Sour Note: Music Mags Suffer Revenue Declines

Cover of RS - Jonas Brothers Wenner Media's appointment of a new publisher for Rolling Stone, Will Schenck, is drawing attention to the woes of music magazines in 2008. With a few exceptions, this year's soundtrack for music magazines is a sad melody--maybe even a funeral dirge. Almost all the big mainstream music titles have seen ad pages fall, regardless of genre, and several are resorting to increased use of verified circulation to make their rate base.

Schenck, formerly the publisher of Men's Journal, has his work cut out for him. Ad pages at Rolling Stone, the iconic music magazine, have fallen 20% through August 25 to 665, according to MIN Online. The drop is especially worrisome because it compounds a 4.7% drop in 2007, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. It looks like the venerable almanac of the American music scene is headed for two consecutive years of declines.



What's more, it has massively ramped up the use of verified circulation (copies in waiting rooms and the like) to meet its rate base. Per the latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, verified circulation increased almost 1,900% from 2,439 in the first six months of 2007 to 48,474 in the same period this year.

However, Schenck can take cold comfort knowing Rolling Stone isn't alone.

Ad pages at Blender--Alpha Media's music mag targeting young men--have fallen 19.4% through July 21, to 336, according to MIN. That comes on top of a 5.4% decline in 2007, according to PIB. Blender also resembles Rolling Stone in its massively increased use of verified circulation--up about 1,250% from 7,458 in the first half of 2007 to 100,589 this year.

The declines cut across musical genres: Vibe, a mainstream hip-hop title, saw ad pages tumble 20.4% through July 21, per MIN, to 460. And that's on top of a 19.9% decline in 2007, according to PIB. In the first six months of 2008, ABC has Vibe's newsstand sales slipping 11.8% to 97,288. Skipping genres again, Country Weekly's ad pages are down 26.6% through August 25 to 387, as newsstand sales slipped 19.4% to 90,861. The title also tripled its verified circulation, from 7,191 to 21,729.

The one bright spot in terms of ad sales is Spin--for which ad pages are up 14.2% to 425 according to MIN, following an impressive increase of 24.3% in 2007. The magazine is building on its successful ad sales strategy with the recent hiring of Kelly Rae as executive fashion director to advise editorial, according to Mediaweek.

In this role, she will effectively help integrate fashion brands into the magazine's content where appropriate, in a bid to attract more advertisers in that category. But even Spin is having trouble on the circulation front. According to ABC, its verified circulation increased from 0 last year to 36,951 this year, as newsstand sales fell 9.4% to 40,633, and paid subscriptions fell 10.7% to 389,919.

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