and subscriptions. Hot Rod has posted a similar performance in the first half of 2006, and Autoweek is hanging tough.

But industry leader Car and Driver's newsstand sales are down 8.6 percent--and subscriptions are down 2.3 percent in the first half of 2006, compared to the first half of 2005, according to the most recent FAS-FAX report from the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Ad pages are down 7.7 percent and revenue is down 7.2 percent for January-September 2006, compared to the same period last year.

Competitors aren't much better off: Popular Mechanics is down slightly at the newsstand, with a 2.3 percent drop, but has seen ad pages and revenue plummet in the first nine months of 2006, posting an 18 percent drop in ad pages and an 11.8 percent drop in revenue. Road & Track is down 2.2 percent in subscriptions, 9 percent in ad pages, and 12.1 percent in revenue. And Motor Trend is down 4.4 percent at the newsstand and is basically flat in subscriptions, although ad pages are up slightly--a 4.5 percent rise.

By contrast, smaller car mags are really heading downhill, including a range of hybrid B-to-B/niche publications targeting people into customizing ("tricking out") cars, equipment dealers and foreign-car fans. Although PIB figures are not available for these magazines, the ABC data is fairly damning. Car Audio and Electronics is down 19.7 percent at the newsstand and 7.2 percent in subscriptions. European Car is down 19.3 percent and 13.5 percent by the same measures, and 4 Wheel Drive & Sport Utility Magazine is down 23.3 percent and 7.2 percent. Lowrider--devoted to the culture of hydraulically spastic cars emanating from Southern California--is down 14.5 percent at the newsstand, its most significant circulation area. Sport Compact Car is down 37.3 percent at the newsstand and 18.8 percent in subs.

Titles devoted to other kinds of hardware are also experiencing a meltdown, including titles focusing on computers and consumer electronics, like stereo equipment. In this genre, PC Magazine's ad revenue is down 12.6 percent, with newsstand sales falling 28 percent, while competitor PC World took a 10.6 percent hit at the newsstand.

Sound & Vision, covering home entertainment, is down 18 percent in ad pages, 38.7 percent in revenue, 17.4 percent at the newsstand, and 31.8 percent in subscriptions. And another small title devoted to the same subject, Electronic House, is down 18.2 percent in subscriptions, although no PIB data is available.

Recent data from Mediamark Research, Inc. confirms that the audience for magazines covering computers, video games and other electronics is shrinking. According to MRI, the total readership for PC and video game titles shrank from about 13.4 million in spring 2005 to 12.9 million in spring 2006, while readership for computer titles fell from 10.7 million to 9.5 million.

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